On June 20, a small Siberian town hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the highest-ever recorded temperature in the Arctic Circle, following a several month-long pattern of temperatures in the region being 50 degrees hotter than normal. But only one show across major broadcast and cable news TV networks mentioned this record-breaking incident.
Climate change is without a doubt amplifying the rise in Arctic temperatures, which is warming nearly twice as fast as the global average. Temperature anomalies for the Arctic in May 2020 would’ve been a one-in-100,000-year event if not for climate change. Rising temperatures in the Arctic are also accelerating ice melt and fueling unprecedented wildfires in the region, both of which are thawing permafrost and in turn releasing massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. All these events tie into MIT climatologist Judah Cohen’s statement: “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.” Climate change’s effects in the region extend across the globe.
According to climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck, “alarm bells should be ringing” because of what’s going on in the region:
“The Arctic is figuratively and literally on fire — it’s warming much faster than we thought it would in response to rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and this warming is leading to a rapid meltdown and increase in wildfires,” University of Michigan environmental school dean Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist, said in an email.
“The record warming in Siberia is a warning sign of major proportions,” Overpeck wrote.
Unfortunately, broadcast and cable news have not been treating these developments as an alarm -- in fact, they’ve barely covered it at all.
Broadcast and cable TV news has been nearly silent about the unfolding climate catastrophe in the Arctic
Since the record-breaking temperature was recorded on June 20, only one show across major broadcast and cable news TV networks -- NBC’s Today on June 22 -- mentioned the Arctic temperatures. NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins mentioned the temperature in a short segment, which treated the Arctic heat as an isolated event and did not provide additional context as to what it means for the Arctic, and the planet, as a whole. Karins stated, “This is a weather event. This isn’t a climate event. But climate change makes weather extremes like this more likely, and it makes them worse.”
This silence by broadcast and cable news on a historic Arctic heat wave comes as no surprise. TV networks rarely discuss the connection between more extreme heat waves and climate change. During last summer’s record-breaking heat wave in July that encompassed almost one-third of the nation, there were only two mentions of climate change across all prime-time cable news shows reporting on the heat wave; NBC did not even mention climate change in its reporting. And during a massive heat wave in 2018, only one out of 127 segments across ABC, CBS, and NBC mentioned climate change.
Near-silence on Arctic warming follows disturbing trend of TV news climate silence in 2020
The coronavirus pandemic and the racial justice protests have -- rightly -- received the bulk of the broadcast and cable TV news coverage so far in 2020. But there’s still no excuse for TV news to ignore major stories related to the climate crisis, which has not stopped in 2020 and will only continue to get worse.
Research from the Media and Climate Change Observatory out of the University of Colorado shows how much U.S. television coverage of climate change has plummeted since the first two months of the year. It decreased by 43% from February to March, a further 45% from March to April, and 26% from April to May. A more in-depth look from Media Matters found that the evening news shows on two of the major corporate broadcast networks -- NBC Nightly News and ABC’s World News Tonight -- have not mentioned “climate change” or “global warming” since mid-February. Put another way -- there has been four months of complete silence by some of the most-watched news programs on a major global crisis.
All the while, there are major climate and environmental stories that are being ignored by broadcast and cable TV news. The Arctic heat wave represents just one example. The Trump administration is rolling back key climate and environmental protections under cover of the coronavirus pandemic. There are stories on how the coronavirus is affecting climate change, stories on how racism affects climate change, and stories linking all three of these issues. Newspapers and digital outlets are telling these stories, but TV news is not amplifying them enough.
The Arctic heat wave is part of a string of climate-fueled extreme weather events facing 2020. As we prepare for more heat waves and hurricane and wildfire seasons, TV news must do a better job of reporting on these events and the other ways that climate is intersecting with the most pressing stories of the day.
For mentions of the Arctic temperatures, Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for any of the terms “Arctic,” “100 degrees,” or “Verkhoyansk” or any variations of the term “Siberia” on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC from June 20 through June 24, 2020.
For climate mentions on the broadcast network evening news shows, we searched the Nexis database for either of the terms “climate change” or “global warming'' on ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News, from January 1 through June 24, 2020.