The Media’s Climate Coverage Is Improving, but Time Is Very Short
By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope
In this autumn of horrific fires and deadly floods, it's easy to overlook one bit of promising news on the climate front: Some major U.S. media coverage of the crisis is finally getting better.
We're seeing the evidence this week as Covering Climate Now—a collaboration of four hundred-plus news outlets, with a combined audience of two billion people—publishes and broadcasts a profusion of stories about climate change and the 2020 U.S. elections. Climate change has been largely overlooked in general-election coverage to date, with one exception: September 14, when Donald Trump said of California's record wildfires, inaccurately, that "science doesn't know" whether the earth will keep getting hotter and his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, warned that re-electing a "climate arsonist" to the White House would ensure worse blazes in the future.
Covering Climate Now's week of coverage, which runs September 21 through 28, aims to give climate change the attention it deserves. The collaborative, co-founded last year by CJR and The Nation in association with The Guardian, aims to help news organizations increase and improve coverage of the crisis as well as its solutions. Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the looming Supreme Court battle, and the other huge news stories of 2020, "the climate emergency remains the central question facing the world," United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said in a September 8 interview with Covering Climate Now. As Justin Worland wrote in a landmark special issue of Time magazine on July 7, the U.S. elections will shape whether we "keep driving off the climate cliff or take the last exit."
NBC News, which joined Covering Climate Now in April, kicked off this current week of joint coverage by launching a new series, Planet 2020. Al Roker, the network's chief climate correspondent and long-time weather forecaster, has been talking about climate change on the Today show for months, describing its links to wildfires and hurricanes without wiggle words or alarmism. Now, Roker and cohost Savannah Sellers, the host of NBC's daily digital news show Stay Tuned, are connecting the dots between extreme weather, climate change, and the 2020 elections where, as Sellers reported, "millennials and Gen-Z will make up 37 percent of eligible voters and concern over climate change is … shaping up to be more important to all voting blocs than ever before." Also this week, our partners at Reuters and Agence France Presse delivered a story to their thousands of newsroom clients around the world that puts the Paris Agreement goals in a new light, reporting, "The richest one percent of people are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the poorest half of the world's population."
Good climate coverage by Covering Climate Now partners is begetting good climate coverage among the media as a whole. More of America's leading newspapers are speaking more loudly and plainly about climate change, notably The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Arizona Republic, and the Los Angeles Times. The latter headlined a September 14 story about the state's wildfires "A Climate Apocalypse Now." Among magazines, Bloomberg has launched a new digital outlet and accompanying print edition, Bloomberg Green, that is a must-read for the far-reaching economic aspects of the climate story.
On television, Covering Climate Now partner PBS NewsHour continues to set the pace for sustained, informed climate coverage. And on August 8, CNN rebroadcast climate correspondent Bill Weir's "The Road to Change," a documentary that we praised in April as perhaps the best piece of climate journalism ever done by a mainstream US news outlet.
The problem is, these and other examples of first-rate climate coverage remain the exception.
Despite recent orange skies over the West Coast and fearsome storm surges in the Gulf of Mexico, not to mention the 32 years since NASA scientist James Hansen's U.S. Senate testimony that man-made global warming had begun, the climate crisis remains a marginal afterthought in most U.S. news coverage. Chris Wallace of Fox News has announced that he will not even raise the subject of climate change when moderating the first presidential debate between Trump and Biden next week.
And consider the scandalous absence of climate change from most coverage of the wildfires, Hurricane Laura, the Iowa derecho, and countless other extreme weather events of 2020. Only one of the ninety-three news segments that ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox, and MSNBC aired during the week after Laura slammed the Louisiana coast connected the storm to climate change, according to a study by the watchdog group Media Matters. Of forty-six segments ABC, NBC, and CBS aired on the California wildfires, only seven mentioned climate change.
This is media malpractice. It is also, from a business point of view, foolish: the public actually wants more, not less, climate coverage. According to a poll released today by our partners at The Guardian and VICE Media, 74 percent of likely voters want the moderators to ask climate questions at the upcoming presidential debates.
We are heartened by the progress Covering Climate Now has made in helping the media rise to the existential challenge of the climate crisis. Yet even as we celebrate that progress this week, we recognize how far there is to go, and how little time we have to get there. The first presidential debate takes place on September 29, and five weeks later is Election Day. Between now and then, newsrooms should follow the advice of Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan: "This subject must be kept front and center, with the pressure on and the stakes made abundantly clear at every turn."
This story originally appeared in Columbia Journalism Review and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Rebecca Niemiec and Kevin Crooks
Colorado voters will decide on Nov. 3 whether the state should reintroduce gray wolves (Canis lupus) after a nearly 80-year absence. Ballot Proposition 114 would require the state to develop and oversee a science-based plan to restore wolves, focused in Western Colorado and initiated by the end of 2023.
Back by Popular Demand?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDUzOTQxNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzI4NTkyMX0.BeRR61CH6a-TWwSw1p4kmng4x4tXRaSMKyTRHKIHmOw/img.jpg?width=980" id="1f7fe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="339e3443dc63f3be06e24a82f0b37a03" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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Clashing Values<p>Proposition 114 has strong support in Colorado. <a href="https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/people-predators/public-perspectives-on-wolves-and-wolf-reintroduction-8-004/" target="_blank">Statewide surveys </a> conducted by phone, by mail and online over the past two decades have found that 66% to 84% of respondents supported reintroducing wolves. This support is consistent across different regions of the state and diverse demographic groups.</p><p>In a <a href="https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.9074" target="_blank">survey of Colorado residents</a> that we conducted in 2019, the prospect that wolves could contribute to a balanced ecosystem was the most commonly cited reason for supporting reintroduction. Other arguments included people's cultural and emotional connections to wolves, and <a href="https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/people-predators/moral-arguments-related-to-wolf-restoration-and-management-8-011/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">moral arguments</a> that restoring a species humans had eradicated was the right thing to do.</p><p>While overall public support is strong, over half of Colorado's 64 counties have passed <a href="https://www.drovers.com/article/wolf-reintroduction-ballot-colorado" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resolutions against restoring wolves</a>. Many ranching and hunting associations are actively campaigning against the ballot measure.</p><p>In our 2019 study, we found that media coverage in the state focused more strongly on <a href="https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.9074" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">perceived negative impacts</a> associated with wolf reintroduction than on beneficial effects. Surveys show that resident concerns include threats to <a href="https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/people-predators/wolves-and-human-safety-8-003/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human safety and pets</a>; <a href="https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/people-predators/wolves-and-livestock-8-010/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wolf attacks on livestock</a>; and the potential for wolves to <a href="https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/people-predators/wolves-big-game-and-hunting-8-001/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce deer and elk populations</a>, threatening hunting opportunities.</p>
Who Decides?<p>This measure is the first giving voters in the U.S. an opportunity to weigh in on bringing back a native species. Addressing the issue through a ballot measure adds a unique twist to public and media discussions about wolves.</p><p>Supporters call it a democratic way to ensure that the <a href="https://www.cpr.org/2020/09/29/should-wolves-be-brought-back-to-colorado-a-rancher-and-a-biologist-have-their-say/" target="_blank">public's values are recognized</a>. They also argue that voters are deciding only whether wolves should be reintroduced, while allowing experts at the <a href="https://cpw.state.co.us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">state wildlife agency</a> to create a reintroduction plan <a href="https://www.steamboatpilot.com/news/election/howl-you-vote-wolf-advocates-opponents-ask-colorado/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">based on the best available science</a>.</p>
<div id="4c11f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dec8674441e02372e50b796d848e4130"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1316474105315483649" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">According to a recent poll of 900 demographically representative likely voters, two-thirds supported “restoring wol… https://t.co/74LMG1PYtW</div> — High Country News (@High Country News)<a href="https://twitter.com/highcountrynews/statuses/1316474105315483649">1602706860.0</a></blockquote></div>
Finding Consensus<p>Studies suggest that ballot initiatives like 114 will <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2017.07.032" target="_blank">become more common</a> as public values toward wildlife change and more diverse groups seek to influence wildlife management. For us, the key question is how to recognize and incorporate these differing values as agencies make decisions.</p><p>Research drawing on insights from <a href="https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/people-predators/dialogue-and-social-conflict-about-wolves-8-009/" target="_blank">psychology, political science and sociology</a> suggests that it is critical to run<a href="https://drive.google.com/file/d/1QppmBszEF6zsNnhBJ7Q2-pSWRR-Zx_ln/view" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> truly participatory processes</a> that engage government agencies and people who have a stake in the issue in shared decision-making. Fostering dialogue between groups that value wildlife differently can build empathy and mutual understanding and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2014.07.015" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">foster compromise</a>. Broadening the conversation in this way is essential for coexisting with carnivores with minimal impacts on predators and people.</p>
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By Brian Bienkowski
Fish exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds pass on health problems to future generations, including deformities, reduced survival, and reproductive problems, according to a new study.
Low Levels Lead to Generational Impacts<p>Researchers exposed inland silverside fish to bifenthrin, levonorgestrel, ethinylestradiol, and trenbolone to levels currently found in waterways.</p><p>"Our concentrations were actually on the low end" of what is found in the wild, DeCourten said, adding that it was low amounts of chemicals in parts per trillion.</p><p>Bifenthrin is a pesticide; levonorgestrel and ethinylestradiol are synthetic hormones used in birth controls; and trenbolone is a synthetic steroid often given to cattle to bulk them up.</p><p>Such endocrine-disruptors have already been linked to a variety of health problems in directly exposed fish including altered growth, reduced survival, lowered egg production, skewed sex ratios, and negative impacts to immune systems. But what remains less clear is how the exposure may impact future generations.</p><p>For their study, DeCourten and colleagues started the exposure when the fish were embryos and continued it for 21 days.</p><p>They then tracked effects on the exposed fish, and the next two generations.</p>
Inherited Problems<p>DeCourten said the altered DNA methylation is one of the plausible ways that future generations would experience health impacts from previous generations' exposure. Hormone-disrupting compounds have been shown to impact DNA methylation, which is an important marker of how an organism will develop.</p><p>"Methyl groups are added to specific sites on the genome, [the exposure] is not changing the genome itself, but rather how the genome is expressed," she said. "And that can be inherited throughout generations."</p><p>In addition, Brander said there are essentially different "tags" that exist on DNA molecules, which tell genes how to turn on and off. She said the exposure to different compounds may be "influencing which methyl tags get taken on or off as you proceed through generations."</p><p>The researchers said the study should prompt future toxics testing to consider impacts on future generations.</p><p>"The results … throw a wrench in the current approach to regulating chemicals, where it's often short-term testing looking at simple things like growth, survival, and maybe gene expression," Brander said.</p><p>"These findings are telling us we really at least need to consider" the next two generations, she added.</p>
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