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Media Still Missing the Memo on Urgency in IPCC Report

Hurricane Harvey hits Port Arthur, TX SC National Guard/Wikipedia

Media in the United States and the United Kingdom are getting decidedly tepid reviews for their coverage of last week’s landmark IPCC report [1] on pathways to 1.5°C average global warming. While climate is enjoying at least a brief news surge in the U.S., it appears even the urgency and detail in the report couldn’t shake up the moribund coverage in the UK.

In the U.S., interviews with a half-dozen members of Congress and the Trump administration, including the current White House occupant himself, “are news because they are complete aberrations,” said Yale University environmental scientist Anthony Leiserowitz. “The news networks very rarely ask about climate change.”

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Yet “over the weekend [of October 13-14], there was a sign that the issue of global warming is breaking though the maelstrom of political news—at least a little bit,” the Washington Post reports. CBS asked Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) whether “humans are the chief contributor to climate change”, the network’s Lesley Stahl challenged Trump on whether he still thinks climate change is a hoax (he somewhat relented [3] on that view), and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos questioned White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow on whether Trump planned to do anything about the IPCC report.

In total, at least six government officials were asked about climate change during television interviews airing Sunday,” the Post notes, a moment Leiserowitz said would never have materialized “had the IPCC report not come out”.

To date, the Post notes, the networks’ Sunday news shows had only mentioned climate change three times in 2018.

The situation is no better in the UK, writes [4] former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, with all but two or three newspapers declining to give the IPCC’s dire warnings and detailed analysis front page coverage. “Most tucked away the existential threat to our way of life on inside pages, if at all. Three decided it was better to focus on two Strictly stars who had indulged in a drunken snog,” he writes.

“This depressed me more than I can say,” Rusbridger continues. “A bit of an insomniac at the best of times, I’d been listening in the middle of the night to the BBC account of the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. It was not an aid to sleep: indeed, the likelihood of an impending increase in floods, drought, extreme heat, famine, and poverty made me sit bolt upright in bed.

“But many editors were obviously less troubled. Hey, these are just the leading climate change authorities in the world, so what would they know? Enough of experts, let’s have some fun in our lives.”

The core of the problem, he adds, is that more and more publications have replaced journalism in the public interest with metrics to determine what news the public is already interested in. “If the readers don’t want to read about climate change—because it bores/frightens them, or they simply don’t believe in it—why write about it?” he writes.

“That might make business sense, but it’s really bad for democracy. Politicians are going to have to take some really tough decisions in the near future if we’re to stave off terrible things happening to hundreds of millions of our fellow human beings. If we are completely unprepared for that discussion, it will make the chances of change virtually impossible.”