Punishing extreme heat is affecting countries all across the globe this week. Extreme “red” heat warnings were issued in the United Kingdom for the first time, and Wales recorded its highest-ever temperature. At least 1,100 people have died in Spain and Portugal due to the extreme heat, which has fueled wildfires there and in parts of France. The Midwestern U.S. and Central Asia are suffering from extreme heat as well.
The European heat is truly exceptional, and its connections to the climate crisis are unquestionable. As climate reporter Andrew Freedman recently noted on Twitter, “the word ‘unprecedented’ is as overused as the phrase ‘the new normal,’ but the extreme heat event underway in Europe truly is historic. And it would not be as hot without human-caused global warming.”
Despite the clear links between climate change and extreme heat, corporate broadcast and cable TV news programs failed to consistently connect climate change to these global extreme heat events. Out of 62 combined segments and weather reports discussing the historic heat waves on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and MSNBC, from July 16-18, only 20 (32%) mentioned climate change. The vast majority of extreme heat segments mentioning climate (16) were related to the European heat wave.
News shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC ran a combined 27 global heat segments – 37% of them mentioned climate change
From July 16-18, corporate broadcast networks ABC, CBS, and NBC aired 10 mentions of climate change related to extreme heat, and 7 of those mentions were in the context of reporting on the European heat wave.
Climate change was mentioned in 5 of ABC’s 12 extreme heat segments (42%). Four of those segments were in the context of European heat, and 1 in the context of U.S. heat. The latter mention was by meteorologist Ginger Zee on the July 18 edition of World News Tonight and represented the only climate mention in a weather report on corporate broadcast news.
Meanwhile, NBC aired 9 segments covering the extreme heat, with 3 of them (33%) mentioning climate change – 2 in the context of U.S. heat, and 1 in the context of European heat. CBS aired 6 extreme heat segments, with 2 (33%) mentioning climate change – both came in the context of European heat.
The July 18 edition of CBS Mornings included a good example of how extreme weather coverage can benefit from interviews with experts in the field who can credibly communicate the science and urgency of action to viewers. CBS correspondent Roxana Saberi interviewed Kirsty McCabe of the U.K.’s Royal Meteorological Society, who stated that “climate change has everything to do with the extreme weather that we're seeing at the moment – and it's human-induced climate change, it’s not a natural variation.” She later stated that “if we don't do something now and take drastic action, we will continue to see these things happening.”
Broken down by region, the corporate broadcast networks aired 11 news segments on the European heat, 10 segments on U.S. heat, and 6 that combined both European and U.S. heat.
In June, these same networks mentioned climate in just 9% of combined segments on various extreme weather events happening around the globe. Last week, they mentioned climate in a combined 38% of segments on the Washburn Fire, which threatened Yosemite National Park and its iconic sequoias.
Cable TV networks CNN and MSNBC ran a combined 31 segments on global extreme heat – 10 of them, or 32%, mentioned climate change
MSNBC aired 10 segments on extreme heat, and 7 of them (70%) mentioned climate change – making them the best-performing network reviewed in this time period. Four mentions came in segments about European heat, 2 on both European and U.S. heat, and 1 specific to extreme heat in Texas. MSNBC also featured the only mention by cable news of climate change in a weather report, which occurred while reporting on the European heat wave on the July 18 edition of Katy Tur Reports.
CNN ran 21 such segments, and only 3 (14%) mentioned climate change. All 3 came in the context of covering European heat. While lacking in climate mentions during its extreme heat coverage, the network featured one segment that did a particularly good job of putting these events within the context of the climate crisis and articulating the high stakes of climate inaction. During the 5 a.m. hour of the July 16 edition of CNN Newsroom, the reporter stated that “the extreme heat and drought fuelling what scientists say is a sign of the effects of climate change,” before going to climate scientist Michael Mann to explain further. Later in the segment, the reporter stated, “As the mercury climbs, scientists again warning [that] without addressing the climate crisis, weather events like this will grow more common and more extreme.”
Broken down by region, these networks aired 19 segments on the European heat, 10 segments that combined both European and U.S. heat, 5 segments on U.S. heat (two of which were specific to Texas), and one segment on the heat wave currently affecting Asia.
Notably, Fox News ran 4 weather reports on extreme heat, and none of them mentioned climate change. Two were specific to U.S. heat, and 2 combined both U.S. and European heat. We did not include Fox’s numbers in the full dataset due to the network's long history of downplaying the severity of climate change.
The heat will only worsen this week (especially in parts of Europe), so these networks have an opportunity to better incorporate climate change in their reporting
Temperatures are expected to remain very high in the U.K. and France through July 19. Numerous record-high temperatures may be set in the Midwestern U.S. as well on this date, giving these networks an opportunity to accurately report on climate change in their extreme heat reporting throughout the rest of the week.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video and Nexis databases for ABC’s Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and This Week; CBS’ Mornings, Evening News, and Face the Nation; NBC’s Today, Nightly News, and Meet the Press and all original programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC for any of the terms “heat,” “heatwave,” “heat wave,” “temperature,” “drought,” “hot,” “hotter,” or “hottest” from July 16, 2022, through July 18, 2022.
We included segments, which we defined as instances when extreme heat was the stated topic of discussion or when we found “significant discussion” of extreme heat. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multi-topic segment discussed extreme heat with one another. We also included weather reports as segments, which we defined as instances when extreme heat was the stated topic of discussion by a meteorologist in front of a green screen.
We did not include passing mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker mentioned extreme heat without another speaker engaging with the comment, or teasers, which we defined as instances when the host or anchor promoted a segment about extreme heat scheduled to air later in the broadcast.
We then reviewed each segment for mentions of the terms “climate” or “global warming.”