Media Coverage of Climate Change Increased in 2019
By Michael Svoboda
"For the first time, environmental protection rivals the economy among the public's top policy priorities."
Pew Research Center's take on its mid-February poll results likely came as a surprise to many climate and media watchers, notwithstanding numerous indicators over recent months that concerns over climate change were gaining ground among much of the public.
Two multi-year trends led to this result: a steady decline in public anxiety about the economy since the decade-old recovery began in 2010, and a significant increase in concern about the environment over that same period, particularly since the 2016 election of President Trump.
The first trend is easy to unpack. Concern for the economy peaked during the 2008-2010 recession. Ten years of a growing economy slowly eased those fears among many. Trump's effect on this long-term trend is arguable, since the decline in worry from 2012 to 2014 is steeper than that for 2016 to 2020. It's widely accepted that incumbent presidents get more credit than they actually deserve for a good economy … and more blame than they deserve when the economy sours.
But Trump's election seems the likeliest explanation for the sharp increase in concern about the environment in 2017 and since. That's not unusual, as experts have found that support for environmental spending – one measure for "concern" – generally climbs during Republican administrations and fades under Democratic presidents.
Reports from Media Matters, a liberal media watchdog group, and from the Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO) at the University of Colorado, Boulder, reveal that the increase in concern reported by Pew correlates closely with media coverage of climate change. The three – public opinion, economic well being or malaise, and general media coverage – are closely intertwined.
The rise in coverage from 2016 through the end of 2017 can be attributed in large part to Trump's bellicose opposition to action on climate change, the singularly most highly visible environmental issue since well before he took office.
According to Media Matters, in 2017, "71 percent of [broadcast news] segments on climate change featured actions or statements by the Trump administration, most frequently the president's announcement that he intended to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement." By 2018, however, the initial outrage over Trump's contrarian stance on climate change had dissipated; again according to Media Matters, broadcast TV coverage of climate change dropped 45 percent.
Media Matters and MeCCO both report subsequent – and significant – increases in media coverage of climate change in 2019. Television coverage was up 138 percent; print coverage, by the five national newspapers tracked by MeCCO, was up 46 percent. (It should be noted that while the percentage increases are substantial, the total amount focusing on climate change as part of the full news coverage strikes many as woefully low.)
Media Matters attributes this increase in part to Covering Climate Now, the collaborative media effort spearheaded by Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation that was timed to coincide with the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York City in September 2019. That unprecedented initiative led to publication or broadcast of at least 3,640 stories, project managers indicate. (The Covering Climate Now project team is planning a similar media collaboration in concert with the 150th anniversary of the first Earth Day on April 22.) Media Matters also points to coverage decisions made independently by various cable, print, and broadcast news organizations.
But how were these 2019 developments experienced within news organizations?
By happenstance, on the same day that Pew Research Center released its February findings, Planet Forward, the environmental reporting platform created by George Washington University, hosted a panel discussion that featured representatives from broadcast, cable, and public television. Co-sponsored by Climate Nexus, "The Climate Is Changing. Is TV News Adapting?" provided individual and personal observations on the trends reported by MeCCO and Media Matters.
An Increase in Coverage
Two of the guests – CBS News Meteorologist and Climate Specialist Jeff Berardelli (a contributor to Yale Climate Connections) and Eugenia Harvey, executive producer of WNET's Peril and Promise: The Challenge of Climate Change – noted and complimented the spur provided by the Covering Climate Now initiative.
When CBS corporate officially signed on to the initiative, Berardelli said, journalists from nearly every news beat across the network came forward with story ideas.
At WNET, Harvey added, the initiative prompted new partnerships and allowed producers and reporters to share their stories with wider audiences. The longer-term increase in climate coverage at WNET, however, was prompted also by special funding provided by a donor who had recently realized how climate change could affect the lives of his grandchildren.
For Jen Christensen, health and climate unit producer for CNN, it was the economics of climate-related disasters that persuaded CNN decision-makers to increase coverage of climate change. Economic issues were one of the reasons CNN chose to produce the seven-hour "Climate Crisis Town Hall" with 10 of the 14 Democratic candidates vying for their party's nomination for president.
Changes in the Style and Mode of Coverage
Prompted by questions from Frank Sesno, a former CNN journalist and anchor who now directs GW's School of Media and Public Affairs, panelists also explained how the tenor of their organizations' climate coverage is changing.
In the Peril and Promise series at WNET, Harvey noted, the stories highlight issues of social justice. As Christensen's job title indicates, the health angle is critical to the stories she produces for CNN.
Berardelli added that colleagues at CBS had become more conscious of the timeframes they use in their climate stories: To be relevant to the lives of viewers, stories have to connect with problems they might encounter in human-scale time spans, like mortgage cycles. In California, "people are losing their insurance because of increasing fire risks," he noted. That's something every homeowner can understand.
Sesno also asked panelists about challenges they face in producing and placing stories about climate change. All noted that the almost limitless space afforded by digital media meant that stories that could not be fit into televised programs could still be posted online.
And rarely are they asked by their managers to "balance" their climate science stories: The scientific consensus on climate change is broadly accepted within their news organizations. Nevertheless, all three panelists acknowledged that climate change is still a divisive topic for some viewers. But by including alternative frames that appeal to conservatives (e.g. economy, personal autonomy, national security), they agreed, journalists could connect with these viewers.
Addressing climate change, Berardelli said, could result in "millions of high-paying jobs" and "could revive forgotten places in America."
And regardless of their political views, for Americans living in coastal communities that still rely on septic tanks, Christensen noted, rising sea levels could mean "you won't be able to flush your toilet."
Even religious objections to action on climate change – "God would not permit such wholesale destruction" – can be countered with context-appropriate framing. "Have you ever read the Old Testament?" Harvey exclaimed in response to questions about dealing with religious viewpoints.
As important to the evolving climate beat as surmounting skepticism, however, is countering the doom and gloom created by misleading warnings that "we have just 12 years to act on climate change."
In his classes on sustainability reporting, Sesno said, roughly one-quarter of the women say they have decided not to have children.
Harvey acknowledged that stories of "peril" typically attract the most viewers, but emphasized the importance of "promise" for WNET's coverage of climate change.
One challenge for communicators was succinctly posed by a politically conservative member of the audience: "How do we shift from 'climate Armageddon' to solutions?"
Berardelli stressed that action on climate change could not only avoid disaster, it could improve matters.
Sesno followed up on this point by highlighting the significant progress humanity had made in solving other environmental problems.
Reducing carbon emissions may well be more difficult. Nevertheless, it is still a matter of regulating pollutants – and polluters. The list of 100 companies responsible for 71 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted since 1988 includes companies that were also responsible, in decades past, for polluting Earth's air and water. Solving climate change, like cleaning the air and water, could become a positive story about human ingenuity and cooperation.
"We will need everyone's help," Berardelli concluded, "and we could make everyone's life better."
Telling that story will be one of numerous challenges in covering climate change in 2020.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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By Ana Maldonado-Contreras
- Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
- Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
- New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.
You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
How Do Resident Bacteria Keep You Healthy?<p>Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.</p><p>Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1019378108" target="_blank">combating viral infection and modulating the immune response</a>.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184976" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In another study</a>, mice were fed <em>Lactobacillus</em> bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The <em>Lactobacillus</em>-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with <em>Lactobacillus</em> protects against different <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/srep04638" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subtypes of</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17487-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">influenza</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">virus</a> and human respiratory syncytial virus – the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39602-7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children</a>.</p>
Chronic Disease and Microbes<p>Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.</p><p>In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">immune cells</a> that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1002601107" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">babies delivered by cesarean section</a>, individuals consuming a poor <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">diet</a> and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11053" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elderly</a>.</p><p>In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them</a>. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.</p><p>Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.</p><p>Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, <a href="https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/melody-trial-info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">my lab studies show how diet can be used</a> as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.</p><p>A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Old age</a> and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.</p><p><a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.019" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease</a>, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6933e1.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19</a> compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/blacks-in-britain-are-four-times-as-likely-to-die-of-coronavirus-as-whites-data-show/2020/05/07/2dc76710-9067-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in Britain</a>.</p>
Discovering Microbes That Predict COVID-19 Severity<p>The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.</p><p>My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates <a href="https://theconversation.com/exercise-may-help-reduce-risk-of-deadly-covid-19-complication-ards-136922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acute respiratory distress syndrome</a>.</p><p>Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fatal overreaction of the immune response</a> called a <a href="https://theconversation.com/blocking-the-deadly-cytokine-storm-is-a-vital-weapon-for-treating-covid-19-137690" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cytokine storm</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that causes an uncontrolled flood</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of immune cells into the lungs</a>. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s00134-020-05991-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">severe lung injury and multiorgan failures</a> that lead to death.</p><p>Several studies <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2020.08.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">described in one recent review</a> have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.</p><p>To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.05.20249061" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">We demonstrated</a>, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient's clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em>– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> has been associated with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2011.05.035" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chronic</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61172-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammation</a>.</p><p><em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an <em>E. faecalis</em> test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.</p><p>But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.11.416180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells</a> called <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/imr.12170" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance</a>.</p><p>Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the <a href="https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.30916.001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proper activation</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of those T-regulatory</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.36" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cells</a>. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.</p><p>As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ana-maldonado-contreras-1152969" target="_blank">Ana Maldonado-Contreras</a> is an assistant professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ana Maldonado-Contreras receives funding from The Helmsley Charitable Trust and her work has been supported by the American Gastroenterological Association. She received The Charles A. King Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She is also member of the Diversity Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/a-healthy-microbiome-builds-a-strong-immune-system-that-could-help-defeat-covid-19-145668" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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