With much of the American West on fire, it would seem that media outlets would report on climate change being the chief cause of the heatwave and uncharacteristically dry conditions, but the issue has yet to be covered in any meaningful way by cable news.
As of July 31, a map from the U.S. Forest Service shows that there are 63 uncontained large fires burning in multiple states. Only six large fires have been contained so far, according to government data, with “large incidents” raging in 14 different states, from California all the way to Texas. The Forest Service has logged more than 100 fires of various sizes across the country that incident management teams are currently working on maintaining.
In addition to the U.S., record heatwaves around the world are resulting in drastic climate-related disasters on multiple continents. Inside Climate News compiled a list of wildfires, extreme rain and flooding, droughts, crop damage, and energy disruption incidents around the world attributed to the global heat wave.
In Japan alone, roughly 80 people have died from extreme heat, and flooding has killed over 200 people. Additionally, 70 Canadians have died due to extreme heat, and roughly 80 deaths in Greece have been attributed to wildfires. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ranked June of 2018 as the third-hottest month on record (May of 2018 is the hottest on record) with natural disasters causing approximately $6 billion in damages.
Yet even in the face of overwhelming evidence that climate change is causing untold billions in damages and hundreds of preventable deaths around the world, the media is absolutely failing in its responsibility to inform citizens about climate change and its hazardous impact on our lives.
A massive story from CNN about the Carr fire in California, numbering more than 3,600 words, made zero mentions of climate change. A separate CNN story about all of the wildfires burning across California also made no mention of climate change. NBC News’ story about the Carr fire’s death toll didn’t mention climate change once. CBS News’ story about the Mendocino Complex fires also never mentioned climate change. Even the Associated Press’ story about wildfires in Northern California didn’t once mention climate change.
Earlier this month, Media Matters for America monitored 127 cable news segments about the heat wave sweeping America over a two-week period, and found that between three different major networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC), but only one segment on CBS’ This Morning on July 3 ever mentioned climate change. In PBS NewsHour’s two segments on the heat wave, only one mentioned climate change.
Remarkably, despite the lack of coverage about climate change, more and more Americans believe there is solid evidence of global warming than ever before, according to a recent survey from the University of Michigan. The July 2018 poll found that 73 percent of respondents now say there is strong evidence that global warming is real, and 60 percent of respondents saying human activity is at least partially to blame. These are reportedly the highest percentages ever recorded since the survey began in 2008.
The reason cable news outlets don’t mention global warming may be because, as MSNBC’s Chris Hayes candidly explained in a tweet, that the issue is a “ratings killer.” Replies to his tweet beseeched him to at least connect the dots to climate change in the network’s reporting on extreme weather, which Hayes agreed his network should do. To his credit, in June of 2016, Hayes did a special climate-related series in which he traveled around the country showing viewers the direct impact of climate change.
However, with sea levels expected to rise dramatically in coming years and the Trump administration reversing years of progress on reducing fossil fuel use, coverage of climate change will only become more important. Cable news outlets have a responsibility to use their massive platforms and resources to better inform readers and viewers about the biggest issue affecting this and future generations, and to connect the dots to the multitude of scientific evidence showing that global warming is real, and humankind is playing a leading role in exacerbating the crisis.