Network News Mentions of Climate Crisis Skyrocket 700%

News Networks Are Beginning to Clearly Communicate the Consequences of Overheating Our Planet

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Network news’ use of the terms “crisis” or “emergency” when referring to climate change has jumped 700% from 2018, a significant step toward properly informing the public on the severity of the issue, a new Public Citizen report shows.

From May to September, 29% of television news segments (404 of 1,375) across the six major networks (ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, NBC and MSNBC) that mentioned climate change or global warming described it as a “crisis” or “emergency.” This is compared to only 50 out of 1,429 segments, or just 3.5%, during all of 2018. May was selected because it marked the beginning of Public Citizen’s “Call it a Crisis” campaign.

“By characterizing the overheating of our planet as a crisis or emergency, the media is finally signaling to the American people the urgency and the immediacy of the issue,” said Allison Fisher, outreach director for Public Citizen’s Energy Program and author of the report. “Television news networks should continue to call it a crisis and cover it like one.”

CNN had the most mentions of “emergency” or “crisis” (261) in segments discussing climate. The other two major cable news networks, MSNBC and Fox News, had 70 and 40 mentions, respectively. However, all of Fox’s mentions were intended to mock the idea that climate change is a crisis or emergency.

The use of “crisis” or “emergency” rose steadily from May to September. Beginning in May, the terms were used in 13% of segments on climate and by September rose to 57%.

Additionally, in September, two networks referred to climate change as a crisis or emergency in more than 80% of segments covering the issue: CNN used crisis or emergency in 89% of segments and NBC in 83% of segments.

The rise in coverage can be linked to the number of newsworthy events including the U.N. Climate Summit, the Climate Strike and other related demonstrations occurring in September. However, even without the September coverage, the networks covered the climate crisis as a bigger issue in 2019 than in 2018.

For this analysis, Public Citizen used Nexis to search television transcripts from the six national television news networks between May 1 and Sept. 31 for the word “crisis” or “emergency” within 75 words of “climate change” or “global warming.”

Read the analysis here.