News Media Is Not Doing Its Job in Covering The Climate and Ecological Emergency

The Media Must Dig Deeper and Cover How Our Lives Need to Change

A week or so ago, a USA today news article popped up on my phone — Add another heat record to the pile: Earth is historically and alarmingly hot. Now what? The article begins by sharing the announcements from two national groups —

It’s been warmer than at any time in recorded history and was likely warmer than any other time in 125,000 years, an analysis by Climate Central concluded. The Copernicus Climate Change said it’s also “virtually certain” that 2023 will be the hottest year in recorded history.

The article goes on to very dryly explain what this will look like.

Here’s what Climate Central says its findings mean for people:

◾ Over the 12 months, 7.3 billion people, 90% of the world’s population, experienced at least 10 days of temperatures strongly affected by climate change.

◾ 5.8 billion people were exposed to more than 30 days of temperatures made more likely by climate change.

◾ An estimated 1.9 billion people experienced at least one five-day heat wave over the 12 months.

The article is full of facts.

Disconnected facts are not what we need. Good climate reporting will not happen with ‘just the facts.’ After reading the article I felt awful. A whole bunch of bad news with nothing to do about it. These relentlessly bad facts are not helpful. For most people they are paralyzing.

But wait, I exaggerated, the piece didn’t offer nothing to do. The article offered this:

The really good news is, if we stop burning fossil fuels, temperatures will stop rising,” said Friederike Otto, a co-lead of World Weather Attribution, a group of scientists studying the footprint of climate change in world weather events. “And that also has immediate consequences for a lot of extreme weather events. But of course, as long as we keep burning fossil fuels they will keep rising, and extreme events are going to get worse.

Oh geez, that’s all? Why didn’t someone say that before?

We know that fossil fuel companies have been lying, manipulating and greenwashing for decades. Shouldn’t Exxon Mobile have an algae solution by now?

I’m just picking on this article because it happened to pop up on my phone. There are plenty of others.

Last night, I had an argument/discussion with the friend of a friend at Sunday dinner. This friend said he sees lots of climate coverage. I said it’s not the right kind. Simply stating facts about warming is not worthy climate coverage. Sharing the climate disaster effects in detail while being vague about the causes doesn’t effectively inform the public. I guess saying that increased disasters is attributable to climate change is a step, but it is an excruciatingly small one.

In an effort move toward improved climate coverage, a group of activists from Extinction Rebellion gathered to collaborate on the following letter which I sent to my local media outlets a couple of weeks ago.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change increasingly threatens health, ecosystems, infrastructure, livelihoods and food security around the globe.

We are seeing those impacts in the intensified flooding that broke two dams and killed thousands in Libya; the massive wildfires in Europe, North America and Hawaii; and the drought-related famine affecting millions in Somalia…

As the most recent IPCC report warns, the window is closing fast on our ability to address the climate emergency before it’s too late to avert even more catastrophic impacts.

As climate defenders and members of Extinction Rebellion Seattle, our question for your organization is — how are you covering the climate emergency?

· Are you reporting climate-related events as isolated, extreme weather conditions and unrelated humanitarian crises, or are you identifying the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and industrial agriculture as the causes of these events?

· Are you reporting on oil, gas, and fuel stories as if they are merely about economics or consumer attitudes, or are you connecting these stories to the climate crisis and the catastrophic consequences of our continued reliance on fossil fuels?

· Finally, are you including real solutions to the climate crisis in your stories, rather than focusing solely on stop-gap measures like proposed seawalls in coastal cities and towns.

During the Covid emergency, news journalists were fierce protectors of scientific truth and the public interest. When politicians spread misinformation about treatments or lies about disease prevention journalists called them out. They put COVID at the center of their work, day in and day out. COVID was DAILY headline news. The climate emergency is surely no less catastrophic, no less urgent, no less pervasive. Is your news organization treating it as such? Is it top news every day as it deserves to be, and as the public interest demands?

Covering Climate Now is an organization of your peers — journalists who have come together to create new strategies for reporting the news. They have developed a set of best practices that we believe should be implemented by every news organization concerned with accurate reporting about the climate disruptions already happening and their dire ecological consequences. Here are the URLs for two of the resources CCN provides — their best practices and their guide for connecting news stories to the climate crisis:

We would like to connect with you to discuss the importance of reporting on the climate crisis. We would love to hear from you to set up a time to talk.


Andrea O’Ferrall — Extinction Rebellion Seattle

I got responses from two people, a local news reporter who has covered attempts to save urban trees in Seattle, and Evan Bush, a climate and science print reporter for the NBC News website. Perhaps they will cover our next Non-Violent Direct Action. At least they reached out by responding to our letter.

As a climate activist who has done a lot of research on this topic, I was surprised that the groups quoted in the USA Today article, Climate Central and The Copernicus Climate Change, were new to me. Having checked them out, I can see why. The are compendiums of data and facts. They don’t tell the story of our way of life ending (that’s what getting off fossil fuels means).

Climate reporting needs to not only cover the solutions, like what’s in the Inflation Reduction Act, but how people are fighting against Business as Usual. The media should be harping on the huge carbon footprint of the military. The media needs to tell the story of how consumerism is killing us, but I guess it can’t because it needs those advertising dollars.

I rely on specialized outlets like Inside Climate News and Heated for much of my news of the Climate and Ecological Emergency. So much in our (unequal) world needs to change. The discussion of how we need to remake our future needs to be at the forefront. The corporate media is, through it’s silence, standing in the way.


About Andrea

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