Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman and climate scientist Michael Mann discuss need for better media coverage of the climate crisis

Goodman cites Media Matters' finding that broadcast TV climate coverage dropped 45% from 2017 to 2018

On the July 24 episode of Democracy Now!, host Amy Goodman and her guest, Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann, discussed extreme weather and how corporate media cover the climate crisis. Goodman cited Media Matters’ most recent study of climate coverage on flagship broadcast TV news programs, which found that coverage decreased by 45% from 2017 to 2018.

From the July 24 episode of Democracy Now!:

AMY GOODMAN (HOST): On Sunday, Michael Mann tweeted at The New York Times urging the paper to change the headline to its story, “What a Heat Wave Looks Like.” Mann said it should have read “What Climate Change Looks Like.”

Michael Mann, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Let’s start there. This is how people learn about the climate crisis -- the connections of the disparate weather events, from the meteorologists on television, every 10 minutes or so, to headlines like that, “heat wave” versus “climate crisis.” Can you talk about what the media needs to do to make these connections?

MICHAEL MANN (CLIMATE SCIENTIST): Yeah. Thanks, Amy. It’s good to be with you this morning.

Just in your program earlier, we saw a great example of a story where there is an important climate change context. Of course, the political turmoil in Puerto Rico right now, ultimately, is connected to the inadequate response of their government to a devastating storm, Hurricane Maria, that undoubtedly was supercharged by climate change.

The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle. Once again this summer, we are seeing them play out in real time, on our television screens, in our newspaper headlines. And so we do need to connect the dots. Climate is no longer just a niche issue that, you know, that deserves only to be covered in science programs or science and technology sections. It is impacting every aspect of modern life, and we need to integrate that context into our reporting.

You mentioned The New York Times article. And I somewhat humorously tweeted, you know, that I fixed their headline for them, because they published an article about this devastating heat wave without any mention, let alone any allusion in the title, of the critical role that climate change is now playing with these devastating extreme weather events. We simply would not be seeing these devastating, unprecedented weather extremes in the absence of the warming of the planet due to the burning of fossil fuels.


GOODMAN: So, you have the -- talking about devastations, well over 600 people dead in South Asia from this climate crisis. And I want to go back to this issue of the media, since the U.S. is one of the main drivers, with the release of greenhouse gases, of the climate crisis, to what people understand here.

A recent report by Media Matters, looking at just the networks’ nightly news programs and Sunday morning political shows, found climate change coverage actually dropped 45% from 2017 to 2018. The programs on ABC, NBC, CBS, as well as Fox News Sunday aired a total of 142 minutes of climate coverage -- a little more than two hours -- in 2018 -- less than two-and-a-half hours. Media Matters reported, nearly a third of the time, 46 minutes, came from one single episode on NBC’s Meet the Press. The same study found ABC featured just one climate scientist on its show in 2018. That’s ABC. NBC led with 16 climate scientists on its nightly newscasts and Sunday morning news shows.

But as we were talking about before, actually, what would make the hugest difference, what most people tune into television for, are the meteorologists, who are talking about extreme weather but not talking about the climate crisis. When we covered the U.N. climate summit, we met a group of European meteorologists, called something like Meteorologists for Social Change, who were leading a movement to get the people who most communicate with their populations to make this connection.

What kind of conversations have you had? And I’m not even talking Fox, the climate-denying network. I’m talking about the networks that are critical of Trump, yet continue to refuse to make those connections in their daily reports, Michael Mann, like this weekend as they talked about heat waves.

MANN: Yeah. So, you know, some media organizations are doing reasonably well. The New York Times, in general, actually, has given quite a bit of coverage to climate change and the devastating impacts that it’s having. PBS NewsHour has done a good job in covering this issue and connecting the dots on these extreme weather events and climate change. And, of course, you, Amy. Democracy Now! is a shining example of what a media organization needs to be doing: showcasing this issue and connecting it with all these other challenges and crises that we face.

Now, there is an effort when it comes to broadcast meteorologists. You know, your local weather presenter, your local meteorologist, is often the one scientist that people feel like they know and they have a personal relationship with. So there’s a huge opportunity to, again, integrate the context of climate change into nightly weather reports. After all, the extreme weather events that we’re watching play out in real time here in the United States. There’s a direct climate connection. Some broadcast meteorologists are starting to do that. My friend John Morales in NBC Miami is doing a wonderful job in making those connections for his audiences. And, of course, in Florida, they are seeing the impacts of climate change firsthand. And now we’re seeing them pretty much everywhere. And other broadcast meteorologists should follow John’s example.

There is a program right now, an organization that helps to sort of foster the integration of climate information into news coverage. Climate Central in Princeton, New Jersey, has been working with broadcast meteorologists to provide them with the tools and the training so that they can integrate climate change into their nightly discussions of weather, especially when the weather events that they’re talking about, the extreme weather events, cannot be understood without talking about climate change.

GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you very much for being with us. Of course, we’ll continue to do this. In Florida, newsrooms around Florida are banding together to -- you know, usually competitors, Miami Herald and other newspapers -- to cover the climate crisis, and we’re seeing more and more of this. But, obviously, it’s up to the consumers of the news to demand that their news organizations make the connection, tell the truth.