STUDY: Media Begin To Connect The Dots Between Climate Change And Wildfires

A Media Matters analysis of wildfire coverage in July finds that nearly 14 percent of articles and segments mentioned climate change -- over four times more than in previous months.

Media Matters Study

Seven out of nine fire experts contacted by Media Matters agreed that journalists covering wildfires in the Western U.S. should discuss how human-induced climate change increases the risk of wildfires in that region. A report commissioned by the Bush administration stated that “a nearly fourfold increase in large wildfires in recent decades” in the West is “strongly associated with increased spring and summer temperatures and earlier spring snowmelt, which have cause drying of soils and vegetation.” Yet our previous analysis of wildfire coverage from April through June found that journalists mentioned climate change in only 3 percent of coverage (1.6 percent of television segments and 5.9 percent of print articles).

Using the same methodology, we found that climate change was mentioned in 13.8 percent of coverage in July (10.6 percent of television segments and 17.8 percent of print articles). Nearly every outlet included in our analysis improved by this measure, particularly CBS, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post. However, there were still many reports that missed the opportunity to inform their audiences about what scientists are telling us about wildfire risk.

Media Matters Study

Jill Fitzsimmons contributed to this report. The graphics for this report were created by Drew Gardner.