Media Ignore Critical Link Between Natural Disasters and Climate Change

by Vins
Published: Updated:

Since the 2016 presidential election, the establishment media’s coverage of natural disasters has failed to connect the disasters with the scientific issue of climate change. Lisa Hymas’ December 2017 Guardian article exposed the media’s lack of climate change coverage. Although much climate change research reveals a link between extreme weather and climate change, “only 42% of Americans believe that climate change will pose a serious threat to them during their lifetimes,” Hymas reported. Although recent natural disasters highlight the effects of climate change this subject has received little attention in establishment news coverage.

Rather than properly reporting about the hurricanes, heatwaves, and wildfires that occurred in 2017, the media have prioritized other issues, such as President Trump’s Twitter messages. Hymas reviewed research by Jennifer Good, who analyzed two weeks of news coverage and found that sixty percent of mainstream news stories included the word “Trump,” while only about five percent mentioned climate change. For example, when President Trump visited Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, there was ample coverage of him tossing paper towels to the crowd, but minimal coverage of news of the storm itself. The media have decided to dedicate page space and air time to other, more sensational stories, often focused on Trump. This kind of coverage diverts the public’s attention from obtaining actual news on extreme weather and its connection to climate change.

Hymas’ article acts as a call to action for media to provide responsible coverage in order to properly inform citizens of current issues surrounding climate change. Media must “help the public understand the immediacy of the threat” in order to reach the solution of a cleaner energy system, Hymas wrote. “We could expect more Americans to get on board with that solution if they more fully understood the problem – and that’s where the critical role of the media comes in,” she concluded.

Source: Lisa Hymas, “Climate Change Is the Story You Missed in 2017. And the Media Is to Blame,” The Guardian, December 7, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/07/climate-change-media-coverage-media-matters.

Student Researchers: Kate Beckley, Maura Kolhonen, and Colleen Madden (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Editor’s Note: For prior Project Censored coverage of shortcomings in establishment news outlets’ coverage of the connections between extreme weather events and climate change, see “Corporate News Ignores Connections Between Extreme Weather and Global Warming,” story #8 in Censored 2015.