Ironically, I meant to cover this early last week and then all those mass bird and fish deaths started occurring. Anyway, as you can clearly see in the graph above, media coverage of climate change as dropped off tremendously in the past year. Apparently, BBC isn’t the only major media company that has decided climate change doesn’t need to be covered any longer (even though it is starting to hit us and will only get worse!).. even the New York Times “didn’t have climate change in a single one of its largest lead headlines.”
So, yes, despite it being the hottest year on record, the setting of numerous records, including the new world heat record, several unprecedented natural disasters, an international climate conference in Cancun, and climate change drama in U.S. politics, and counter to what most global warming deniers will tell you, the media is not pumping us full of climate change propaganda, or even information about climate change.
And quantity is not the only issue, as Joe Romm of Climate Progress notes:
Before continuing, it must be noted that mere lack of quantity is only one of the many unconscionable failings by the media. If the coverage continues to be as bad as it was in 2010, increasing it won’t change anything (see “And the 2010 Citizen Kane award for non-excellence in climate journalism goes to …” and “How the status quo media failed on climate change”). The major flaws in climate science coverage are:
- Insufficient coverage for what is the story of the year, decade, and century, which is all but certain to be the story of the millennium if the media keeps ignoring it.
- Insufficient visibility for the coverage that there is (see, for instance, NYT headlines below) and prominence given to the ‘teach the controversy’ crap (see N.Y. Times Faces Credibility Siege over Unbalanced Climate Coverage: One oft-quoted communications expert calls this front-page attack on the IPCC, “the worst, one sided reporting I have ever seen”).
- False ‘balance” in individual stories. One of the most documented flaws. Can be balancing real climate scientists with ones who have been widely discredited or with non-scientists [see In yet another front-page journalistic lapse, the NY Times once again equates non-scientists — Bastardi, Coleman, and Watts (!) — with climate scientists]. Or it can be the classic misrepresentation of what the business-as-usual case is (i.e. multiple catastrophes), so the public gets the impression that the two likeliest outcomes are a very low sensitivity and low emissions (denier spin) versus moderate (fast-feedbacks) sensitivity and moderate emissions (the middle of the IPCC scenarios, without explaining this would require aggressive mitigation starting now) — see the NYT’s “Climate Change and ‘Balanced’ Coverage.”
- False balance in story choice. This is actually one of the biggest, but least discussed, problems. In a AAAS presentation last year, the late William R. Freudenburg of UC Santa Barbara discussed his research on “the Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge”: New scientific findings are found to be more than twenty times as likely to indicate that global climate disruption is “worse than previously expected,” rather than “not as bad as previously expected.” Reporting science that confirms the IPCC that it is warming and humans are probably the cause or that confirms things are worse than the IPCC said is not ‘news’. But that one in 20 study that (often misinterpreted) ‘confirms’ scientists were exaggerating, well, that is news (see “The non-hype about climate change (and malaria)“). It’d be interesting, but difficult, to analyze this. My rough estimate is that the media probably turns the 20-to-1 ratio to a 2-to-1 ratio.
- Failure to connect the dots (see CNN, ABC, WashPost, AP, blow Australian wildfire, drought, heatwave “Hell (and High Water) on Earth” story — never mention climate change). Stories on the bark beetle devastation that don’t mention global warming are rampant [see Signs of global warming are everywhere, but if the New York Times can’t tell the (bark beetle) story (twice!), how will the public hear it?] Stories on 1-in-a-1000-year deluge that don’t mention climate change or the increase in water vapor available for superstorms — assuming the media bothers to cover a story like Nashville’s Katrina, which wasn’t on the coasts, or Pakistan, which is a distant land, and thus of secondary interest (see Juan Cole: The media’s failure to cover “the great Pakistani deluge” is “itself a security threat” to America).
Here’s more from the Daily Climate on the drop in the amount of coverage:
Media coverage of climate change in 2010 slipped to levels not seen since 2005, after spiking in in late 2009 in the run-up to the much-hyped United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen and the release of private emails from climate scientists stored on a English university server..
Analysis of DailyClimate.org’s archive of global media coverage shows that journalists published 23,156 climate-related stories in English last year — a 30 percent drop from ’09’s tally.
Those stories came from 8,710 different reporters, columnists and editorial writers at 1,552 different media outlets. Last year, according to the Web site’s database, more than 11,000 reporters tackled the subject – a 22 percent drop for 2010.
Despite the trend, some outlets and reporters remain prolific. Reuters again lead the pack, publishing 1,683 stories last year – 4.6 stories a day. The New York Times had 1,116; the London Guardian, 941; the Associated Press, 793.
But for network news and other mainstream outlets, the trend was down, down, down.
Read much more on this topic over on Climate Progress: Silence of the Lambs: Media herd’s coverage of climate change “fell off the map” in 2010