Coverage of climate change from television news outlets has dropped precipitously since 2009. And during the lead-up and arrival of Superstorm Sandy, the climate connection to extreme weather was conspicuously absent.
But as broadcast journalists transition from tracking Superstorm Sandy to covering its aftermath, some television outlets are starting to explore the role of climate change in more detail. Starting yesterday afternoon, there was an increase in climate-related stories, with extensive segments appearing on Al Jazeera, Current TV, MSNBC, and NBC. (There were also a couple segments on Fox, both of which were used to raise doubts about climate science).
Below are some of the top pieces covering the link between a warming planet and extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy.
NBC News science reporter Robert Bazell had a terrific piece on yesterday’s Nightly News called, “Dramatic weather patterns the ‘new normal’ “:
Chris Matthews hosted an extensive eight-minute segment on MSNBC’s Hardball last night, featuring geosciences professor Michael Oppenheimer and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), a vocal advocate of climate action:
Also last night, Al Gore was featured on Jennifer Granholm’s show, The War Room. Gore discussed the link between “dirty weather” and “dirty energy”:
Al Jazeera’s Inside Story featured a wide-ranging discussion of the science and politics of climate change, using Superstorm Sandy as the platform for the segment. The conversation featured Penn State climatologist Michael Mann, Rick Piltz of Climate Science Watch, and Climate Progress’s Joe Romm:
Interviewing Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy about the impact of Sandy last night, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow asked a direct question about how warming-fueled extreme weather changes the game for disaster planning and infrastructure build out:
Even comedians are talking climate. Seth Meyers, the head writer for Saturday Night Live, was on the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon show talking about Sandy. Meyers lamented the lack of climate discussion in the presidential debates and used the “steroids in baseball” analogy for extreme weather that has gained popularity among climate communicators:
The increase in stories comes as major public figures raise the climate connection to extreme events like Superstorm Sandy. Yesterday afternoon, Former President Bill Clinton criticized Mitt Romney for mocking Obama’s pledge to “slow the rise of the oceans” by addressing climate change. And New York Governor Andrew Cuomo lamented the “new normal” for extreme weather.
“There has been a series of extreme weather incidents. That is not a political statement, that is a factual statement. Anyone who says there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns is denying reality,” said Cuomo.
Some of the television coverage was driven by these statements from Clinton and Cuomo. This illustrates how the current climate silence in the U.S. is somewhat of a “chicken and egg” problem.
Even as scientists make increasingly strong statements about how human activity is heating the planet and making today’s weather more extreme, political leaders have fallen silent while broadcast press coverage of the issue has dropped precipitously in the last three years.
But statements from prominent political figures on big issues, including climate change, make headlines. The broadcast press tends to follow those statements closely, molding them into a bigger news story. And when political leaders avoid the issue, the broadcast press tends to do the same. This takes away some of the pressure on politicians — particularly the presidential candidates — to discuss the issue.
So you get what we had this month: the first time in nearly 25 years that climate change wasn’t mentioned in a presidential debate by a moderator or a candidate.
However, climate coverage on television outlets picked up a bit last night, partly driven by this iterative relationship between prominent policymakers, journalists, and commentators.