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Sunday shows have a serious climate representation problem

In 2017, Sunday news shows completely excluded scientists and climate journalists from their discussions on climate change.

Former Vice President Al Gore (L) and Chris Wallace discuss climate change during  "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace" at FOX News D.C. Bureau on June 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. (CREDIT: Paul Morigi/Getty Images)
Former Vice President Al Gore (L) and Chris Wallace discuss climate change during "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace" at FOX News D.C. Bureau on June 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. (CREDIT: Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

Despite a modest increase in overall coverage of climate change, Sunday news shows completely excluded scientists and climate journalists from their segments, while including few women and minority voices, according to new analysis from Media Matters.

In 2017, the four major cable networks’ Sunday news shows — ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and FOX’s Fox News Sunday — collectively featured 31 guests during climate-related segments. Of those guests, just four were nonwhite, and none were scientists or journalists who focus on climate change.

Women were represented just 29 percent of the time, which, while low, is a marked increase from 2015, when the networks featured no women guests for climate-related segments.

It’s not rare for networks to exclude scientists and journalists from their climate coverage — in 2016, Sunday shows also failed to feature a single scientist or climate journalist when discussing climate change, which means that coverage often lacks a scientific or unbiased expert to bring greater context to complex stories. When the shows did feature a journalist in a climate-related segment last year, they were often political journalists or generalists who may lack a deeper or more nuanced understanding of climate issues.

Despite limited representation on Sunday shows, non-white communities often suffer most directly from the impacts of environmental pollution and climate change. African Americans, for instance, are much more likely to live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant than white Americans, and are therefore more vulnerable to the air pollution associated with burning fossil fuels.

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Communities of color are also more vulnerable to consequences from climate change like heat waves. According to one study from the University of Southern California, African Americans in Los Angeles are twice as likely to die from a heat wave than other residents. Non-white communities are also more likely to cite climate change as a major concern than white communities.

The lack of scientific representation on Sunday shows also speaks to the way in which these shows approach the issue of climate change. According to earlier analysis from Media Matters, most cable networks covered climate change in 2017 relative to President Trump’s comments and actions, rather than discussing the issue more broadly — 79 percent of the total time given to climate change focused on policies or statements from the Trump administration.

This coverage angle was also reflected in the guests that Sunday shows featured to talk about climate change, with more than a third coming from the Trump administration. None of the representatives from the administration have any background in climate science, and many explicitly refuse to accept the scientific consensus on climate change, which states that the problem is both real and due to human activity.

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Without featuring climate scientists, Sunday shows also largely failed to draw connections between extreme weather events — like this summer’s spate of devastating hurricanes, or intense wildfire season — and climate change.  Last year, climate-fueled natural disasters cost some $300 billion, representing the most expensive series of disasters in the country’s history.

The lack of minority and female representation on Sunday shows mirrors a larger pattern within the environmental movement writ large. According to a 2017 survey of the 40 largest environmental organizations in the country, people of color make up just 27 percent of full-time staff, and just 14 percent of senior staff.