Has the media narrative changed around climate change? – Al Jazeera America
News outlets could cover climate change stories every day and still sell this story short. But they struggle to find the right way to cover the relentless onslaught of information and data that is newsworthy. Still, there are signs that things are changing.
Corporate media, which have fed off natural disasters, floods and famines – while shying away from larger, causal issues – are now beginning to examine and link the global economic system to an issue that has brought us to the brink.
Are these changes in coverage real? Will they last?
In a recent episode, an American television personality, scientist Bill Nye, used showmanship, props and profanity, to make his case on climate change. And on a topic that, when covered conventionally, can struggle to attract clicks – Nye quickly got four million of them.
“Bill Nye’s clip is absolutely fantastic,” says activist George Barda. “On one level it was comedy. But on the other hand, it was absolutely like searingly concise in terms of the situation that we face. The planet is on fire at a scale unimagined 20 years ago.”
The climate crisis is a complex story to cover but there has been a shift since the data has grown so compelling you don’t have to be a scientist to understand it.
A United Nations study released earlier this month warns that up to one million species, flora and fauna, could soon be extinct. A second UN body warned governments late last year that they had 12 years to limit temperature rise to avoid a climate catastrophe.
Both studies drew significant coverage, as did a recent wave of climate activism. The protests went global with more than one million students involved. And then there was the Extinction Rebellion, the street movement born in London that was tired of playing by the rules and being ignored by the media.
“It was interesting to watch the framing of Extinction Rebellion in the UK,” says Kate Aronoff, a contributor to The Intercept. “I think a lot of the response was, you know, these are just privileged protesters going out into the streets, don’t they have jobs to do? … A lot of folks who are coming to these streets are doing so because they recognise that climate change and extinction crisis pose a massive disruption to life as we know it.”
The climate change story is also being told on platforms in ways it hasn’t been told before.
Greenpeace has never been shy about getting its environmental message out. Last year, it added an investigative unit to its team to examine the measurable effects of climate change and to dig into the corporate PR side of the story, journalistically documenting the money fossil fuel companies spend to lobby governments.
And Netflix, which makes most of its money through fictional content, films and TV series, recently added to its library a climate change series fronted by David Attenborough. Attenborough is best known for making picture-rich wildlife documentaries for Britain’s BBC. Six months ago he was criticised in the Guardian for missing the bigger picture.
As a columnist in the paper put it, Attenborough and his team were “telling a false story, creating a fairy tale world that persuades us all is well, in the midst of an existential crisis.”
Ehsan Masood – science journalist
George Barda – activist
Kate Aronoff – contributor, The Intercept
Vishwas Satgar – associate professor, University of the Witwatersrand
Source: Al Jazeera