Deniers Need Not Apply as NBC’s Meet the Press Runs Hour-Long Climate Special
Media coverage of the climate crisis was off to an unusually good start as the calendar flipped to 2019, with a major weekend news show in the United States devoting its whole lineup to the issue—and leaving no space at all for climate denial One veteran climate advocate called it “a glimpse of what it would look like if we took climate change seriously.”
The reporting extended to other news outlets in the U.S. and two in the UK, with opinion pieces on the urgency of the climate story, the severity of climate impacts in 2018, and the reality that the tools are in hand to solve the problem—if only policy-makers would get on with the job.
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The most unusual bright spot was the December 31 edition of NBC’s weekly Meet the Press program, where producers “did what no other weekend news program had ever done before: They discussed climate change for a full hour,” reports Grist columnist and veteran climate hawk Eric Holthaus. “Host Chuck Todd led with what amounted to a bold line in the sand: Climate denial is no longer welcome on our airwaves. It’s a statement that hopefully sets the tone for media coverage as a new year begins and 2020 presidential campaigns gets under way.”
“We’re not going to debate climate change, the existence of it,” Todd said. “The Earth is getting hotter. And human activity is a major cause, period. We’re not going to give time to climate deniers. The science is settled, even if political opinion is not.”
Todd’s guests for the show included former New York mayor and possible 2020 presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, outgoing California governor Jerry Brown, departing Republican Congress member Carlos Curbelo, climate scientist Dr. Kate Marvel, emergency management executive Craig Fugate, and security specialist Michèle Flournoy.
“We need to stop covering the debate and start covering the story, so that people see that this is real, and so that politicians take a more pragmatic approach and find solutions that are actually achievable,” Curbelo said.
“I would point to the fact that it took Roosevelt many, many years to get America willing to go into World War II and fight the Nazis,” Brown told Todd. “Well, we have an enemy, though different, but perhaps very much devastating in a similar way. And we’ve got to fight climate change. And the president has got to lead on that.”
While he found the content of the long-awaited episode “a little underwhelming”, Holthaus still called it “a watershed moment for the media, when most shows have long ignored the most important issue facing humanity in our collective history. And it was refreshing to see a real-life climate scientist speaking freely about the urgency of our present moment and unimpeded by stale talking points.”
Holthaus noted that voices for the proposed Green New Deal like newly-elected legislator Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) were absent from the Meet the Press lineup. “Still, since talking about climate change is the most important thing any of us can do about it, the show was significant. It amounted to a call to action for the media: Debates over the science of climate change are no longer welcome. It’s high time to focus on solutions. We also need to be thinking about the kinds of climate conversations we should be hearing in the next election cycle.”
While the Meet the Press segment was the most obvious departure from a news outlet’s past practice, NBC wasn’t the only one to shine a light on climate change.
New York Times opinion columnist David Leonhardt called climate “the most important story of the year,” urging readers not to be distracted by running sagas like the continuing contention between Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the former reality TV star currently occupying the White House.
“Nothing else measures up to the rising toll and enormous dangers of climate change,” Leonhardt wrote. “I worry that our children and grandchildren will one day ask us, bitterly, why we spent so much time distracted by lesser matters.”
On BBC, environment correspondent Matt McGrath was one of a few veteran climate reporters who added up the toll of climate impacts in 2018, citing Christian Aid’s list of 10 climate disasters that cost more than US$1 billion each—including four that each exceeded $7 billion.
“Climate change is something still often talked about as a future problem, not least because we know the consequences of the warming climate are so devastating and don’t want to face up to what is already happening,” said Dr. Kat Kramer, the organization’s global climate lead. “This report shows that for many people, climate change is having devastating impacts on their lives and livelihoods right now. The great injustice of climate breakdown is that the people that suffer first and worst, are the world’s poor that have done the least to contribute to the crisis.”
And the UK’s Financial Times [subs req’d] was one of several papers that ran year-end editorials on the climate crisis, Carbon Brief reports. “The depressing reality about climate change is that we could solve the problem, at manageable cost, but are failing to do so. This failure is due to a mixture of blindness and self-deception,” the Times wrote.
“The tragedy is that while the scientists and technologists have won the argument, the climate skeptics and deniers have effectively won the policy debate: we are doing far too little, far too late. It is now essential to transform the discussion from fear of what the carbon transition will cost to hope for the opportunities it will bring. What is needed now are people and organizations—above all, politicians—able and willing to persuade humanity that a promised land of sustainable prosperity for all is within our collective reach.”