Letter to Major Networks: Call it a Climate Crisis – and Cover it Like One

There is an alarming disconnect between the scientific community’s dire warnings about the urgent, existential threat from climate change and how the American people perceive the issue. Only 29 percent of Americans say they are “very worried” about climate change.

Media have a major role in this disconnect, as only 56 percent of Americans say they hear about global warming in the media at least once a month, and 27 percent say they hear about it only several times a year or less. It is incumbent on television networks—the most common news source for Americans––to report about climate change accurately. At a minimum, that means conveying the severity and urgency of the crisis to audiences, both by covering it with the frequency and consistency that it merits and by using language that signals that climate change poses a true emergency.

The most straightforward way to send this signal is to call the issue a “crisis” or “emergency.” In 2018, less than 4 percent of news segments used those terms when discussing climate change. And when disasters like supercharged hurricanes and wildfires strike, too few segments make the connection to the greenhouse gases and the climate change behind them.

The words that reporters and anchors use matter. What they call something shapes how millions see it—and influences how nations act. And today, we need to act boldly and quickly. With scientists warning of global catastrophe unless we slash emissions by 2030, the stakes have never been higher, and the role of news media never more critical.

We are urging you to call the dangerous overheating of our planet and the lack of action to stop it what it is—a crisis––and to cover it like one.

Our organizations will support your commitment by connecting you with experts who can communicate the science and what is at stake, as well as help journalists identify good questions to ask and how to discuss the issues accurately. We also will help you identify those most impacted by the crisis and help promote and disseminate good coverage.

In an article calling out the need for stronger climate coverage, The Nation and the Columbia Journalism Review recently observed, “If American journalism doesn’t get the climate story right—and soon—no other story will matter.”

Instead of sleepwalking us toward disaster,” they write, “the US news media need to remember their Paul Revere responsibilities—to awaken, inform, and rouse the people to action.”

We urge you to commit to covering climate change with the urgency and frequency it demands, and to call it what it is: a crisis.

Sincerely,

Robert Weissman

President, Public Citizen

Michael Brune

Executive Director, Sierra Club

Wenonah Hauter

Executive Director, Food & Water Watch

Annie Leonard

Executive Director, Greenpeace USA

Bill McKibben

Founder, 350.org

R.L. Miller

President, Climate Hawks Vote

Alan Minsky

Executive Director, Progressive Democrats of America

Ken Berlin

President & CEO, The Climate Reality Project

Erich Pica

President, Friends of the Earth US

Varshini Prakash

Executive Director, Sunshine Movement

Michelle Romero

National Director, Green for All

Kieran Suckling

Executive Director, Center for Biological Diversity

Reverend Yearwood

President & CEO, Hip Hop Caucus