Asked what might explain the drop, Fischer said he couldn’t provide a definitive answer, but guessed that the amount of coverage hinged largely on the actions of “thought leaders.” In an e-mail he wrote:
You saw a huge spike in 2007 because Al Gore and Hollywood took up the cause; the IPCC’s Nobel-winning 4th assessment simply fanned the flames. In 2009, the world’s leaders got personally involved in the Copenhagen talks, again generating a huge pulse of interest and coverage.
In 2010 and 2011, that kind of high-level involvement was absent. Obama got behind health care and dropped climate, Hollywood and the cultural elite never really got involved, and - to a certain extent - economic woes trumped everything else.
Boykoff agreed, writing in an e-mail that there was no “big political, cultural, or scientific event that provided a safety net for the overall fall of climate coverage in the media.” He added that there were also fewer specialists available to mend holes in the net, highlighting the case of Margot Roosevelt, a top-notch former environment reporter for the Los Angeles Times who received a layoff notice in July while working on a climate-change story in the Arctic.
The decline in climate coverage may not be as dire, or even apparent, in non-English speaking countries. Stephen Leahy, a Toronto-based environmental journalist who writes for the Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS) and other outlets, penned a letter to The Daily Climate which complimented its review but pointed out that “there is more to the story.” Referring to the international climate-change summits in South Africa in 2011 and Mexico in 2010, he wrote:
As anyone who has spent time at the past two United Nations talks can attest, reporters from developing and non-English-speaking countries are making up an increasingly larger share of the press room. As a North American reporter in Durban and Cancun, I felt pretty lonely.
Most media surveys don’t look at journalism in India, China, Brazil, Mexico or Africa, where coverage of the issue has recently—and rapidly—increased. Having been lucky to travel to many of these places, I’m learning that some of the best coverage on climate is now coming from outside of Europe and North America.
Another consolation, such as it is, is that the number of unique visitors to The Daily Climate doubled in 2011, and it received 4 million page views over the course of the year, according to Peter Dykstra, the site’s publisher.
That could be a sign that although the media isn’t producing as much climate coverage these days, the public is still out there looking for it. Indeed, a Pew Research Center poll released last month found a “modest rise” over the last two years in the number of Americans who say there is solid evidence of global warming and that it is a “very serious” problem. Hopefully, climate coverage will see a similar uptick in 2012.