While Earth Day falls on April 22 each year, many companies and news outlets spend the week leading up to Earth Day or even the entire month of April promoting environmental awareness and ways to help save the planet. An analysis by Media Matters found:
- During the week of April 16-22, corporate broadcast TV networks ABC, CBS, and NBC spent a combined 182 minutes — just over 3 hours — discussing climate and environmental issues.
- On Earth Day alone, the networks spent 46 minutes covering climate and the environment, which is a 35% decrease from 2022’s 71 minutes. (Earth Day in 2023, however, fell on a Saturday, when NBC’s Today ran for 1.5 hours. During weekdays, as on Earth Day last year, the program runs for 3 hours.)
- In total, NBC news programs spent 72 minutes discussing climate and environmental issues from April 16-22. ABC news programs spent 71 minutes discussing climate and environmental issues during this timeframe, and CBS news programs spent just 39 minutes.
The segments were a mixed bag of quality climate coverage and segments that focused on individuals’ carbon footprints without mentioning the need for systemic change.
Morning and nightly news shows on corporate broadcast TV networks aired 48 climate or environmental-related segments during Earth Week
NBC news programs aired 20 climate and environmental segments during Earth Week across 72 minutes, which just nudged past ABC and far outpaced CBS for Earth Week coverage. Sixteen of those segments came on the NBC morning news program Today, with 7 of these segments airing during the 9 a.m. third hour of the program. On Earth Day alone, NBC aired 5 climate or environmental segments across 9 minutes. Last year, NBC aired 9 such segments across 35 minutes. It must be noted, however, that Today ran for only one and a half hours on Earth Day this year, while it ran for three hours last year. The longest NBC segment during Earth Week 2023 lasted just over 6 minutes on the April 21 edition of Today and focused on how to repair everyday items instead of just buying new ones.
ABC was the only network to increase both the number of segments and the total amount of time spent covering climate and environmental issues on Earth Day in 2023 from last year. ABC news programs aired 18 climate and environmental segments during Earth Week across 71 minutes. Thirteen of these segments aired on their morning news program Good Morning America. On Earth Day alone, ABC news programs aired 6 such segments across 19 minutes, which was the highest volume of Earth Day coverage. In 2022, the network aired just 4 climate or environmental segments across 13 minutes on Earth Day. The longest ABC segment in 2023, which featured World News Tonight anchor David Muir on the ground in Sudan covering a deadly climate-fueled drought, clocked in at just under 10 minutes. This segment, which was the longest Earth Week-related segment on broadcast TV, occurred on the April 19 edition of World News Tonight.
CBS news programs aired just 10 climate and environmental segments during Earth Week this year across 39 minutes. All but two of these segments aired on either CBS Mornings or CBS Saturday Morning. On Earth Day alone, CBS aired 5 such segments across 18 minutes. Last year, the network aired 7 segments across 23 minutes during Earth Day. The longest CBS segment occurred on the April 20 edition of CBS Mornings and discussed how climate change is affecting the Colorado River.
Each network produced some high-quality climate reporting
Fifteen of NBC’s 20 climate and environmental segments during Earth Week mentioned climate change. Several climate segments ran under the “Today Climate” moniker, which runs on the morning news program Today. These segment topics ranged from using seaweed as a climate solution to looking at how climate change is affecting Native American food production. Additionally, NBC ran several segments under the “Climate Challenge” heading, which runs on the evening news program NBC Nightly News. These segments ranged from covering melting glaciers to looking at how climate change is affecting whales in the mid-Atlantic.
Two segments on the April 19 edition of Today looked at how climate change may be impacting airplane turbulence. During the 9 a.m. edition of this program, correspondent Tom Costello stated that “climate experts” believe that “turbulence has gotten worse … and they blame carbon dioxide emissions that are warming the planet.” The April 20 edition of NBC Nightly News even made a reference to fossil fuels — a rarity for broadcast TV coverage of climate change. In a segment about food waste, correspondent Anne Thompson stated, “Each year, food loss and waste in the U.S. produces emissions equal to the planet-warming carbon dioxide from 42 coal-fired power plants.”
Ten of ABC’s 18 climate and environmental segments during Earth Week mentioned climate change. As part of Earth Week, ABC created a special reporting series called “The Power of Water” initiative, which looked at “everything from the safety of the water supply and the disproportionate impact on poor communities, changes in sea levels that lead to more flooding, scientists who are forcing clouds to rain and snow to combat megadroughts and more.” Several of these segments mentioned climate change, including segments on how climate change is impacting the Colorado River and how clean drinking water is a climate justice issue in poorer U.S. communities.
In addition to its “Power of Water” initiative, ABC ran several segments looking at how climate change is affecting Sudan, which is suffering through a prolonged drought and famine. ABC was the only corporate broadcast network to explicitly tie fossil fuels to environmental degradation during Earth Week 2023. Reporting on eco-friendly products for home use on the April 21 edition of Good Morning America, guest Anna Robertson of The Cool Down said plastic is “created by using fossil fuels, which create pollution in our atmosphere.”
Seven of CBS’ 10 climate and environmental segments during Earth Week mentioned climate change. Several of these segments ran under the network’s “Protecting the Planet” moniker. Two CBS segments, both on the April 22 edition of CBS Saturday Morning, stand out in terms of quality climate reporting — they mention the disproportionate impacts of climate change and the reality of who is driving the vast majority of the planet’s warming. Discussing geoengineering (a controversial climate solution that has been mentioned in reports by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), co-host Jeff Glor stated that “scientists urging drastic cuts to our fossil fuel use say we’re not on pace to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.” The segment also featured Shuchi Talati, a former U.S. Department of Energy official who said that the Global North is completely dominating the conversation around geoengineering, despite the fact that it’s people in the Global South who are suffering the worst impacts of climate change.
Later in the program, a segment on how climate change is affecting indigenous tribes in Panama featured correspondent Manuel Bojorquez stating tribespeople “view climate change as a problem caused by the industrialized world, unfairly bearing down on them and the culture they’ve so fiercely defended.”
This year’s Earth Week coverage also featured problematic narratives, including the idea that it’s up to the individual rather than collective action to combat climate change
In the decades since it began in 1970, Earth Day has unfortunately often been co-opted by corporations to promote “green consumerism” and put the focus of solving climate change on individual people rather than the industries that are most responsible for carbon emissions. This is problematic because — while individual action in solving climate change is important and mass consumption is a leading driver of many of the climate and environmental problems that the planet faces today — what we really need to solve the climate crisis is widespread societal change and collective action that forces a rapid cut in fossil fuel use.
Unfortunately, broadcast TV networks ran with these individualistic narratives during their Earth Week programming.
NBC programs ran several segments on what individuals can do to help save the planet without mentioning the need for this to be combined with collective action. (To their credit, the April 22 edition of Today featured Allyson Shaw of National Geographic Kids stating that “it's individual action and collective action” that are needed to address climate change.) Following a segment on how to green your home on the April 18 edition of Today, NBC ran a short video from Apple that asked: “Need help making a difference? ‘Hey, Siri, how can I reduce my carbon footprint?’”
The idea of a personal carbon footprint was actually coined by BP in order to misdirect the blame away from the fossil fuel companies driving climate change and instead put it on the individual consumer.
In addition to the aforementioned segment on April 21 that promoted ways to green your home, Good Morning America ran several segments under the Earth Day “Deals & Steals” banner, which promotes eco-friendly products. The April 19 edition of Good Morning America featured a “Power of Water” segment that discussed what consumers can do to better conserve water — without discussing the necessary collective action needed to alleviate climate change’s impact on water.
CBS, meanwhile, ran far too few segments on climate and environmental issues during Earth Week. In fact, the network’s first such segment came on April 19. The network also promoted Earth Day consumer deals on the April 20 edition of CBS Mornings and the April 22 edition of CBS Saturday Morning.
In future Earth Week reporting, broadcast TV networks need to do a better job of incorporating the need for systemic action on climate change along with some more high-quality climate reporting.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original episodes for ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight; CBS’ Mornings, Saturday Morning, Evening News, and Weekend News; and NBC’s Today, Sunday Today, and Nightly News for any of the terms “Earth Day,” “global warming,” “climate,” or “carbon” or any variations of the terms “emissions,” “environment,” or “pollution” from April 16 through April 22, 2023, the week of Earth Day.
We timed segments, which we defined as instances when environmental or climate issues were the stated topic of discussion or when we found “significant discussion” of environmental or climate issues. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed environmental or climate issues with one another. We also timed mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker in a multitopic segment mentioned environmental or climate issues without another speaker engaging with the comment.
We rounded all times to the nearest minute.