This past Saturday, I was among hundreds of activists with the group Extinction Rebellion NYC who protested outside The New York Times in midtown Manhattan to demand better coverage of the climate crisis. Protesters staged a “die in” on Eighth Avenue to block traffic. We displayed a banner the length of the Times building declaring “Climate Emergency = Mass Murder.” Sixty-seven of us were arrested by New York police.
Somewhat to our surprise, our protest received a good deal of news coverage. CBS, CNN, The Guardian, and the Associated Press ran stories. The Times even published one: a Reuters dispatch that quoted a Times spokesperson defending the newspaper’s coverage. “There is no national news organization that devotes more time, staff, or resources to producing deeply reported coverage to help readers understand climate change than The New York Times,” the spokesperson said.
But is even The New York Times truly conveying the climate emergency now facing humanity? And what about the many other news outlets that don’t do a fraction of the climate reporting the Times does? The media as a whole lets us down every day by either treating the climate crisis as a non-story or, worse, by propagating misinformation designed to confuse people and thwart action. Recently, I learned ABC’s World News Tonight devoted more broadcast time to the new royal baby in a week than it spent on climate change during the entire year of 2018, according to data analyzed by the watchdog group Media Matters. ABC, CBS, and NBC did not mention the words “climate change” or “global warming” once during the combined 28 news stories they ran about catastrophic flooding in the Midwestern United States in March.
Which is why I and countless other young people around the world will be climate-striking against the news media this coming Friday—protesting outside of TV and radio stations, newspaper offices, and other news outlets to demand that they start covering climate change like the emergency that it is.
With a few valuable exceptions, most of the media has a long way to go in order to demonstrate responsible climate coverage. Schoolchildren like me around the world have been skipping class on Fridays to stage climate strikes for nearly a year now, yet most news outlets continue to devote more attention to trivial topics than to the existential crisis that threatens to make this planet uninhabitable in the course of my lifetime. I agree with Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who started the climate-strike movement, when she says that if the media were reporting responsibly on the climate crisis, “we would rarely talk about anything else. As soon as you turn on the TV, almost everything would be about that: headlines, radio, newspapers.”
My fellow activists and I have decided that we must extend our climate strikes to the news media, whose reporting shapes the public mood and therefore the potential public pressure against those governments.
I am 14 years old; Greta is 16. The climate crisis will most powerfully affect our generation and the generations after us, and scientists have repeatedly warned that humanity is running out of time to avoid the worst impacts. Last October, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared that we had just 12 years to slash greenhouse gas emissions by half or else lock in a future of hellish temperatures, catastrophic droughts and storms, and millions of deaths.
But how can we secure the necessary political and economic responses to this emergency when so few people know the full truth? During the many Fridays I have sat outside United Nations headquarters in New York on climate strike, I have been bombarded by comments from people who don’t understand why I am striking. Many of them “adult-splain” falsehoods and misinformation to me, nonsense that I suspect they learned from media reports.
We will never get the action we need to save our planet when most people still don’t know there is a crisis to begin with. This is why my fellow activists and I have decided that we must extend our climate strikes from our initial target—governments, with their power to implement different policies—to the news media, whose reporting shapes the public mood and therefore the potential public pressure against those governments.
This Friday, I will be striking outside of Fox News headquarters, whose coverage of the climate crisis is especially terrible. Unlike the other broadcast networks, Fox doesn’t practice climate silence. It does something worse: it spreads climate misinformation—for example, by reporting as fact the lie that the well-established science linking greenhouse gas emissions with rising temperatures is unfounded. When the US Senate was about to vote on the Green New Deal last March, Fox aired more than twice as many prime-time segments discussing the Green New Deal as MSNBC and CNN did, combined. But Fox’s coverage was full of climate-denier talking points, including absurd suggestions that the Green New Deal would get rid of cows and would cost a stratospheric $93 trillion.
It is past time to make coverage of the climate emergency an urgent and continuing priority. If you are a reporter or other news outlet representative, I urge you to not only cover these strikes, but cover the climate crisis as well! Report on the science, the climate models, the economic and social impacts, the biodiversity loss, and, above all, the Green New Deal and other solutions to the climate crisis that we’re not talking enough about.
The world needs to wake up to the climate crisis, and the media needs to remember that it is supposed to function as society’s alarm clock. At the moment, too many news outlets are letting humanity sleep through our planet’s impending catastrophe. Isn’t it time they woke more of us up?
This article is being co-published by The Nation, The Columbia Journalism Review and The Guardian as part of “Covering Climate Now,” a project to catalyze improved media coverage of the climate crisis.