Making Sure Your Newsroom Is on the Right Side of Climate History

When a society is under attack, it’s journalism’s duty to sound the alarm. Read about this and other stories in this week's newsletter.

People in West Bengal, India were heavily affected after river embankments broke following heavy rain from cyclone Yaas on May 28, 2021 (Photo by Dipayan Bose/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

TV newsman Bill Moyers likes to tell the story of how Edward R. Murrow, the pre-eminent US broadcast journalist of his time, insisted on covering what became Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939. Murrow’s bosses at CBS News had other priorities; they ordered Murrow’s reporters to cover dance competitions in Hamburg, Paris, and London, explaining that Americans needed some happy news. Murrow wouldn’t do it. “It’ll probably get us fired,” he told his colleagues, but he sent his correspondents to the German-Polish border; they arrived just in time to witness Hitler’s tanks and troops roar into Poland. Suddenly, Europe was at war. And Americans heard about it because journalists at one of the nation’s most influential news outlets defied convention and did their jobs.

Today, all of humanity is under attack, this time from an overheated planet—and too many newsrooms still are more inclined to cover today’s equivalent of dance competitions. The record heat waves and storms of 2020 confirmed what scientists have long predicted: climate change is underway and threatens unparalleled catastrophe. And because carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere for centuries, temperature rise and its effects are only getting started. As one scientist said as wildfires turned San Francisco’s skies orange last September, “We’re going to look back in 10 years, certainly 20 … and say, ‘Wow, 2020 was a crazy year, but I miss it.’” 

Last month, we asked the world’s press to commit to treating climate change as the emergency that scientists say it is; their response was dispiriting. More than 30 newsrooms have now signed the statement but some major outlets told us privately they won’t sign. The phrase “climate emergency” sounded like activism, they said; endorsing it might make them look biased. Instead, they added, they would let their climate coverage speak for itself.

But that’s the problem: their coverage does speak for itself, and it is simply not reflecting the facts of the story.

Read the full column, which is available for all CCNow partners to publish… 

NEWS FROM US

CCNow press briefing on the G7 summit, June 9. Leaders of the G7 nations will meet next week in Britain to discuss climate change prior to the UN summit in November. A major issue will be rich countries’ failure to honor their Paris Agreement obligation to provide $100 billion a year to help poor countries cope with climate impacts and quit fossil fuels soon enough to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 C. Two distinguished experts, Saleemul Huq of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh and Rachel Kyte, Dean of The Fletcher School at Tufts University, will explain this essential but often overlooked aspect of climate politics at 10 a.m. US Eastern Time on Wednesday, June 9. RSVP here…

Who says climate reporting can’t be fun? Some of the world’s biggest musical acts, including Billie Eilish, Shawn Mendes, Maroon 5, The Lumineers, Dave Matthews Band, Dead and Company and Guster, today are launching the Music Climate Revolution. Organized by the musician-led nonprofit REVERB, the campaign aims to “unleash music’s cultural power against the climate emergency” by shrinking the carbon footprint of concerts and tours, connecting fans with climate activist groups, and funding community-based clean energy projects. Contact REVERB to request interviews with the stars—and to test the campaign’s claims about making the music business “climate positive.”

ESSENTIAL CLIMATE REPORTING

  • Ripple effects: Last week’s Dutch court ruling ordering Royal Dutch Shell to cut emissions by 45 percent by 2030 has far-reaching implications for the oil industry and the larger climate emergency. And it now appears that activist investors won three new seats on the board of directors of ExxonMobil in last week’s vote, not two as initially reported. Journalists can prepare to cover the next phases of these historic developments. Read the story by veteran industry analyst Antonia Juhasz, for Rolling Stone…

    Also, it was an “unusual collection of rebels” whose victories last week delivered a common message: it’s time for the fossil fuel industry to go. Read the story by Somini Sengupta of The New York Times…

    And: the triumphant giddiness of the lawyers who won the landmark Dutch court ruling is vividly captured in this video from Al Jazeera…

  • Can Biden actually do that? James Hansen, the former NASA scientist whose congressional testimony put climate change on the public agenda in 1988, argues in a new Boston Globe op-ed that a US president has the legal authority to impose a price on carbon. The op-ed’s co-author, E. Donald Elliot, was the general counsel of the EPA in 1990 when he wrote a legal memorandum that he now argues has been misinterpreted to mean that the federal government has no such authority. Reporters: this is an ideal opportunity for some hard-nosed solutions journalism. If Hansen and Elliot are correct, it could be a game-changer. So, are they? **Read key takeaways and watch the recording of our recent Talking Shop webinar focused on climate solutions reporting.**
  • Good news, bad news: The Biden administration is suspending oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that were issued by the Trump administration. But activists are also criticizing president Biden for defending Trump’s approval of a massive oil and gas drilling project, known as Willow, in Alaska. Read the story by Oliver Milman at The Guardian…
  • Ticking time bomb: Forty percent of US oil and 15% of its gas comes from the Permian Basin in West Texas. Biden has promised to slash oil and gas-related methane emissions, but the Texas situation will test the president’s pledge. Read the story by Rebecca Leber at Vox…
  • A denier with a book to sell: Climate skeptic Steve Koonin is racking up media hits on Fox News and other right-wing media as he promotes a new book by billing himself as an “Obama scientist.” Problem is, Koonin has repeatedly been wrong about basic climate science, according to this Scientific American commentary by noted scientists including Naomi Oreskes and Michael E. Mann.
  • Waterless world: For decades, a loophole in Arizona’s water regulation has facilitated huge new subdivisions in the far reaches of Phoenix. Now, the water those subdivisions need is a victim of the West’s worsening drought. Read the story by Sarah Tory in the print edition of High Country News. **Available for republication by CCNow partners.**
  • Old treaties, new tricks: Tribal lawyers and environmental activists are demonstrating that treaties between the US government and historically displaced indigenous peoples can protect not only tribal rights but also ecosystems relied upon by all Americans. Critics of the Enbridge company’s Line 3 and Line 5 pipelines, in Minnesota and Michigan, respectively, have cited such treaties in opposing the pipelines. And Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer echoed their arguments when revoking an easement for Line 5 last November. Read the story from Mary Annette Pember in Indian Country Today…

ODDS & ENDS

Today! US climate policy briefing: On June 3, at 2 p.m. Eastern Time, climate policy expert Dr. Leah Stokes will join Climate Matters in the Newsroom for a non-advocacy briefing for journalists on the fast-moving world of US climate policy. RSVP here.

New resource on climate displacement: This new study of displacement worldwide in 2020 shows that natural disasters accounted for more than three times the displacement caused by violence. In the study, you’ll find detailed data and case studies, much of which could be a jumping off point for strong climate migration reporting.

Covering a pipeline protest? Read this SEJ tipsheet on the growing number of states that are passing anti-protest laws aimed at pipeline activists and demonstrators at energy or “critical infrastructure” facilities. Journalists covering these stories could be in for jail time, too.
If you have any feedback on this newsletter, or know of information that should be included here, shoot us a note at editors@coveringclimatenow.org.

That’s all from us today. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!