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Report: In 2017, Media Largely Failed to Connect Extreme Weather to Climate Amid Year of Hurricanes, Droughts, Disease

Jan. 5, 2018

Report: In 2017, Media Largely Failed to Connect Extreme Weather to Climate Change Amid Year of Hurricanes, Droughts, Disease

Public Citizen Analyzes Mainstream Coverage of Climate Issues in New Report

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Mainstream media outlets scored poorly on major metrics of climate change coverage in 2017, despite major extreme weather events, according to a new report by Public Citizen.

The analysis, “Carbon Omission: How the U.S. Media Underreported Climate Change in 2017,” looked at coverage from all U.S. news outlets in LexisNexis and conducted a separate targeted search of major outlets, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, The Denver Post, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Network and MSNBC.

It found that the proportion of pieces that mentioned climate change in relevant contexts – such as drought, floods and disease – was decidedly low. The term “climate change” occurred most often amid discussions of record heat, where it was mentioned in 33 percent of pieces. From there, the numbers dropped steeply.

Pieces on historic rainfall mentioned climate change just 21 percent of the time and those discussing drought mentioned it 24 percent of the time. Notably, in a year of major storms, just four percent of pieces discussing Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria or Nate made the connection to climate change.

Moreover, only nine percent of all pieces mentioned solutions – a critical topic in the context of climate change, particularly following the Trump administration’s pivot away from the Paris Agreement and efforts to roll back U.S. climate policy.

“For the public to be well-informed about climate change, it is critical that the media connect everyday coverage to climate where it is relevant, as well as cover the climate crisis directly, including developments on how we can mitigate it,” the report concludes. “On both scores, the media performed poorly in 2017.”

“Most Americans report that they rarely hear about climate change in the news, and rarely discuss the issue with friends or family,” said David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen’s climate program and the author of the report. “The media’s failure to connect the dots on evidence right in front of our faces is a big reason.”

“We can’t fix the climate crisis if we aren’t talking about it,” Arkush added. “It’s critical that the media start reporting on the crisis with the quality and quantity it merits. We’re talking about the greatest challenge of our time.”