Young activists demand that media cover climate change like the global emergency it is

Fox News is singled out for being “especially terrible” on climate change

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Young climate activists have been demanding that mainstream media give climate change far more attention and cover it like the true global emergency that it is, and they'll be ramping up their call this Friday.

Sixty-six activists with the international direct-action group Extinction Rebellion were arrested while protesting for more and better climate coverage in front of the New York Times building on June 22. Eve Mosher, a New York-based spokesperson for the group, told CNN, “They should be treating it like World War II, where there were headlines every day.”

To tell news outlets what kind of coverage they want to see, the New York City chapter of Extinction Rebellion put out a list of “Standards for Media” featuring these main points:

  • “Climate headlines daily”
  • “Climate everywhere: every beat, every story”
  • “Suggest real solutions”
  • “Use climate emergency language”
  • “Enact climate standards for political endorsements”
  • “Remove financial conflicts of interest”

The Extinction Rebellion protesters and other activists have been inspired by 16-year-old Swedish climate leader Greta Thunberg, who started the school climate strike movement in 2018. She pointed out in a January TEDx talk that the media's undercoverage of climate change has led to the public failing to understand the gravity of the crisis:

I remember thinking that it was very strange that humans ... could be capable of changing the Earth's climate. Because if we were, and if it was really happening, we wouldn't be talking about anything else. As soon as you'd turn on the TV, everything would be about that. Headlines, radio, newspapers, you would never read or hear about anything else, as if there was a world war going on. … You would think the media and every one of our leaders would be talking about nothing else.

Now, youth activists are calling for a climate strike against the media on Friday, June 28 -- the first in a series of climate strikes this summer aimed at powerful institutions that aren't taking the climate crisis seriously. These will build on the energy generated in March during a global school strike that saw students in more than 100 countries leave their classrooms to demand meaningful climate action.

The 14-year-old American climate justice activist Alexandria Villaseñor, founder of Earth Uprising International, wrote about the need for a media strike over the climate crisis in a piece co-published by The Nation, Columbia Journalism Review, and The Guardian, using research from Media Matters to bolster her case:

The media as a whole lets us down every day by either treating the climate crisis as a non-story or, worse, by propagating misinformation designed to confuse people and thwart action. Recently I learned ABC’s World News Tonight devoted more broadcast time to the new royal baby in a week than it spent on climate change during the entire year of 2018, according to data analyzed by the watchdog group Media Matters. ABC, CBS, and NBC did not mention the words “climate change” or “global warming” once during the combined 28 news stories they ran about catastrophic flooding in the Midwestern United States in March.

Which is why I and countless other young people around the world will be climate-striking against the news media this coming Friday—protesting outside of TV, radio, and newspaper and other news outlets to demand that they start covering climate change like the emergency that it is.

Villaseñor called out Fox News in particular for its pernicious and destructive role in spreading misinformation about climate change and downplaying its severity, again citing research by Media Matters. Her piece was headlined “Why I’m Climate Striking Against Fox News on Friday”:

This Friday, I will be striking outside of Fox News headquarters in New York City because Fox’s coverage of the climate crisis is especially terrible. Unlike the other broadcast networks, Fox doesn’t practice climate silence. It does something worse: It spreads climate misinformation—for example, by reporting as fact the lie that the well-established science linking greenhouse gas emissions with rising temperatures is unfounded. When the US Senate was about to vote on the Green New Deal last March, Fox aired more than twice as many prime-time segments discussing the Green New Deal as MSNBC and CNN did combined. But Fox’s coverage was full of climate denier talking points, including absurd suggestions that the Green New Deal would get rid of cows and cost a stratospheric $93 trillion.

Fox News commentators have long belittled youth climate activists. In February, President Donald Trump's favorite show, Fox & Friends, aired a discussion in which co-host Ainsley Earhardt said that climate activists are “using the children,” and New York Post columnist Karol Markowicz said, “You can't have a debate with children,” adding, “You're supposed to nod, and smile, and agree to whatever the little kids want ... they're manipulating you by using children.” In March, a Fox & Friends segment about a youth climate lawsuit against the U.S. government featured guest co-host Jedediah Bila saying that kids are “being used as propaganda,” and longtime industry shill and climate denier Steve Milloy agreed, saying that “these are kids being used by adults as human shields to advance their political agenda. This is ideological child abuse. It's got nothing to do with the climate.”

People interested in joining the climate strike against media can learn more from the Earth Uprising website, and everyone can spread the word using the hashtags #CoverClimateNow, #MediaClimateStrike, and #ClimateStrikeSummer.