Almost 90 percent of articles about the recent heat wave in the biggest 50 U.S. newspapers failed to mention hot weather’s connection to climate change, according to a new report published by the nonprofit Public Citizen.
This unfortunate trend extends beyond newspapers. Media Matters has documented how rarely broadcast TV networks cover climate change. Our most recent study looked at how the major broadcast networks covered the links between climate change and extreme heat and found that over a two-week period from late June to early July, only one segment out of 127 about the heat wave mentioned climate change.
Public Citizen looked at coverage of extreme heat in the top 50 U.S. newspapers by circulation over the first half of 2018 and found that less than 18 percent of the articles mentioned climate change:
In the top 50 newspapers, a total of 760 articles mentioned extreme heat, heat waves, record heat, or record temperatures from January 1 to July 8, 2018. One hundred thirty-four of these pieces (17.6 percent) also mentioned climate change or global warming.
In late June and early July, when a heat wave was afflicting much of the U.S., the percentage of articles mentioning climate change was even lower:
During the period June 27 to July 8, only 23 of 204 heat-related articles (11.3 percent) mentioned climate.
Public Citizen also looked beyond the top 50 papers to see how extreme heat was covered in papers in 13 states where 10 or more local areas broke heat records from June 27 to July 8. This more localized newspaper coverage was even worse:
During the heat wave, there were 673 articles, with 26 (3.9 percent) mentioning climate.
While writers and editors may want to exercise caution in attributing any individual event to climate change, the science is clear that our warming climate is making extreme events like heat waves, floods, and fires more intense and more frequent. That’s why environmental journalists and communicators have been calling on major news outlets to do a better job of covering climate change and the environmental rollbacks that could make things worse.
Public Citizen’s report did highlight notable exceptions when newspapers did strong reporting to connect extreme heat to climate change -- such as a story by Austin American-Statesman reporter Roberto Villalpando that explained how climate change is bringing 100-degree days to Austin earlier in the year. Despite this, the report concluded, “U.S. news outlets continue to tell only half the story. These exceptions need to become the norm if the public is going to wake from its slumber on climate change in time to take the bold action we urgently need to avoid catastrophic harm, and possibly even an existential threat to the U.S., later this century.”