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Fewer Than 10% of Articles in Top 50 U.S. Papers Used ‘Crisis’ or ‘Emergency’ to Refer to Climate Catastrophe

Public Citizen Calls on U.S. Media to Follow Guardian in Calling It a Crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Fewer than 10% of articles from the top 50 U.S. newspapers in 2018 used the term “crisis” or “emergency” when referring to the rapid and catastrophic overheating of our planet, according to a new Public Citizen analysis.

The finding comes just days after The Guardian (a London-based publication) announced that going forward, its journalists would use the terms “climate emergency,” “climate crisis” or “climate breakdown” instead of “climate change.” The paper explained that “climate change” sounds too passive and gentle “when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.”

“Kudos to The Guardian,” said David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen’s Climate Program. “We call on the U.S. media to do the same. When news outlets consistently fail to use language that conveys that climate change is a crisis or emergency, they unwittingly put a heavy thumb on the scale in favor of complacency and inaction. It’s past time for the media to call the climate emergency what it is – and to cover it with the regularity, focus and depth merited by an urgent, existential crisis.”

In its analysis released today, Public Citizen found that in 2018, The New York Times, the East Bay Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post used the terms “crisis” or “emergency” the most in terms of total mentions.

The Chicago Sun-Times, USA Today and the Kansas City Star were the top three papers by rate of use.

The Omaha World Herald and The Mercury News never referred to climate change or global warming as a crisis or emergency in their print content in 2018.

The list of the top 50 U.S. papers by circulation was compiled using data from Cision in May 2018 and was limited to English-language, subscription newspapers. For that reason, many significant local dailies were not included, such as The Palm Beach Post and The Charlotte Observer. The same is true of papers that cover Capitol Hill, like The Hill, Politico and Roll Call, as well as trade publications such as E&E News.

An April Public Citizen analysis found that in 2018, only 50 of 1,429 national television news segments (3.5%) that mentioned climate change referred to it as a “crisis” or “emergency.” With these findings, the organization launched the Call It a Climate Crisis campaign.

“The crisis and emergency designations are accurate, concise and informative,” Arkush said. “They educate the public about the stakes of the issue, as well as the urgency, and they facilitate critical national conversation about what should be done in response.”

Read the full analysis here.