Earth Day 2024
Media Matters/Andrea Austria

Research/Study Research/Study

How corporate broadcast networks covered Earth Day 2024

Corporate broadcast networks consistently cover Earth Day, but a pivot to a deeper systemic analysis of climate change and environmental injustice is still needed

Earth Day, observed on April 22 each year since 1970, annually inspires many companies and news outlets to dedicate the preceding week or even the entire month of April to promoting environmental and climate awareness. An analysis by Media Matters of how the three major corporate broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, and NBC — covered climate and environmental topics in the days before, during, and after Earth Day 2024 found:

  • From April 16-28, corporate broadcast networks ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a combined 2 hours and 5 minutes of discussion about climate and environmental issues across 31 segments.
  • ABC led overall coverage with 1 hour and 7 minutes across 18 segments, followed by CBS with 37 minutes across 9 segments and NBC with 22 minutes across 4 segments.
  • During Earth Day itself, on April 22, the networks aired 46 minutes of coverage about climate and the environment, matching the 46 minutes they aired on Earth Day 2023. 
  • This year, ABC led with 27 minutes of Earth Day climate and environmental coverage across 7 segments, followed by NBC with 12 minutes across 2 segments and CBS with 8 minutes across 2 segments.

The segments displayed a stark variability in their climate coverage — while some offered deep, insightful analysis of climate and environmental issues, far too many defaulted to an excessive emphasis on consumerism and individual responsibility. It’s critical that future broadcast news coverage of Earth Day evolves to consistently cover the systemic issues that are driving climate change and environmental degradation.

  • Corporate broadcast news aired 2 hours and 5 minutes of climate and environmental-related coverage across 31 segments in the days surrounding Earth Day

  • From April 16-28, corporate broadcast networks ABC, CBS, and NBC dedicated a combined 125 minutes — a little more than 2 hours — to discussing climate and environmental issues. Despite some strong segments, the overall depth of the coverage left room for improvement.

    ABC led coverage overall with 67 minutes across 18 segments discussing climate and environmental issues during the studied time period, including 27 minutes across 7 segments on Earth Day alone. Although the network’s chief meteorologist and chief climate correspondent Ginger Zee was featured in many of the strongest segments, such as the growth of solar energy, other ABC Earth Day segments focused on individual consumer choices, potentially downplaying the need for broader systemic change.

    CBS aired 37 minutes of climate or environmental coverage across 9 segments overall from April 16-28, including 8 minutes across 2 segments on Earth Day itself. Highlights include a deep dive into the health of the world’s oceans. However, other segments, such as a lengthy interview with Bill Gates during the April 20 episode of CBS Saturday Morning demonstrated a concerning trend in mainstream news coverage where fringe technologies are featured. (During the segment, correspondent Ben Tracy did evince skepticism about the efficacy of carbon capture and questioned its role in helping the fossil fuel industry greenwash their planet-warming products.)

    NBC aired the least coverage of the major corporate broadcast networks overall, with 22 minutes across 4 segments during the studied period, including 12 minutes across 2 segments on Earth Day. The network aired segments on important topics like home food production and wildfire prevention, but its coverage was sparse overall. 

    Despite the mixed coverage around Earth Day, there were a few strong segments worth highlighting. These segments demonstrated different approaches taken by corporate broadcast news when addressing environmental issues around Earth Day.

  • Morning and evening broadcast news shows aired several notable Earth Day segments in 2024

  • The April 22 episode of ABC's World News Tonight featured Zee presenting a segment focused on the energy disparity within the Navajo Nation — despite living near power lines, thousands of families remain without electricity due to historical injustices that restricted development on their land. The segment highlighted a local initiative working to bring clean solar energy to these communities, emphasizing the daily struggles faced by residents lacking access to this basic necessity.

  • Citation From the April 22, 2024, episode of ABC's World New Tonight

  • The April 21 episode of CBS Sunday Morning featured a segment about photographer James Balog, whose work documents the effects of climate change on the Earth's ice formations. Correspondent Ben Tracy interviewed Balog, who began as a climate change skeptic but became a fervent advocate after witnessing massive changes to glaciers worldwide. His Extreme Ice Survey project uses cameras to track glacier transformations, providing visual evidence of the urgent need for climate action.

  • Citation From the April 21, 2024, episode of CBS News Sunday Morning

  • The April 25 episode of NBC’s Today featured a segment about how climate change worsens the wildfire crisis and how new technologies are helping firefighters. The report highlighted the increasingly extreme weather conditions fueling larger, more destructive fires. It showcased a system using jet engines for enhanced fire suppression, highlighting the vital role new technologies can play in protecting lives and property.

  • Citation From the April 25, 2024, episode of NBC's Today

  • Despite key examples of positive coverage, the same problematic narratives are still being amplified year after year

  • Earth Day is a time to celebrate our planet and advocate for its protection. Unfortunately, media coverage of Earth Day too often promotes a misguided focus on individual actions, prioritizing what we buy over the systems that must change. 

    This trend was unfortunately evident in broadcast coverage of Earth Day in 2023, when NBC emphasized tips on how to “green your home” and reduce personal carbon footprints, while ABC promoted eco-friendly product deals, and CBS aired limited climate-focused segments overall. These approaches can downplay the complexity of the climate crisis and the need for systemic solutions. Segments that promote individual actions can be improved by pairing these actions with the broader recommendations by the scientific community to transition away from fossil fuels. 

    This year's coverage revealed a continued emphasis on consumption-focused content and the idea of reducing personal carbon footprints. For example, ABC again aired multiple “Deals and Steals” segments that focused on individual actions, while CBS ran a segment featuring Bill Gates that focused on fringe solutions such as carbon capture technology. NBC largely avoided problematic narratives, but the network aired only a few Earth Day related segments during the studied period.

  • How broadcast networks can refresh and reframe their Earth Day coverage

  • Many climate and environmental journalists consider Earth Day itself to be somewhat outdated, with some experts arguing that its origins in raising awareness have been co-opted and capitalist greenwashing has diluted its core message. While this may be true, Earth Day still provides an opportunity for broadcast news to highlight climate and environmental issues, and the occasion often leads to increased coverage of these topics throughout April. 

    However, to truly address the urgency of the climate crisis and environmental injustice, the major networks must revitalize their approach and move beyond outmoded narratives.

    It is vital for TV news programs to address the disproportionate impacts of pollution and climate change on marginalized communities, shifting the focus toward systemic changes and policies necessary for advancing environmental justice. To this end, broadcast networks should strive to make their reporting more inclusive by spotlighting frontline activists and community leaders who are organizing to stave off environmental degradation and working to create healthy communities for all. These individuals can offer crucial insights which are often sidelined in mainstream coverage, highlighting the tangible realities of climate and environmental injustice. 

    Furthermore, broadcast news coverage has an important role in emphasizing the need for substantive policy changes that tackle the root causes of the climate crisis: fossil fuel pollution. This includes holding corporations accountable for their climate and environmental impacts, as well as exposing greenwashing tactics, which are essential topics that can inform and empower viewers. 

    By moving beyond simplistic, feel-good Earth Day segments to focus on more substantive discussions of climate and environmental issues, broadcast networks can encourage critical thinking and spotlight the communities at the forefront of advocating for meaningful change and stronger environmental protections.

  • Methodology

  • Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original episodes of ABC’s Good Morning America, GMA3, World News Tonight, and This Week; CBS’ Mornings, Evening News, CBS Saturday Morning, CBS News Sunday Morning, and Face the Nation; and NBC’s Today, Today 3rd Hour, Nightly News, Sunday Today, and Meet the Press for any of the terms “Earth Day,” “global warming,” “climate,” or “carbon” or any variations of either of the terms “emissions” or “environment” from April 16, 2024, through April 28, 2024, the days surrounding 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, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about environmental or climate issues scheduled to air later in the broadcast.

    We rounded all times to the nearest minute.