Climate Leaders Demand Major Networks Get the Climate Story Right: Call It a Crisis and Cover It Like One

Time Is Running Out

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Because of an alarming disconnect between the scientific community’s dire warnings about our overheating planet and how the American people perceive the issue, major television networks must prioritize the communication of these alarming threats, more than a dozen organizations told network CEOs today.

In a letter to the presidents and CEOs of ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, MSNBC and CNN, the groups demanded that broadcast outlets convey the severity and urgency of the climate crisis to audiences, both by covering it with the frequency and consistency that it merits and by using language which signals that climate disruption due to greenhouse gas pollution poses a true emergency.

Only 56% of Americans say they hear about global warming in the media at least once a month, and 27% say they hear about it only several times a year or less, according to a poll by the Yale Program on Climate Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. It is incumbent on television networks – the most common news source for Americans – to report about climate change accurately, the two groups said.

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, they added.

One simple way to convey the severity and urgency of the problem is to call it a “crisis” or “emergency.” In 2018, fewer than 4% of news segments used those terms when discussing climate change. And when disasters like supercharged hurricanes and wildfires strike, too few segments made the connection to greenhouse gases and climate change.

It is not unprecedented for a media organization to update its language to describe the climate crisis more accurately. Today, Telemundo updated its terminology to refer to climate change as a “climate emergency.” Last month, The Guardian (a London, England-based publication) also revised its style guide to advise that its journalists use the terms “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” instead of “climate change” because the latter phrase “is no longer considered to accurately reflect the seriousness of the situation.” U.S. reporters and media outlets need to follow The Guardian’s lead.

“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,” the groups said in the letter.

The letter was signed by Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, and groups Public Citizen, Climate Reality Project, Sierra Club, Sunrise Movement, Green for All, Hip Hop Caucus, Friends of the Earth-U.S., Progressive Democrats of America, Climate Hawks Vote, Food & Water Watch, Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace.

The groups also are asking the public to sign the Call it a Climate Crisis petition, which echoes the demands of the letter.