In a Summer of Climate Horrors, Media says Only “Climate People” Care.

August 2, 2018

2012, a disaster movie about the end of the world, did great at the Box Office, but 2018 is, apparently, a flop.

Unfortunately, climate change can’t be cancelled due to poor ratings.

New York Magazine:

Last July, I wrote a much-talked-over magazine cover storyconsidering the worst-case scenarios for climate change — much talked over, in part, because it was so terrifying, which made some of the scenarios a bit hard to believe. Those worst-case scenarios are still quite unlikely, since they require both that we do nothing to alter our emissions path, which is still arcing upward, and that those unabated emissions bring us to climate outcomes on the far end of what’s possible by 2100.

But, this July, we already seem much farther along on those paths than even the most alarmist climate observers — e.g., me — would have predicted a year ago. In a single week earlier this month, dozens of places around the world were hit with record temperatures in what was, effectively, an unprecedented, planet-encompassing heat wave: from Denver to Burlington to Ottawa; from Glasgow to Shannon to Belfast; from Tbilisi, in Georgia, and Yerevan, in Armenia, to whole swaths of southern Russia. The temperature of one city in Oman, where the daytime highs had reached 122 degrees Fahrenheit, did not drop below 108 all night; in Montreal, Canada, 50 died from the heat. That same week, 30 major wildfires burned in the American West, including one, in California, that grew at the rate of 10,000 football fields each hour, and another, in Colorado, that produced a volcano-like 300-foot eruption of flames, swallowing an entire subdivision and inventing a new term — “fire tsunami” — along the way. On the other side of the planet, biblical rains flooded Japan, where 1.2 million were evacuated from their homes. The following week, the heat struck there, killing dozens. The following week.

In other words, it has been a month of historic, even unprecedented, climate horrors. But you may not have noticed, if you are anything but the most discriminating consumer of news. The major networks aired 127 segments on the unprecedented July heat wave, Media Matters usefully tabulated, and only one so much as mentioned climate change. The New York Times has done admirable work on global warming over the last year, launching a new climate desk and devoting tremendous resources to high-production-value special climate “features.” But even their original story on the wildfires in Greece made no mention of climate change — after some criticism on Twitter, they added a reference.

Over the last few days, there has been a flurry of chatter among climate writers and climate scientists, and the climate-curious who follow them, about this failure. In perhaps the most widely parsed and debated Twitter exchange, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes — whose show, All In, has distinguished itself with the seriousness of its climate coverage — described the dilemma facing every well-intentioned person in his spot: the transformation of the planet and the degradation may be the biggest and most important story of our time, indeed of all time, but on television, at least, it has nevertheless proven, so far, a “palpable ratings killer.” All of which raises a very dispiriting possibility, considering the scale of the climate crisis: Has the end of the world as we know it become, already, old news?

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

Scientific studies have linked earlier heat waves to climate change, and a new analysis by scientists with the World Weather Attribution project concludedthat human-driven climate change made the latest heat wave in northern Europe more than twice as likely. Scientists have also warned that climate change makes wildfires more likely in places where high temperatures and low humidity combine to deadly effect.

According to a Gallup poll earlier this year, nearly two-thirds of Americans understand that human activity is driving global warming, and 43 percent of them say they worry about it a great deal. However, less than half think global warming will pose a serious threat in their lifetime.

“This is not a future scenario. It is happening now,” said World Meteorological Organization Deputy Secretary-General Elena Manaenkova. So why aren’t Americans connecting the dots between climate and extreme weather? One reason is that major media outlets are not informing their audiences about the link.

As we reported earlier, only one in 127 segments or weathercasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC mentioned climate change heat in their reporting on the heat wave that struck during a two-week period from late June to early July. The problem isn’t confined to network TV, though.

A report published on July 27 by the nonprofit organization Public Citizen, “Extreme Silence: How the U.S. Media Have Failed to Connect Climate Change to Extreme Heat in 2018,” examined coverage by the top 50 US newspapers, additional newspapers in 13 states that experienced record-breaking temperatures during the heat wave from June 27 to July 8, and national programming from ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News Network, MSNBC, and NBC. Shockingly, the report discovered that media coverage of climate change actually declined during that heat wave:

Overall, these findings suggest that the extreme heat event that scorched much of the U.S. over nearly two weeks in late June and early July 2018 generally failed to prompt conversations about climate change in national or local media. To the contrary, outlets in each category we examined—national broadcast networks, the top 50 newspapers, and newspapers in states in which 10 or more heat records were broken—were significantly less likely to mention climate change in heat-related content during the recent heat waves than they were during 2018 to date on average.

One reason given for the lack of coverage is that the public simply isn’t interested in climate change. In a tweet posted on July 24, MSNBC host Chris Hayes (who actually has one of the better track records for reporting on climate) wrote that the incentives to cover climate change “are not great,” because the subject has been “a palpable ratings killer.”

That’s a massive abdication of responsibility. The general public doesn’t see climate change as an urgent and compelling problem because the media don’t report it as such. It’s seen as a “niche issue,” according to a recent article in The New Republic.


Emily Atkin, staff writer at The New Republic, thinks it’s all about the way you present the piece.

Erin Biba, who writes for the likes of BBC and Wired, agrees with Atkin.


It’s actually pretty unusual for a cable news host to go anywhere near the topic of climate change. An analysis from Media Matters for America shows that, of 127 TV broadcast segments on NBC, CBS, and ABC about the recent heat wave, only one mentioned climate change. It’s not like sweltering temperatures caused all those hosts to develop climate amnesia. The failure to link climate change to heat waves and downpours is a trend: Those same networks all but ignored the issue in their 2017 coverage of extreme weather events, another Media Matters report found.

America’s TV weather-casters are starting to make climate science a digestible part of their stories.

15 Responses to “In a Summer of Climate Horrors, Media says Only “Climate People” Care.”

  1. Sir Charles Says:

    Once you’re busy with the consequences of AGW you have no more time to like the coverage of climate change.

  2. fjohnx Says:

    NYT has been on it and is increasingly so


    They do continue to deny ever having been a newspaper of record.


    • mbrysonb Says:

      A very good (and very long) read. The reach for some kind of optimism at the end is painful enough to reinforce the point: we had a chance to avoid disaster– now our best hope is that we’ll choose to have a somewhat smaller disaster than the Thelma and Louise ending Trump and the fossil-fuel industry are leading us towards.

    • Abel Adamski Says:

      One standout there is tyhjeir fgailure to hold the FF Companies and their investors to account for their campaign of misinformation and misdirection and funding fake Science and information “think tanks” etc.
      They are the actual primary reason we missed that opportunity

      • Susan Anderson Says:

        Frank Rich is simply too young. He didn’t live through Reagan’s denial, or the failure of Jimmy Carter’s excellence which was dismissed out of hand. If you look at graphics of energy development, it is obvious that the last time this was treated seriously ended with the election of Reagan. The next inflection point was the stealing of the 2000 election, which by any reasonable measure, Gore should have won. Of course, once again there were the purity mongers on the left, who let Ralph Nader con them into voting Bush I into office.

        Inside Climate News is the real deal. here (I’ve done some cutting, but there will undoubtedly be broken links, etc.; do the graphic first!):

        A terrific graphic,:
        Then the twitter stream abbreviated here:
        1/ Why didn’t America act on climate change way back when? You’ve read the historical reconstruction in the @NYTmag of the 1980s, the decade when the science was becoming clearer and there was some bipartisan political momentum to act. There’s more to this story.
        2/ The tale of U.S. climate inaction spans 70 years and it continues to this day.
        3/ Denial of mainstream climate science has developed into a core message of the Republican party, now in control of the White House and Congress. The narrative of how we got here is complicated.
        4/ But through our own historical reconstructions, we’ve been able to draw 2 broad conclusions (as have others):
        5/ 1) Once the serious threat of political action to control GHG emissions emerged, fossil fuel interests worked hard to undermine the scientific basis for urgent action, using tools like misinformation campaigns and campaign donations. 2) It worked.
        6/ Here’s an @insideclimate reading list for understanding the last 70 years of (1) the emerging science of climate change and (2) the concerted actions to stave off action. We hope this is helpful.
        7/ As early as the 1950s oil companies worked on strategies to sow doubt about science that could lead to regulation of their own air emissions.
        8/ The Smoke and Fumes committee at the American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil industry’s main lobbyist, worked to discredit the science surrounding smog that its own researchers ultimately confirmed.
        9/ How the oil industry handled smog science would become a template for how it handled climate change science. Read about it here:

        10/ The 1950s are also when scientists at oil companies began conducting basic research into CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, trying to better understand the carbon cycle, following work published by leading academics.
        11/ The CO2 problem was gaining wider scientific recognition during the 1960s, especially as President Lyndon B. Johnson’s science advisers and leading experts brought it to the attention of the White House in 1965.
        12/ “Changes in temperature on the world-wide scale could cause major changes in the earth’s atmosphere over the next several hundred years including change in the polar ice caps,” API’s consultant scientists wrote to the group in a 1968 paper.
        13/ These records were unearthed from archives by a Washington D.C. environmental law organization, the Center for International Environmental Law. Read them and our take here:
        14/ By 1977, the National Academies of Science issued a report warning that the eventual limit on the use of fossil fuels would not be scarcity of supply, but the greenhouse effect and the risks it posed.
        15/ That year, Exxon’s top executives received the same message from Exxon scientist, James Black, who told them, “man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.”
        16/ An Exxon researcher named also Henry Shaw took note, and before long the world’s leading oil company, Exxon, launched a leading-edge in-house research program into the emerging science of climate change.
        17/ The program was detailed by us in an award-winning 2015 investigative series. The multi-part history spans four decades and was based on primary sources, including internal company files and interviews with former company employees.
        18/ Exxon researchers hoped their work would identify the risks climate change posed to the company’s business and earn it a seat at the table when policymakers moved to limit CO2 emissions.
        19/ Around this time, Rafe Pomerance, then president of Friends of the Earth, raised the concern of global warming with Gus Speth, then a White House environmental adviser. They arranged a seminal report by a team of 4 scientists to Jimmy Carter’s administration.
        20/ It was called “The Carbon Dioxide Problem.” And it predicted “a warming that will probably be conspicuous within the next twenty years.”
        21/ Here’s a link to that report, with an interesting prologue by Speth written several years ago, suggesting some reasons that the nation didn’t pay much heed:
        22/ In 1982, Roger Cohen told an Exxon company executive: “There is unanimous agreement in the scientific community that a temperature increase of this magnitude would bring about significant changes in the earth’s climate.”
        27/ We called our series Exxon: The Road Not Taken because by the late 1980s, Exxon and its allies chose to pivot to using scientific uncertainty as a shield against forceful action on global warming.
        24/ Soon after we published, the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism School and the LA Times independently reached the same conclusion about the 1980s, based on a different set of documents and written by their own team of reporters.
        25/ As the international community moved in 1997 to curb emissions with the Kyoto Protocol, Exxon’s Chairman and CEO Lee Raymond focused on amplifying scientific doubt. Watch:
        26/ API’s work to spread climate misinformation was noted at the time, but it took decades for its full extent to be unraveled.
        27/ Exxon’s undermining of mainstream science and embrace of denial and misinformation would become most pronounced in the 2000s, after President George W. Bush took office.
        28/ Industry lobbyists and interest groups embedded themselves into the White House and set about revising science documents and undermining the IPCC, the USGCRP, and other institutions urging action. Read about it here:
        29/ Doubts about climate change were echoed by think tanks and advocacy groups that Exxon and other corporations nurtured with donations starting in the 1990s. You can explore the document and money trail here:  and here:
        30/ By the 2000s, the growing network created an echo chamber loud enough to command equal time in the media.
        31/ Still, under pressure from shareholders, ExxonMobil announced in 2007 it would stop funding a number of climate denial groups. The following year, the presidential nominees of both political parties felt safe pledging to address the threat of climate change if elected

  3. ubrew12 Says:

    Its a ratings killer the same way reporting on the Holocaust was a ratings killer. a)we know that its happening, b)we know why, c)we know that we could stop it if we tried hard enough, d)we know we don’t care enough to try.

    Just mentioning something like that puts people in a bad mood. They know they are culpable, they just want to shuffle off this mortal coil before being called to account.

  4. J4Zonian Says:

    An archetype is a deeply embedded ancient pattern of behavior that comes in many forms–images, thoughts, behavior… It’s not an individual belonging but a collective one, shared by all though expressed in slightly different ways. When an archetype is unhealthy, it splits. The King archetype, that guides leadership, order, harmony and various things related to executive function, sometimes splits into the tyrant and the weakling; both get expressed in the system in some way. Someone with a warped or unhealthy version of it may vacillate between the 2, or they may project one onto someone or some system. even projectively identify, that is, project it and then take actions to make whoever or whatever they’re projecting onto take on and act out the projection. Republicans act out the tyrant, use all kinds of techniques to maneuver the Democrats into playing the weakling, for example.

    Corporations and industries that cause harm project, and projectively identify, to avoid blame. One major way is to individualize blame for everything, saying cancer, poverty, etc. are not their fault, but the fault of people who eat wrong, live in the wrong places, or just aren’t rich enough (though it’s never put that way). And of course unmentioned but influential racism is a big part of why people are poor, for example, and corporations’ collaboration with that gives them justification for this excuse.

    The other half of the split from individualized blame is to generalize or universalize blame so no one can be blamed. That’s a huge part of Nathaniel Rich’s story and goes along with the It’s human physiology’s fault excuse. Most of the globally wealthy are at fault for allowing the ecological crisis to happen, collaborating with the lie to protect their physical and emotional comfort, but our actions from now on should recognize that most of the responsibility for not acting on climate catastrophe lies with the fossil fuel industry executives and politicians, lawyers, etc. who have created and maintained the many-layered lie.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Jungian psychobabble. Did Jeffy come across this in a self-help book?

      Stated simply, the human species has evolved to a point where its intelligence and therefore its ability to manipulate the environment has exceeded its ability to recognize the fact that it is causing its own extinction. Biology in action—-non-adaptive behavioral evolution.

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