Carbon Omission: How the U.S. Media Failed to Connect Extreme Weather to Climate Change in 2018

Carbon Omission 2018 Annual Report

Public Citizen analysis shows that mainstream media outlets often failed to connect climate change to extreme weather events, including major hurricanes, record-breaking forest fires and heat, in 2018.

Summary

The analysis found that the proportion of news pieces that mentioned climate change in relevant contexts – such as drought and floods – was decidedly low. Even when discussing extraordinary heat – using phrases like “extreme heat” or “record heat wave” – media mentioned climate change just 34 percent of the time. The figure for drought was similar, at 35 percent.

The year also saw multiple hurricanes whose destruction was exacerbated by climate change, like Florence and Michael, but media connections to climate were much scarcer in that context. Although it is understandable that many pieces are nuts-and-bolts stories about where to find shelter, or where to go after the storm has passed for food and water, the lack of mention of climate change is still dramatic. Major online news sources published more than 10,000 pieces on the two storms, but only 10 percent of those pieces mentioned climate change. For television news, a mere 8 percent of segments made the connection, while print media fared even worse at 5 percent. However, these numbers are an improvement over the previous year (6 percent for television and online media and 3 percent for newspapers.)

News outlets are giving the crisis our time far less attention than it merits – and far less than the public wants. The media have a major role to play in jump-starting the kind of national conversation we need to rise to this challenge, and there is plenty of reason to believe better climate coverage would engage audiences. David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen’s Climate Program.