A Media Matters study found that most network nightly news programs this year are on track to offer no more coverage of global warming than they did in 2013. However, PBS NewsHour remains a notable exception, covering climate change more than any other network and interviewing the largest number of scientists on the topic.
During the first six months of 2014, PBS NewsHour produced more news that featured climate change than any other major network evening broadcast, continuing a trend that Media Matters identified in both 2012 and 2013. The program aired 28 stories that at least mentioned global warming, nearly as much as all coverage combined from ABC World News, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News during the same period, and four times the amount of coverage from ABC World News alone. Among all major nightly news programs, ABC by far offered its viewers the least coverage that gave any substantial mention of global warming, with only seven stories. While it is worth noting that NewsHour is an hour-long broadcast compared to the half hour broadcasts on the other networks, it nonetheless offered more than double the number of stories offered by its closest network news competitor, CBS Evening News.
ABC World News' lack of climate coverage so far this year correlates with its 2013 coverage when the program aired the fewest stories among all network nightly news shows, a flip in coverage from 2012 when the network was second only to PBS in such coverage.
Of the 28 stories that PBS NewsHour aired, 16 were segments focused on global warming. PBS NewsHour's coverage offered analysis of significant policy developments and major international reports, such as the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed carbon pollution standards and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report that found climate change already has taken a toll on the planet and warned that food security and economic growth would be undermined if carbon pollution is not drastically cut. The program also connected unusual events, such as diseased starfish in the Pacific Northwest and coastal flooding on Alaska's North Slope, to the broader climate context.
More scientists were interviewed about climate change on PBS NewsHour than on any other network nightly news broadcast. During the first six months of the year, the NewsHour featured 14 scientists in its reports on global warming, nearly as many as the combined total of 16 scientists who appeared on all nightly news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC. For an issue firmly based in scientific research and evidence, PBS NewsHour relied heavily on scientists, only turning to six media figures and six politicians during the first half of 2014.
This report analyzes news coverage of "climate change" and "global warming" that aired on PBS NewsHour, ABC World News, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News between January 1, 2014, and June 30, 2014. Our analysis includes any segment devoted to climate change, as well as any substantial mention (more than one paragraph of a news transcript and/or or a definitive statement about climate change). Transcripts from Nexis and Media Matters' internal video archives, as well as the Internet Archive online database, were used to collect these stories.
After calling for major network news outlets to air more reporting about climate change, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) praised the finding that Sunday morning news shows dramatically increased their coverage of the climate crisis.
"This is a step in the right direction. Global warming is the most serious environmental crisis facing our planet," Sen. Bernie Sanders said in a written statement.
A Media Matters analysis found that ABC's This Week, CBS' Face The Nation, NBC's Meet The Press and FOX Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday included 1 hour, 5 minutes of reporting related to climate change during the first six months of 2014 -- as much as these outlets aired in the previous four years combined.
In response to a year of lackluster coverage assessed in a 2013 Media Matters study, a group of nine U.S. senators demanded that Sunday morning news shows broadcast more reporting about global warming in a January 16 letter to executives at the major broadcast networks. In the letter, they decried how "shockingly little discussion" the Sunday shows devoted to climate change, which poses a "huge threat" to the United States and planet as was confirmed this year in reports issued by the federal government, international climate experts and the business community. From the letter:
We are writing to express our deep concern about the lack of attention to climate change on such Sunday news shows as ABC's "This Week," NBC's "Meet the Press," CBS's "Face the Nation," and "Fox News Sunday."
According to the scientific community, climate change is the most serious environmental crisis facing our planet. The scientists who have studied this issue are virtually unanimous in the view that climate change is occurring, that it poses a huge threat to our nation and the global community, and that it is caused by human activity. In fact, 97% of researchers actively publishing in this field agree with these conclusions.
The scientific community and governmental leaders around the world rightly worry about the horrific dangers we face if we do not address climate change. Sea level rise will take its toll on coastal states. Communities will be increasingly at risk of billions of dollars in damages from more extreme weather. And farmers may see crops and livestock destroyed as worsening drought sets in. Yet, despite these warnings, there has been shockingly little discussion on the Sunday morning news shows about this critically important issue. This is disturbing not only because the millions of viewers who watch these shows deserve to hear that discussion, but because the Sunday shows often have an impact on news coverage in other media throughout the week.
One month later, on February 16, every major Sunday show offered at least one substantial mention of climate change in a shift that Sanders' office noted at the time. However, some segments used false balance to frame their climate coverage. These broadcasts misled audiences with flawed debates that allowed guests to question the very premise of global warming, contrary to the overwhelming scientific consensus that man-made climate change is real. In fact, nearly 30 minutes of all Sunday segments included false balance. CBS' Face the Nation was the only Sunday show that avoided introducing false balance into its program during the first half of 2014. In light of that change in coverage, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) told the National Journal that: "It's time to move on from treating climate change as a debate and talk about what we can do about it for people's lives and businesses."
In April, while standing on the Senate Floor, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) stressed the need for more climate coverage and the danger of airing false balance on the science behind global warming, saying, "The denier castle is crumbling."
A Media Matters analysis finds that the Sunday shows covered climate change more in the first half of 2014 than in the last four years combined, following a push from nine U.S. Senators for increased coverage. Although these shows gave the issue more coverage, at times they used false balance, enshrouding the scientific consensus surrounding climate change.
A Media Matters analysis found that California's largest-circulating newspapers are increasingly mentioning how climate change is worsening the state's wildfires. California has faced an extremely early and severe fire season in 2014, in line with climate research showing that over the last four decades, fires have grown millions of acres larger and the fire season has extended by about three months on average.
A Media Matters analysis of Fox News coverage of the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed carbon pollution standards finds that long after a report from the Chamber of Commerce was discredited, Fox News continued to cite it. In addition, Fox News only hosted politicians who opposed EPA standards and who have altogether received over $1.6 million in contributions from fossil fuel industries in 2014.
A Media Matters analysis of major cable news coverage of the National Climate Assessment (NCA) revealed that CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News devoted more than three hours of total coverage to the report on its release date, May 6, and the day after. Some reporting, however, gave false balance a national platform, and cable news outlets were more likely to interview politicians than scientists about the threat of global warming.
The Washington Post minimized the climate impact of Keystone XL in a misleading chart. But a comparable chart that illustrates a key rationale the Post uses to advocate building the pipeline -- its supposed job creation potential -- shows how misguided that argument is.
On May 5, the Post's Wonkblog ran an article that included a chart comparing the additional carbon pollution that would result from moving tar sands through the pipeline (as opposed to conventional oil) to the overall carbon pollution in the U.S. economy. However, the Post made an error similar to one that prompted the New York Times to issue a correction, noting that the proper comparison would be to the total emissions from the pipeline (150 million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent, or Co2-e, not 18.7 million as originally reported). So in actuality Keystone XL amounts to a little less than 3 percent of the entire U.S. economy's carbon pollution, not less than 1 percent.
A similar pie chart of the argument that Post editorials and Keystone XL advocates often refer to when lobbying for the pipeline -- job creation -- shows that Keystone XL jobs would actually represent less than 1 one-hundredth of a percent of the U.S. economy. A February 5 editorial from the Post argued that: "The real downside to rejecting the project concerns jobs (construction would create at least several thousand), relations with Canada and the message that arbitrary decision-making would send to investors and other nations."
However, the State Department estimated that Keystone XL will produce only 3,900 construction jobs if construction occurred over a one-year period and 1,950 if construction took two years, resulting in only about 35 permanent jobs after construction. That is microscopic in comparison to 145,669,000 jobs, the most recently reported total number of jobs in the United States.
This is not the first time that the Post has advocated for Keystone XL while trivializing its environmental impact. The Post published a January 2013 editorial that trumpeted the inevitability of extracting oil from the Canadian tar sands and brushed aside criticism borne out of climate change concerns, because "[s]upply would make it to demand, one way or another." The May 5 Post article made the same claim, asserting that: "[T]he tar sands are going to get developed -- and those 18.7 million tons of carbon released into the atmosphere -- regardless of whether Keystone gets built or not." However, reports have indicated that moving oil by rail will not be able to replace the capacity of Keystone XL.
The article concludes that Keystone XL should not be disputed because "Keystone amounts to a little over one tenth of U.S. cow flatulence" - again using the misleading 18.7 million figure. Unmentioned? The White House is indeed taking action to address methane emissions from cattle.
A Media Matters analysis found that network nightly news coverage of climate change was tepid in 2013, despite growing scientific evidence that global warming is getting worse. By contrast, PBS aired nearly three times as much climate coverage as ABC World News, the worst offender.
PBS NewsHour aired more news coverage about climate change and interviewed more scientists on the issue than any other evening network news program in 2013. The scale and scope of coverage demonstrated the program's commitment to reporting on global warming, a pattern Media Matters first identified in 2012. The program broadcast 35 stories that at least mentioned climate change, far more than what ABC World News, NBC Nightly News or CBS Evening News chose to give its audiences. By comparison, the three other network nightly news programs aired a combined total of 49 stories that at least mentioned global warming.
A Media Matters analysis reveals that news coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX picked up in 2013 over the previous year, but remained lower than a 2009 high. Furthermore, while one Sunday show interviewed scientists about climate change, distinguishing itself as the first such program to do so in five years, these shows continued to rely largely on media figures and Republicans to dictate the conversation around global warming.
Conservative pundit and Fox News contributor Erick Erickson questioned the reality of climate change by comparing it to the second coming of Jesus Christ, saying the difference is that "Jesus will return." But mounting evidence shows that climate change has already taken hold and will worsen if left unchecked, a fact accepted by many in the Christian community.
On January 2, Erickson sparked controversy on Twitter after he tweeted that "[t]he difference between people who believe in the 2nd coming of Jesus and those who believe in global warming is that Jesus will return":
Erickson's claim contradicts the position put forward by ranking members of the Christian community. In his inaugural mass on March 19, Pope Francis called upon "all men and women of goodwill" to be "protectors [...] of the environment":
Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of good will: let us be 'protectors' of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.
Catholic leaders have explicitly linked this need to be stewards of the environment with the fight against global climate change. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced in 2001 that it accepts the scientific consensus and "the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change":
As Catholic bishops, we make no independent judgment on the plausibility of "global warming." Rather, we accept the consensus findings of so many scientists and the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a basis for continued research and prudent action (see the sidebar: The Science of Global Climate Change). Scientists engaged in this research consistently acknowledge the difficulties of accurate measurement and forecasting. Models of measurement evolve and vary in reliability. Researchers and advocates on all sides of the issue often have stakes in policy outcomes, as do advocates of various courses of public policy. News reports can oversimplify findings or focus on controversy rather than areas of consensus. Accordingly, interpretation of scientific data and conclusions in public discussion can be difficult and contentious matters.
Catholic bishops are not alone in calling on Christians to accept the science that speaks to the urgent need for action against manmade climate change. A number of Christian institutions have called upon members to take action against climate change. In 2006, the Evangelical Climate Initiative, a group that includes more than 300 evangelical Christian leaders from across the United States, urged members of the evangelical Christian faith to fight climate change because it "hit[s] the poor the hardest":
Poor nations and poor individuals have fewer resources available to cope with major challenges and threats. The consequences of global warming will therefore hit the poor the hardest, in part because those areas likely to be significantly affected first are in the poorest regions of the world. Millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors.
Christians must care about climate change because we are called to love our neighbors, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and to protect and care for the least of these as though each was Jesus Christ himself (Mt. 22:34-40; Mt. 7:12; Mt. 25:31-46).
Christians, noting the fact that most of the climate change problem is human induced, are reminded that when God made humanity he commissioned us to exercise stewardship over the earth and its creatures. Climate change is the latest evidence of our failure to exercise proper stewardship, and constitutes a critical opportunity for us to do better (Gen. 1:26-28).
Beyond leaders within the Christian community, a rough majority of Christians in the United States said that increasingly extreme natural disasters are evidence that the planet already feels the effects of climate change, recent polling data found.
Six out of 10 Catholics and half of all white evangelical Protestants agree that the growing trend in extreme weather events and natural disasters support the scientific consensus about climate change, according to a December 2012 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute:
Nearly 7-in-10 (69%) religiously unaffiliated Americans, 6-in-10 (60%) Catholics, and half (50%) of white evangelical Protestants agree that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of global climate change.
Erickson's rhetoric emulates Rush Limbaugh's claim earlier this year when he informed his listeners, "If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade global warming.You must be either agnostic or atheistic to believe that man controls something he can't create." In response, the Evangelical Environmental Network published an open letter asking him to "refrain from your harmful rhetoric on climate change":
As a lifelong Republican and an evangelical pro-life clergyman who pastored a local congregation for almost 20 years, spent fourteen years working in the coal industry, and now leads one of the oldest creation care ministries, I ask you to refrain from your harmful rhetoric on climate change. It is simply wrong.
Recently, you stated that "If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in man-made global warming." Nothing could be further from truth.