On the Media: Finally Seeing the Link Between Climate Change, Disasters?

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.

The media just might be starting to see the obvious link between climate change and extreme weather.

Of course it’s hard to miss during a week or so when we have deluges in Florida, wildfires in Colorado and deadly freak storms in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere along the Eastern Seaboard. Scientists suggest taking a look at U.S. weather in recent weeks.”

Seth Borenstein, the award-winning science writer at the Associated Press, describes it best: "If you want a glimpse of some of the worst of global warming," Borenstein writes in a piece that appeared nationally, "scientists suggest taking a look at U.S. weather in recent weeks."

Over in the new media world, Yahoo is carrying a story called “What’s Behind the Record Heat?” The answer: it could be “a hallmark of a warming planet.”

Along with the “anecdotal lead” and the “nut graph,” the “trend story” is a basic tenant of journalism.

Given the extreme weather we’ve been seeing lately, it’s becoming (finally) clear to many journalists that we have a trend in our weather patterns – a trend exacerbated by climate change, according to legitimate climate scientists.

CBS News points out biggest trend in temperatures: So far this year, there have been 15,055 record highs, but only 1,343 record lows. That ratio of 11-1 is indicative that climate change is starting to have some real impacts that we all can feel.

The trends finally have some journalists starting to pay attention to climate scientists like Kevin Trenberth of National Center for Atmospheric Research.

“Look out the window and right now I think you can see climate change in action,” Trenberth told CBS News.

Now that the effects of climate change are becoming palpable, some in the media are thankfully beginning to call out politicians for their inaction and climate deniers for their mendacity.

“Still don’t believe in climate change?” Robinson writes. “Then you’re either deep in denial or delirious from the heat.”

MSNBC’s Alex Wagner, meanwhile, asks why our political leaders are not more focused on environmental issues.

“You would think this (freak storm) happening in Washington D.C. would spur some sort of action,” Wagner says.

Still, much of the media is missing the story.

As a recent analysis by Media Matters finds, only three percent of wildfire coverage in major media outlets mentioned “climate change” or global warming. Television mentioned climate change less than two percent of the time, while print media mentioned it six percent of the time during the period April 1-June 30.

Amy Goodman of the radio show Democracy Now also points out that amid all the coverage of storms, fires and flooding recently, there’s relatively little mention of global warming.


Goodman and her guests point to one reason: Climate denial groups like the Heartland Institute, which is funded by oil magnates the Koch Brothers and other big fossil fuel backers. For years, Heartland has spent millions of dollars funding climate denial campaigns and backing politicians willing to parrot its untruths about climate change.

Today, however, Heartland Institute is in disarray. Americans -- journalists included -- are starting to feel the real heat from climate change. Billions of dollars are being lost by governments and private industry ill-equipped to handle weather disasters.

Maybe it’s now time to quit debating over the effects of climate change, and start doing something about it.