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Climate Scientists Are Linking Florence to Climate Change, but Major Media Are Not

Sept. 18, 2018

Climate Scientists Are Linking Florence to Climate Change, but Major Media Are Not

Just 7.5 Percent of Florence Stories in the Top 50 Papers and 4.3 Percent of Major Broadcast Segments Mentioned Climate Change

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Major U.S. media outlets are failing to connect Hurricane Florence to climate change, a Public Citizen analysis (PDF) shows. In eight days of coverage, climate change was mentioned in just 7.5 percent of pieces on Florence in the top 50 U.S. newspapers by circulation, and 4.3 percent of major broadcast segments. ABC and 19 of the papers failed to mention climate change at all in connection with Florence.

These findings are in line with previous studies, but are all the more striking because, in the case of Florence, researchers linked the storm’s size, intensity and projected rainfall to climate change before Florence even hit. A day before Florence reached the coast, the Climate Extremes Modeling Group at Stony Brook University released a study finding that because of human interference in the climate system, rainfall from Florence would be increased by more than 50 percent in the heaviest-precipitating parts of the storm, the storm would remain at higher intensity for longer and the storm would be approximately 80 kilometers larger in diameter at landfall.

But in the four-day period following the release of the study, just 7.3 percent of Florence stories in the country’s top 50 newspapers mentioned climate change. This was slightly down from 8 percent in the prior four days.

The New York Times was the leader in connecting the storm to climate change, producing 15 pieces in the eight-day period.

From Sept. 9 to Sept. 16, only 4.3 percent of major broadcast segments on the storm mentioned climate change, Public Citizen found. CNN was the best performing network with 10 segments connecting Florence and climate. ABC failed to mention climate change at all in its Florence coverage.

“Even as forecasters and the media used the most demonstrative terms to describe the storm, most failed to name one of the underlying causes – the only one over which humans have some control – and that is climate change,” said David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen’s Climate Program. “When outlets fail to connect these events to global warming, audiences are left uninformed about some of the most critical decisions we face. We need a serious national discussion about the urgent, existential threat from climate change and how we are going to fix it – and it’s very difficult to have that conversation when media won’t talk about the topic.”

None of the top 50 newspapers is in North Carolina, which is still grappling with unfolding storm-related crises. The state still is dealing with inland flooding, power outages and potential mudslides. The unprecedented storm has claimed 32 lives.

“This is what climate chaos looks like,” Arkush said. “The media should be talking much more about the role of climate change in causing this chaos, as well as the fact that we have excellent, popular solutions to the problem.”