Covering Climate Now

Letting another drastic climate report go by

November 27, 2019

Early yesterday, the United Nations Environment Program published its annual assessment of greenhouse gas emissions. It described its own findings as “bleak.” Global emissions have risen by 1.5 percent every year for the past decade; top polluters including the US—which is busy pulling out of the Paris Agreement—and China increased their emissions last year. As a result, sharper cuts—of 7.6 percent per year—will now be required to meet the optimal, 1.5-degree warming goal laid out at Paris. NPR’s Ailsa Chang summarized the UN report’s takeaways: “The world is not doing enough. We have to learn from our procrastination. We cannot afford to fail.”

The press is still not doing enough on the climate crisis, either, despite some encouraging recent coverage. In general terms, the latest, dire UN report did not attract nearly enough media attention in the US. That’s not to say everyone ignored it: NPR gave it airtime, as did PBS NewsHour, which topped its show yesterday with the report and invited an expert on to discuss it. For a time yesterday, the report also topped the homepage of the New York Times; the story makes it above the fold of its print edition this morning. The same is true of some big papers internationally, notably Le Monde. Many other outlets covered it online.

ICYMI: Bad Romance

That was as good as things got, though. Unless I missed something, most of the major network newscasts and shows on CNN and MSNBC neglected to cover the report yesterday. What could be more important? Trump and Ukraine, mostly. We also heard, among other things, about Michael Bloomberg’s poor poll numbers; Joe Biden’s better poll numbers; snow; traffic; Trump pardoning two turkeys, named Bread and Butter; the impact of Turkey-the-country’s actions in Syrian Kurdistan; the earthquake in Albania; John Bolton’s tweets; John Bolton’s book; E. coli; more snow; more traffic; Thanksgiving; shopping; Kim Jong-un’s latest military drill; Boeing; shrinking airline seats “at a time when Americans are growing bigger”; the release of three wrongly convicted men in Baltimore; pancreatic cancer treatment; a dramatic rescue in Yosemite; a school bus driver drinking on the job; a Reddit AMA with the author of A Warning; and Bernie Sanders’s dancing. (CNN: “Would Bernie have been tempted to get down to the Temptations before he had his heart attack? Those who cover him say he’s a more lighthearted, humorous man since his health scare.”)

These stories, of course, vary greatly in terms of importance. (Sorry, Bread and Butter.) But is any of them globally existential? Unless you take a particularly bleak view of Kim’s latest maneuvers, the answer is no. Last night, the newscasts on NBC, ABC, and CBS all covered the latest wildfires blazing in California—a glaring opportunity to mention climate change, which scientists agree is a factor in making such fires worse. Of the three, only CBS Evening News referred to “California’s changing climate.” ABC warned of “a twist from Mother Nature.” None used the fires as a hook to discuss the report.

Good enterprise reporting on the climate crisis is increasingly common, but too many outlets still fail to consistently link such reporting to breaking news on extreme weather events. The same is true of major governmental and intergovernmental reports like yesterday’s emissions assessment. Surely there’s room enough in the news cycle to at least mention a report that only comes out once a year?

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A year ago, the Trump administration quietly released its National Climate Assessment on Black Friday—an attempt, the Times confirmed, to evade public attention. As I wrote afterward, that gambit backfired, to an extent: I found at least 140 newspapers nationwide that put the NCA on their front page the day after its release. Ironically, I wrote, the quieter-than-usual weekend may have given the report “a greater share of the available public attention.”

Who knows if we’ll be allowed a Thanksgiving lull this year? The pace of news emanating from the White House and Congress suggests we might not. Regardless of whether things fall quiet, the facts of yesterday’s UN report will not have changed; they’re out there, and news organizations could, at any time this week, do what they ought to have done yesterday and give them top billing. In an interview with Canada’s CBC yesterday, Gabriel Filippelli, a professor of earth sciences at Purdue, laid out the stakes the best. “We’re seriously behind on this,” he said. “Every month that we don’t have aggressive action, we fall, frankly, four months behind.”

Below, more on the climate crisis:

  • Covering Climate Now: World leaders will meet for a climate summit in Madrid next week. Ahead of the most recent major world climate summit, at the UN in September, CJR and The Nation’s Covering Climate Now project coordinated a week of dedicated climate coverage in 323 outlets with a combined reach of over a billion people worldwide. Afterward, Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope, who are leading the project, wrote that “when hundreds of newsrooms focus their attention on the climate crisis, all at the same time, the public conversation about the problem gets better: more prominent, more informative, more urgent.”
  • We need a climate debate: Tomorrow, Britain will hold its first-ever televised election debate dedicated to climate change. The leaders of all the major parties have said they will participate, apart from Nigel Farage, of the Brexit Party, and, depressingly, Boris Johnson, the Conservative prime minister. Channel 4, which is hosting, says the debate is going ahead regardless, and has threatened to give Johnson the empty-chair treatment if he doesn’t show. Nominally, at least, Johnson has said he won’t share a stage with Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the Scottish National Party, because she isn’t a candidate for prime minister. The Conservatives’ recent beef with Channel 4 (which I wrote about for CJR this week) may also have factored into his decision.
  • “Koalas aren’t functionally extinct, but perhaps Forbes should be”: Yesterday, in her newsletter, HEATED, Emily Atkin slammed Forbes for publishing two pieces that “distorted public knowledge on climate change.” The headline of one called koalas “functionally extinct” (they aren’t); the headline of the other claimed that “Everything [activists] say about climate change is wrong.” Both were changed.
  • Corp competency: Last week, a shareholder in News Corp asked Rupert Murdoch whether his company believes climate change is real, and if so, what its reason is for giving climate deniers airtime in Australia. Murdoch replied that “there are no climate change deniers around I can assure you,” and touted News Corp’s corporate carbon-reduction goals. The Guardian has more.

Other notable stories:

  • For CJR’s new print issue on disinformation, Ruth Margalit traces the anti-press crackdown of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president of Egypt. “Since Sisi was reelected, last March, he has built on a foundation of policies that trample dissent…and created a set of draconian new laws that make ‘disinformation’ criminal,” she writes. “The assault on independent journalism has become furiously brazen. As leaders around the world take aim at ‘fake news,’ Egypt’s efforts may be the most brutal, and the most foreboding.”
  • The impeachment story leaped forward again yesterday: the House Judiciary Committee said it will take up the probe a week from today, and invited White House lawyers to participate; the House Intelligence Committee released private testimony from Mark Sandy, a budget official who said two of his colleagues quit, in part, over concerns about the Ukraine aid freeze; and the Times reported that when the aid was finally released, Trump already knew a whistle-blower had complained about his conduct. Also yesterday, Bill O’Reilly used a phone interview with Trump to hawk his subscription service; the president accused the press of accusing him of having a “massive, unbelievable heart attack” (it didn’t); and officials still couldn’t confirm the gender of Conan the dog.
  • On Monday, Michael Harriot wrote, for The Root, that Pete Buttigieg is “a lying motherfucker,” referring to old footage of Buttigieg saying minority kids fail at school because “there isn’t someone who they know personally who testifies to the value of education.” Yesterday, Buttigieg phoned Harriot. He “didn’t want to tell me his side of the story.… Mostly, he just wanted to listen,” Harriot writes. “For 18 minutes and 45 seconds, we talked about educational inequality, poverty, and institutional racism in America.”
  • For CJR, Tony Biasotti explores the legality of right-wing sites publishing explicit photos of former Rep. Katie Hill. California and Washington, DC, both have revenge-porn laws, and if Hill “were an accountant or a waitress or a nonprofit executive, those laws would probably punish anyone who published her nude photos without her consent. However, both jurisdictions include exemptions for images released in the ‘public interest’ and require some demonstration of intent to cause harm,” which can be hard to prove.
  • For New York’s “Who were the 2010s?” series, Max Read has an interview with Jonah Peretti, CEO of BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed has continued to have success as a venture-backed company, but “I think that VC is not a reliable funder of media,” Peretti said. “They have helped BuzzFeed and Vox and a few other companies seize a moment, but I don’t know that VCs are going to be the long-term partners for media.”
  • Journalists at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are seven days into a byline strike; they’ve been withholding their names from content in protest of poor pay and working conditions under the ownership of Block Communications. The byline strike will continue indefinitely. (In February, Kim Lyons covered the rancor at the Post-Gazette for CJR.)
  • Seven times in the past ten days, a “mysterious newspaper fairy” in Minnesota has replaced the display issue in a Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper box with a historic edition of that paper or another local title. The historic papers’ front pages have included the moon landing, 9/11, and the Minnesota Twins’ 1987 World Series victory parade.
  • The deadline to register to vote in Britain’s general election was yesterday. Ahead of time, some people in the UK shared enticing fake stories—Meghan Markle is pregnant; Beyoncé and Jay-Z are splitting up; Rihanna has a new album—with links that led not to news sites, but to a voter-registration form. BuzzFeed’s Georgia Chambers has more.
  • And the newsletter is taking a break for Thanksgiving. We’ll see you on Monday.

ICYMI: Building a More Honest Internet

About Covering Climate Now

CCNow, a partner of CJR, collaborates with journalists and newsrooms to produce more informed and urgent climate stories, to make climate a part of every beat in the newsroom — from politics and weather to business and culture — and to drive a public conversation that creates an engaged public.

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