Say It With Us: Extreme Weather Is Climate Change in Action!

When reporting extreme weather events in recent weeks - from the fires, to the Derechos, to Isaias - many big-name publications and networks, all with huge audiences, failed to note the climate connection.

Photo: A powerful derecho caused widespread damage across Iowa Farmland (Photo: Getty Images)

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Today, a wildfire is raging in Colorado, forcing home evacuations and closing part of the Interstate near Grand Junction. In the Midwest on Monday, powerful “Derecho” storms ripped through several states, with 100 mile an hour winds downing power lines, depriving 1 million people of electricity, and flattening one third of Iowa’s corn. On the East Coast, Hurricane Isaias killed power in communities up and down the seaboard last week and whipped up dozens of tornadoes in its wake. In China, there have been floods; in Sudan, also floods; and in Russia, Siberia continues to burn.

Climate change is not the explicit nor the singular cause of weather events like these. But scientists know with certainty that it sets the preconditions for extreme weather events to occur more often and with more ferocity. Amid an especially active Atlantic hurricane season, for example, federal forecasters expect to run out of designated storm names, which last occurred in 2005, the year of the unforgettable Hurricane Katrina.

We know this. But we’re still not saying it.

From the fires, to the Derechos, to Isaias, many big-name publications and networks, all with huge audiences, failed to note the climate connection. Articles and segments that recounted the storms’ damages at length nevertheless did not mention the word ‘climate’ at all.

In 2020, there is simply no excuse for continuing to make this basic mistake, a mistake that has plagued media coverage of extreme weather for many years. The effects of climate change are too obvious. The stakes are too high. When we cover these events and only note the damage done, we might serve audiences’ curiosity. But if we really mean to serve the public, we need to tell the whole story.

It needn’t be difficult. Mere mention of climate change, for one, can make all the difference. Reporting might also detail the second and third-order effects of these disasters, including the impacts their increased likelihood will have on industry, infrastructure, and of course peoples’ lives. It should survey policy responses to disasters; are leaders helping to make their communities resilient and rising to the challenge of the climate crisis, or are they burying their heads in the sand? There’s ample room, too, for creative solutions to move coverage in the right direction: Some meteorologists, for example, have joined scientists in suggesting that we name heat waves, like we name hurricanes, to bring them more attention, as CBS News’s Jeff Berardelli reports in one of the bullets below. Together, let’s do better!

If you’re unsure how to draw the climate connection, you can refer to the Extreme Weather Reporting Guide on our website, which includes tips, story ideas, and resources to give you a start.

ICYMI: At CCNow, we believe climate change is a defining issue in this fall’s elections, at all levels of government. Make sure to take a look at our fall plans, which include a CCNow “joint coverage week,” September 21 to 28, when we encourage all partners to focus extra attention on Climate Politics 2020, and a Youth Takeover Day.

Now, here’s your weekly sampling of the latest in climate news, from across the Covering Climate Now collaboration:

  • Hurricanes attract a great deal of public attention, but heat waves are three times as deadly, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They’re even deadlier overseas, where air conditioning is less common. For CBS News, Jeff Berardelli writes that a new initiative is seeking to name and rank heat waves, like we name and rank hurricanes, with the hope that increased awareness—and increased public understanding of the dangers—will bring increased resources to detect and mitigate heat waves, ultimately saving lives. “This extreme heat crisis can no longer be the ‘silent killer’ it is,” one source told Berardelli. This piece is *available for republication by CCNow partners.
  • The sharp reduction in greenhouse gas emissions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic will ultimately have a negligible impact on long-term global warming, The Guardian reports, based on a new study in the journal Nature. But the study also finds that seizing this moment to dedicate large sums of capital to green stimulus and recovery plans and reducing fossil fuel use could keep the world from reaching 1.5 C of heating by 2050 (a 0.3 C rise from current heating levels). This piece is *available for republication by CCNow partners.
  • The island nation of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean, has declared an emergency after a Japanese tanker struck a reef off its coast and leaked at least 1,000 tons of oil into the water. As Al Jazeera reports, locals are crafting booms of sugarcane leaf and human hair—which they have voluntarily cut from their own heads—in a desperate bid to stop the oil’s spread. It is yet another example of how smaller and poorer countries suffer because of the habits of larger, fossil-fuel guzzling nations; as it is, due to climate change, Mauritius already faced increased extreme rains and rising sea levels. The Prime Minister said in a speech that the nation is bracing for a “worst-case scenario.”
  • Five years ago, Pope Francis’s “Laudato Si’” encyclical spurred climate awareness internationally, especially among the world’s estimated 1.2 billion Catholics. But governments lagged behind, the Pope said recently, issuing new climate-focused guidance that calls, among other things, for broad divestment from fossil fuel companies, InsideClimate News reports. The new guidance further injects a moral imperative into the climate conversation. “It’s not just social justice issues, and not just environmental issues,” one expert tells ICN. “It’s the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor, all coming together in various movements.” This piece is *available for republication by CCNow partners.
  • For more on Laudato Si’, CCNow partner National Catholic Reporter has a series on the landmark encyclical’s legacy five years on. The series features news and commentary that seeks to examine the enduring “moral and practical dimensions of the climate crisis.”
  • Also from InsideClimate News: For years, Chinese plants manufacturing adipic acid, a critical ingredient in nylon and polyurethane, poured nitrous oxide—a greenhouse gas 300 times worse than carbon dioxide—into the atmosphere. In the mid-2000s, a UN program helped those plants clean up their act, bringing emissions to near zero. In 2012, funding for the UN program disappeared. The plants said they were continuing to mitigate their emissions, but according to a lengthy and impressive ICN investigation, that didn’t happen. Today, the plants’ collective emissions are likely equal to “all passenger vehicles in California … as well as the emissions from all cars in Beijing and Shanghai.”
  • Over the past year, big-name financial institutions have announced commitments to combating climate change. Now, Reuters reports, an investor group, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, has released a step-by-step plan to help pension funds and others walk the walk.

WELCOMING NEW PARTNERS: CCNow continues to grow, and this week we proudly welcome PBS’s “To the Contrary”Urban Systems LabThe Ecologist, from the UK;, from Hong Kong; and The Invading Sea, a collaboration of the opinion pages of 26 Florida newsrooms, including the Miami Herald, the Tampa Bay Times, the Orlando Sentinel, and the South Florida Sentinel.

* When republishing any of the individual stories identified above as available, CCNow outlets are asked to append the CCNow logo, which you can download here, and the following tagline: This story originally appeared in [insert name of original news outlet, with a link to the outlet’s homepage] and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration to strengthen coverage of the climate story. Further detailed information on CCNow content sharing, including answers to frequently asked questions by our partners, can be found here.