Press Briefing: The Climate Story in 2024

Panelists discussed what’s at stake in the 2024 elections, story angles to cover, and ways to combat disinformation.

Past event: January 30, 2024

To cover climate change well in 2024, journalists need clarity on the most significant forces affecting the world’s ability to address the climate emergency in time. Among them: the biggest election year in history, in which roughly 4 billion people have the chance to vote; key factors hindering a phaseout of fossil fuels and expansion of green energy; and the dangers of proliferating disinformation.


  • Mustafa Santiago Ali, Executive Vice President of Conservation & Justice, National Wildlife Federation
  • Bill McKibben, journalist & activist
  • Amy Westervelt, investigative climate journalist & founder, Critical Frequency

Mark Hertsgaard, CCNow’s executive director and The Nation magazine’s environment correspondent, moderated.

Key Takeaways

  1. Biden’s new pause on liquefied natural gas projects is a big deal, McKibben says. 

In a recent op-ed, The Washington Post’s editorial board called the Biden administration’s January decision to halt planned liquified natural gas projects “a win for political symbolism, not for the climate.” But McKibben sees things differently. “It is the biggest thing that any president has ever done to check the dirty energy industry,” he said. While acknowledging there’s a low bar for what qualifies as a win, McKibben said the move went beyond political symbolism, evident from the “outraged howls” emanating from oil and gas companies. “Despite intense pressure from the fossil fuel industry, the Biden administration deserves credit for this crucial step toward a necessary transition to renewable energy.”

  1. Highlight vulnerable communities in climate election coverage.

Mustafa Santiago Ali urged reporters to highlight how election outcomes and climate impacts affect vulnerable communities. This includes making voters aware of the “everyday people being impacted,” such as those who are sick, including suffering from maternal health problems due to fossil fuel–driven global heating, and dying. But don’t just focus on the problems, Ali said, delve into solutions proposed by vulnerable communities and learn what’s necessary to implement them. Highlighting local communities’ “transformational work” to address climate motivates elected officials to do better. Ali encouraged more reporting on young people’s “innovative work” focused on climate and environmental justice and more reporting on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, identifying both laws as “on-ramps” to new economic opportunities for diverse communities.

  1. Dig into the fossil fuel industry’s disinformation strategy. 

Amy Westervelt encouraged reporters to research the fossil fuel industry’s long-running disinformation strategy and tactics. Exploring “front groups” that often act as mouthpieces for fossil fuel interests, such as the American Petroleum Institute trade association or public relations firms like Edelman or Hill & Knowlton, is a great place to start. When interviewing industry representatives, Westervelt stresses how important it is for reporters to have deep background knowledge so they can challenge representatives’ statements and provide context. “If you’re covering disinformation, a big part of the job is responding to those things,” she noted. Westervelt also urged scrutiny when evaluating whether to pursue potential stories, such as pitches falsely promoting liquefied natural gas as a climate solution. Reporters should ask, “Who’s sending you that? Who’s paying for that information to be sent to you? Where else is that story showing up?” she said. The answers to these questions serve as “big indicators that there’s actually a coordinated campaign, and that you’ve been picked as a useful tool for that campaign,” Westervelt said.

  1. Exercise skepticism and debunk disinformation, including at the local level.

Dig into the fossil fuel industry’s pushback against clean energy, McKibben urged, including the “fascinating, powerful” local fights they support and the disinformation they help spread around renewables, such as the falsehood that windmills cause cancer. Utilities are significant sources of local disinformation, Westervelt added, pointing to reporting by Floodlight News as an exemplary model of reporting on this trend.

Campaign advertising in local elections is another vehicle for disinformation, Westervelt said. Local ads may spread disinformation about renewable energy or electric cars, for example. “Nobody likes to be lied to. Nobody likes a big corporation coming in and telling them what’s what about their community. So those are stories where I feel like you can reach people who you may not even know that they’re interested in this issue.”

  1. The climate story has a journalism problem.

“This is the biggest story in the world every single day, but it’s rarely the most novel thing that’s happening in the world on any single day,” McKibben said. Journalism’s challenge is to maintain focus on climate change amidst the daily influx of novel news. “We’re losing our planet in real time. There’s no story that even comes close to that.”

McKibben emphasized the seriousness of climate change, noting that 2023 was the hottest of the last 125,000 years and that 2024 is predicted to be as hot or hotter. Despite this alarming reality, he said, traditional journalism isn’t designed to address this kind of problem.


Climate on the Ballot, CCNow’s weekly US elections newsletter, is a helpful tool for journalists covering climate change and elections — local, state, and national. Sign up here.

Climate Action Against Disinformation’s “Journalist Field Guide: Navigating Climate Misinformation” helps orient journalists to the basics of mis-/disinformation, including best practices for handling it.

Dr. Robert Howarth, Cornell University fossil gas expert, was recommended for interviews by Hertsgaard.

Deborah Gordon, Senior Principal for Climate Intelligence at the Rocky Mountain Institute, was suggested by an attendee as an authoritative source on methane emissions.


Mark Hertsgaard: Hello and welcome to another press briefing from Covering Climate Now. I’m Mark Hertsgaard, the executive director of Covering Climate Now and the environment correspondent for the Nation Magazine. And I’m speaking to you today as you might hear in the background from the offices of our lead partner, the Guardian here in London. Our subject today is the climate story in 2024, but first, for those who don’t know, Covering Climate Now is a global collaboration of hundreds of news outlets that reach a total audience of multiple billions of people. We’re organized by journalists for journalists to help one another do more and better coverage of the defining story of our time. It costs nothing to join Covering Climate Now. There’s no editorial line except respect for the science. You can go to our website,, where you can find a list of our partners, sign up for our weekly newsletter, the Climate Beat, check out our resources, join our Slack channel and apply to join Covering Climate Now. And now to where the climate story is going in 2024 and how we as journalists can best cover it.

Our goal today is not to provide answers so much as to identify questions that all of us might want to think about and ask in our reporting this year. 2024 is a make or break moment in the climate emergency, and as always, our role as journalists is to tell the climate story in a way that gives the public the information they need to understand what is happening, why it’s happening, and what they can do about it as parents, as consumers, and in this election year as voters. The key climate question in 2024 is the same question as last year and the years before that, how fast will our communities, our countries, and indeed our entire civilization stop burning fossil fuels that are so dangerously overheating the planet? Last week we brought a huge, and I think it’s fair to say, surprising development on that front.

The Biden administration announced that it was pausing its consideration of the new liquified natural gas export facilities slated for the Gulf Coast, and that the administration was doing this expressly because of the climate risk those facilities pose, particularly for frontline communities. With us today to talk further about that is Bill McKibben, the journalist, author, and activist who has done the most, and I would say the best reporting on the LNG fight. And since 2024 is an election year, not just in the United States, but in dozens of countries around the world where roughly half of the human population is eligible to cast ballots, elections are another key part of the climate story for journalists this year. India, Pakistan, Indonesia, the European Union, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, probably the United Kingdom, certainly the United States and many other countries will decide what kind of governments and political leaders are in power between now and 2030 when scientists say the global emissions must be slashed in order to avoid climate breakdown.

Most though not all governments around the world are not doing what’s needed to meet that deadline. So what do voters think about keeping those leaders in power? What do they think about leaders, perhaps like Joe Biden, whose climate policies are imperfect, but who are at least trying to address the problem and how big a role will climate change even play in voters’ minds this year? Of course, how big an issue climate is partly up to the candidates and partly up to the voters, but it is also up to us as journalists. The press always plays a decisive role in what elections are about, just by virtue of what we choose to cover and what we choose not to cover. It’s our responsibility to highlight important public issues, especially when the candidates don’t want to talk about them.

Joining us to discuss all this is Mustafa Santiago Ali, who has spent many years working inside of government at the US EPA and now serves as the Executive Vice President of Conservation and Justice for the National Wildlife Federation. On both of these fronts, the fossil fuel phase out and the elections, we can expect a gusher of disinformation, I think it’s fair to say this year, and disinformation to me is an old hand on the climate beat. It’s a new name for what we used to call lying. And lying has been around in the climate story for literally decades now. The oil companies knew at least by the 1980s that their product used as directed would crisp the planet, and they have lied about it and for too many years, journalists were taken in. The industry’s messaging, however, has changed in the last year and journalists need to get up to speed on that shift in order not to be taken in by it.

And here again, we have one of the world’s leading experts on this, the great Amy Westervelt, who I’m proud to say is also a member of the steering committee at Covering Climate Now. Before giving their exact bios, I want to share that Covering Climate now is making elections a big part of our work this year, and we will be hosting conversations with journalists from around the world to discuss the climate stakes of their own country’s elections. We’re especially keen to feature journalists from the Global South, so please share the names of speakers that you’d like to hear from either in our post event survey today, or you can email us at and of course, keep an eye on our weekly newsletter, the Climate Beat, for more information about this election’s work. And now if you’ll please join me in giving a warm virtual welcome to our panelists.

Once again, Mustafa Santiago Ali is the Executive Vice President of the National Wildlife Federation. Previously, he spent 24 years at the US Environmental Protection Agency, most recently as Senior Advisor for Environmental Justice and Community Revitalization. Bill McKibben is an author, educator and environmentalist who wrote the first mass market book on climate change, The End of Nature, in 1989. He’s contributed to the New Yorker, the Nation, and many other publications, and he recently co-founded Third Act, a climate activist group for people over age 60 and Amy Westervelt. She’s been on the Climate Beat for more than 20 years, reporting for outlets including Inside Climate News, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and many more.

In 2018, she launched the first true crime climate podcast, Drilled, don’t miss it. And in 2023, she was named a Covering Climate Now journalist of the year. Now let’s get into it. Bill McKibben, I want to start with you and ask you to connect, rather to comment, I want to ask you to comment on the connection between the Biden administration’s LNG pause and the 2024 elections. You may have seen the editorial board of the Washington Post yesterday wrote that Biden’s decision is, “A win for political symbolism, not for the climate.” I suspect that’s a view shared by quite a few in the Washington Press Corps, and I’d like to hear your response.

Bill McKibben: First of all, what a pleasure to get to join everybody. You said a little while ago there were 800 people, 800 journalists signed up for this call. I can remember when there weren’t 80 and probably not 8 climate journalists in the world. I mean, I’ve doubtless written more words about climate than anyone else in the English language, which makes me, given the temperature of the planet, the least successful journalist in history. But what a pleasure to have many, many voices coming in here. So this LNG pause last week is a huge deal. It is the biggest thing that any president has ever done to check the dirty energy industry. Now, that’s a low bar, let’s be clear, but Biden cleared it and it’s not an act of political symbolism, it’s an act as you can tell from the outraged howls from the oil industry that goes directly to the heart of the most important question on the earth, whether we’re going to continue expanding the fossil fuel enterprise or whether we’re going to make a dramatic transition away from it.

I think the two things that led up to this decision were one, the weather in 2023. It was the hottest year in the last 125,000 years. If people don’t react to that in leaders with some kind of serious shift in policy, then something’s wrong. And two, I think that the Dubai, the sentence, the one good sentence that came out of the tortured negotiations in Dubai, the commitment by leaders of the world to transition away from fossil fuels made this decision kind of inevitable. We had to push for it, and I’m glad we did, but there’s no intellectual way to square that pledge with this truly massive build out. When I started doing some pieces about this for the New Yorker in the fall, I confessed, I did not understand the scale of what was going on, and it was in the course of that reporting that I began to kind of… It was even for me, very shocking.

If the industry had gotten everything they wanted until last Friday, they’d gotten everything they’d ever asked for, every permit they’d ever requested. If they’d gotten everything they’d asked for over the next decade, by the end of that decade, US LNG exports would’ve been producing more greenhouse gases than everything that happens in Europe. Every car factory home from Athens to Helsinki would’ve been doing less damage to the climate than exported US LNG. Once those sort of basic facts were out in the air, I don’t think the Biden administration had much choice, but I do think they deserve great credit. They’re now under truly intense pressure from the fossil fuel industry, which knows it has one game left. It has to delay at any cost this transition and keep their business model alive as long as they can. Since they’re now high cost energy producers, the only way they can do that is through gaming the system politically, using their built up preserves of capital and political capital to keep themselves in a game they don’t deserve to be in any longer.

Mark Hertsgaard: Bill, let me follow up. Can you provide precisely, because I think there are a lot of reporters who will be persuaded by the arguments in that Washington Post editorial that, “Hey, cutting supply doesn’t matter, it’s a world market, the customers are just going to go to Russia and get that and it’s going to help Russia destroy Ukraine,” so can you talk to a couple of those objections and sort of arm inoculate reporters against that?

Bill McKibben: They’re basically ridiculous objections as people have now demonstrated in dozens and dozens of well done analysis and reports and things. It’s not like the US, for better or for worse, is cutting off the supply of natural gas to the world. We’re already the world’s leading exporter of natural gas, that’ll continue. It’ll probably even grow some because there’s some of these things that are already under construction, more of these things. We provide more than enough natural gas by far to make up for any shortfall caused by trying to deal with Vladimir Putin. Europe is awash in gas and Europe is not going to be using much of that gas much longer because wisely they responded to the invasion of Ukraine by dramatically ramping up their conversion to renewable energy. It’s one of the most important things happening in the world. These plants, which we’ve now blocked for the moment, are designed to last the next 50 or 100 years, and they’re designed to send LNG off to Asia where as we’ve demonstrated time and time again, undercut the conversion to renewable energy and do it quickly.

It’s stupid to be sending any fossil fuel. As it turns out, LNG, according to the latest science, is worse than sending coal. By the time you’ve sent it around the world, so much methane is leaked out that it’s worse than coal, but that’s a dumb debate to be drawn to anyway, because the choice now cannot be between gas and coal. That’s not what net-zero plans are about. The choice now is between fossil fuel and renewable energy between burning stuff here on planet Earth or relying on the fact that the good Lord was kind enough to hang a large ball of burning gas 93 million miles away, that we now know how to make full use of, and economics points us in that direction. And certainly the existential risk of climate points us in that direction. It’s only the ongoing gravitational pull of the fossil fuel industry that keeps us from moving with the speed that we need.

Mark Hertsgaard: Thanks. That’s Bill McKibben talking about the LNG and those of you who might want to follow up on the comparison between coal and natural gas, an excellent source is Dr. Robert Howarth. He’s at Cornell University. He’s done most of the leading work that shows that natural gas is so-called natural gas. We call it fossil gas actually, Covering Climate Now, that it is worse indeed for the climate than coal. And it just so happens that Robert Howarth is also quite good on camera who’ll give you good sound bites. I’m going to turn now to Mustafa Ali and Mustafa, I mean, you’ve worked in government. You are not a journalist, but you’ve talked to a lot of journalists, and I’m sure you know that elections coverage is not generally done by the environment desk, it is controlled by the politics desk, the reporters and editors on the politics desk who tend not to know very much about climate and frankly not to care very much.

They tend to focus instead on polls and horse race and who’s up and who’s down, which allows them to look like they’re politically neutral when they’re covering these things.

So if you had the opportunity to sit down with some of those politics desk’s reporters and editors, to try to persuade them that in 2024 they really need to understand that climate change is on the ballot, that these elections, especially here in the U.S., but around the world, are going to largely shape the climate future of humanity. What would be two or three things you might say to them to try and reach them?

Mustafa Santiago Ali: I think I would remind him of the words of James Baldwin when he said that, “If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see,” and how we often don’t pay attention to the interconnectedness of our elections and the impacts that are happening in vulnerable communities, and of course are also driving the climate crisis.

We often forget to connect these issues with how everyday people are being impacted, and how many folks are getting sick, how many folks are dying, the maternal health issues that are connected with the fossil fuel industry. So I would remind them, one, of that.

I would also remind them about our democracy and how it is often being taken away when we don’t vote. We’ve seen some of those anti-protest bills of the past that were introduced in a number of different states across our country and internationally if you actually take a deeper dive, in how that limits our ability to be able to protect life, to be able to protect our most vulnerable communities, to be able to protect wildlife, to be able to protect our natural spaces. So I would remind them of that.

I would also take them into a different place that they often don’t pay enough attention to, and that is around judges and how our elections, at least in the United States and in some other locations, are tied to the judges who are making decisions that actually those who have expertise in the field should be making, and the others, and how that is playing out in a very destructive way.

We saw what happened in 2023 with the Sackett case on the Supreme Court level. We saw West Virginia v. EPA in 2022, and as Bill walked us through around some of the things that are going on around the pipelines and the fossil fuels, we understand that all of that is tied back to the decisions that individuals are making.

But we often stop there and don’t actually go into the cancer clusters that are currently in locations, these sacrifice zones around our country and actually internationally as well. I remind them about how folk’s civil rights are being taken away. If you look at recently in Louisiana in Cancer Alley and along the coast there, where you literally had a judge who said that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act no longer really has application. And even though we know that folk’s there lives are being shortened because of the exposures that are going on.

So I would remind them about humanity and I would work with them to make sure that they understand that the decisions that are being made through the electoral process have huge impacts for everyday people, whether it’s what you breathe, what you drink, or what you eat.

And I would also continue to remind them that when we are talking about the climate crisis, that the vast majority of the facilities are placed inside of our most vulnerable communities, and of course the transportation routes that have historically had very disparate impacts on our communities.

And then I would just pause to see if they actually are serious about diving into this particular area that is interconnected with everything that happens inside of our communities and across our planet.

Mark Hertsgaard: This is a good opportunity for me to remind our attendees that this conversation is totally on the record and you are invited to quote anything that is said here, or of course to follow up with any of our panelists afterwards for additional interview opportunities.

Mustafa Ali, you just mentioned frontline communities a lot. There’s been talk, especially in the Washington Press Corps in recent months, that some of the constituencies in this country that strongly favor climate action, including frontline communities, including young people, might not support President Joe Biden come November because of his less than perfect climate record. Yes LNG, yes IRA, but a lot of people don’t appreciate his administration’s approval of the Willow Project up in Alaska; all this, despite the fact that Donald Trump’s climate record is immeasurably worse.

So what advice might you have to the hundreds of journalists listening to you right now about what kind of reporting they should be doing between now and election day to explore these kinds of questions?

Mustafa Santiago Ali: Well, I think that we should hold all elected officials accountable, whether they’re Democrats, Republicans, or Independent. I think that there was a high expectation for the Biden administration, and rightly so, people put a lot of energy into making sure that they were elected.

So when I work with young people across our country, I also give them the historical context. Bill actually talked a little bit about how in this moment, some of the actions have been needed for a long time and will make some positive change.

I would remind them of where we started in relationship to environmental justice, when we had about $3 million for the entire country to do work, and now we literally have hundreds of billions of dollars that are touching various communities across our nation.

I would also remind them that this change that we all seek requires us to stay connected and committed and continue to push. When I worked for John Conyers, who was chairman of the Judiciary Committee, in the evenings when we would talk, he always said, “Mustafa, we really need folks on the outside to push us so that we can take things further and further and further.”

So I would encourage young people, and I’m right there with you, I started working on these issues when I was a student, that we have to continue to push. But we also just don’t have to push presidents, we have to push on the local, the county, the state, and the federal level to make sure that all the things that we’re looking for become a reality. So just because we may not have 100% of the things that we need from the president, we continue to push, but we also make sure that we are creating this foundation of folks to make sure that everything plays out on the ground in the ways that will be beneficial both to human health and also in addressing the climate crisis.

So that’s what I would share with reporters is to not get caught up on the bumper sticker, but to actually dive into what folks are asking for and to do the reporting that’s necessary to unpack that. How does that become a reality? Who are the partners that are needed? Because we often look just to government and we don’t hold corporations accountable. We often don’t hold our nonprofits as accountable as we should, and of course, even foundations, although there has been an evolution in all those spaces.

So I would just remind them that we can get this done, but we’ve got to unpack where the gaps are, and then we’ve got to make sure that we’re pushing people to fill those gaps and to embrace the new sets of opportunities we have in front of us.

Mark Hertsgaard: That’s Mustafa Santiago Ali of the National Wildlife Federation. Let me remind everyone that you are invited to begin queuing up your questions. Go to the Q&A function at the bottom of your screen there, and you can put a question there, and I will be bringing those to everyone’s attention in a moment.

But first, we’re going to hear from Amy Westervelt. As I said in our lead up, Amy, I think you’re going to be busy this year, and everybody who’s working on climate disinformation is going to be on overload because, as both Bill and Mustafa said, there is so much at stake and the industry has really been wounded by this LNG decision. So I think we can confidently assume that there will be literally gushers of climate disinformation between now and election day.

So most of our colleagues on this call do not have the experience that you do with climate disinformation. So let’s just start, if you would, by helping them… let’s arm them with some knowledge so that they can inoculate themselves against this. Can you give a couple of tips on where that climate disinformation tends to arise and how journalists can recognize it for what it is?

Amy Westervelt: Yes. Sorry, I was just making sure I was unmuted.

Yes, so you were talking earlier about the industry shifting its narratives a bit this year, and they definitely have, but I think it’s good for people to know that they haven’t actually innovated a new narrative in a very long time. They have these sort of core stories that they go back to depending on what’s happening in the world.

So right now they’re really leaning on energy security and American energy and all of that stuff; that’s a very old story. So one thing I encourage people to do is to dig into that history a little bit and understand where that’s coming from and why it’s been so effective.

The other thing is there are all of these, we talk about them as enabling industries around the fossil fuel industry. So a lot of times you might not see the disinformation point coming from an ExxonMobil. You’re going to see it coming from the American Petroleum Institute, or you’re going to see it coming from a PR firm like an Edelman, or Hill & Knowlton, or any of these firms that sort of work for the industry, or you’re going to see it coming from a group that’s not obviously affiliated with the industry. There’s lots and lots of front groups. There are new ones all the time.

They’re constantly changing their names, Energy Citizens, or there’s a lot of these groups also that are behind some of these lawsuits that Mustafa referenced earlier. So you’ve got the Sackett case from last year was an aim at the Clean Water Act. That’s just the latest flavor of a campaign that’s been going on for a long time. They tried to get different policies passed. They tried to seed lots of different disinformation points in the media. None of that worked. So then it became litigation.

So kind of following that as much as folks can too, to sort of really, I guess just ask questions. This is what journalists are supposed to do anyway. But if you’re pitched something that says, “LNG is actually a climate solution,” who’s sending you that? Who’s paying for that information to be sent to you? Where else is that story showing up? Is there language in that story that you’re seeing repeated by multiple talking heads around this issue? These are all big indicators that there’s actually a coordinated campaign, and that you’ve been picked as a useful tool for that campaign.

Yeah, I think even with the LNG stuff, a year ago, you could see two days before Putin even officially invaded, the American Petroleum Institute was out in the media seeding certain talking points, and you had various other people who were repeating those talking points, and then that turns into a lobbying ask, and that turns into their wishlist of items. So I think… Yeah, I guess that’s the main advice I would give is sort of figure out where that pitch is coming from, where that information is coming from, and try to see the kind of ecosystem that’s been built up around it.

Oh, you’re muted Mark.

Mark Hertsgaard: I’m going to ask a follow-up here, but I’m going to preface it by saying that this is actually a question that was asked by someone else. Covering Climate Now is now doing free trainings of local TV stations across the country, and this was a question asked by a reporter at a station in Washington D.C.

“In a situation like this, does a journalist not have,” this person asked, “a responsibility to give both sides of the story?”

When you see that, here’s the side that says… Whether it’s the American Petroleum Institute or whoever, “Oh gosh, there’s another way to look at this. Maybe LNG is not as bad as Bill McKibbon says,” et cetera, or, “Maybe the energy security of the country does require this.”

How do you deal with that? Especially not just as an individual journalist, but when your editor might say, “Hey, come on, you have to reflect both sides of the story.” When disinformation occupies that place, how does a responsible journalist deal with that?

Amy Westervelt: I think to me, the biggest thing is that there’s been a big tendency in a lot of newsrooms to look at that question and see the activist component as being biased, inherently biased, and the corporate CEO or the API spokesperson as somehow just being an expert source that’s not biased.

And I think rebalancing that and understanding, look, okay… I understand… In some cases I also will include what the API is saying because I think it’s actually helpful to engage with that and talk about is this actually making the country more secure? Is this actually helping with your heating and cooling costs, and your gas costs, and all of that kind of stuff?

Because really, in a lot of cases, I think if you’re covering disinformation, a big part of the job is actually responding to those things. So I’m not advocating that you should not talk to the API or not go to oil companies with questions. I just think it’s important for people to, if they get a quote from a Mike Sommers at the API, make sure that they have the knowledge to push back on things that he’s saying, or if they don’t in that moment, I know sometimes you have to do an interview and you’re not so prepared, but at least as you’re writing the story or you’re presenting the story to listeners, to be able to provide context around what those people are saying is the important piece. I think we’ve talked about false equivalency for years. This idea that the two are equally valid viewpoints and that you have to give equal space to both, and I think that’s silly and is in fact something that was pushed for a long time by the fossil fuel industry itself. However, I do think it’s actually fine to include what the industry is saying as long as you’re prepared to actually provide the context required for people to understand why they’re saying it and what’s actually behind it.

Mark Hertsgaard: Context, context, context. That’s Amy Westervelt with Drilled, and the questions are coming in. I encourage everyone else to keep sending them. A number of people have asked more or less the same question. I’d like all three of you to comment. Basically, what are some very specific story ideas or themes that you think people should be doing, reporters should be thinking about doing here in the election year? It doesn’t have to necessarily be about elections, but obviously, and in particular one question I ask, what are the stories that non-climate specialists can do, i.e., general assignment reporters or even politics desk journalists? Let’s go in the same order. Bill, Mustafa, and then Amy. Bill, you’re still muted.

Amy Westervelt: Oh, no.

Bill McKibben: There’s many, many of these. But one that I think is increasingly important and that’s available in large number of local areas is the… and Amy has done great work on this, is the sort of industry sponsored pushback against solar panel, solar farms, wind turbines, on and on and on. And these are the things that we have to have to do in order to make this transition. The industry knows that, and so they’ve worked hard to try, among other things, to sort of bolster local groups in opposition and so on. And these fights are fascinating, powerful. Most Americans like solar panels. Most Americans like clean energy. But this is a place where among other things that kind of disinformation, windmills cause cancer, solar farms ruin your property values, on and on and on, are employed constantly. So that’s one place I’d look close to home.

Mustafa Santiago Ali: Yeah, I would agree. I was just going to say I’d agree with Bill. I think that’s really important stories. I think there are some other areas also to focus on. One, we see the attacks that are currently happening in relationship to communities of color, whether it’s about DEI or other types of issues. It’s also happening in the environmental context. So I think we have to place a spotlight on that and dispel the myths that are often shared and the falsities that folks will push because they gather steam when we don’t make sure that we are providing folks with the truth of what’s happening in that space. I think the other side of the equation, I’ve worked in over a thousand communities now. It’s important to highlight the transformational work that is going on inside of communities, whether to address the impacts that are happening from the climate crisis, the new sets of opportunities that the clean economy is providing.

And yes, we have a long way to go in that space to make sure there’s true parity in relationship to black and brown and indigenous communities. But those are stories that on the local level, people can feel and touch. But it also helps to strengthen both the national and international narrative of how we can also help people to address the wealth gap, how we can address health related issues through these new sets of economic opportunities. So for me, it is really about putting a spotlight on the folks who are doing the work, because that then pushes those elected officials going back to where we started to have to do better themselves because we have suites of examples of how change can happen. Then the question becomes, well, how can we exponentially grow this? So I think that that is another one. The last one that I’ll leave you with is really drilling into the sets of stories that will come out of both the bipartisan infrastructure, the Inflation Reduction Act, and hopefully even the CHIPS Act of how real change is happening, how new sets of possibilities are becoming a reality.

So I would really focus in those areas. And the reason being too is because all those things I mentioned create on-ramps for folks. When I’m in Tennessee and Kentucky or Wisconsin, places that haven’t traditionally been supporters of climate related sets of actions, when you create these additional sets of on-ramps and people can begin to see themselves reflected, and they can begin that journey of seeing how they might play a role in these new sets of opportunities that are out there in relationship to a new economy, or I actually say a new set of opportunities around health.

Mark Hertsgaard: Thanks. And before I go to Amy, just a quick word on the Inflation Reduction Act, which is the biggest climate legislation ever passed, the economic consequences of that are enormous. And if you’d like to dig into that, Covering Climate Now has a lot of resources. We’ve done quite a bit of training and we did a press briefing and so forth on this, and I’m going to rely on my colleagues behind the scenes here to put those in the chat in the coming minutes so that you can dig in on that. Okay. Amy Westervelt, what stories?

Amy Westervelt: Well, I would say just to connect what Mustafa and Bill said together a little bit, that one of the things I think is really interesting is looking at how now some of the pushback on renewables is some of it’s fossil fuel funded, some of it communities have legitimate concerns. And I think actually this is where really tapping into environmental justice advocates is a great idea for journalists that are looking at resistance to renewable projects. Because what a lot of politicians and industry people have tried to do at first is to kind of take some of the same approach to renewables as we’ve taken with fossil fuel projects, which is, “Whatever. This community just needs to deal with it,” and they’re having some pushback. And I think to me it’s like, oh, this is a good opportunity for us to rethink all of that, not just how are we going to get these people who are worried about their coastal views in line with having wind, but also how does this inform how we think about citing energy infrastructure in general?

Where are we missing lessons that should have been learned a long time ago that could be applied to this? All of that stuff. There’s a lot going on in the whole renewables fight. On the disinformation side, there’s disinformation happening at the local level all the time. Utilities are really big purveyors of it at the local level. Yes, the fossil fuel companies are active in everywhere, and the API is getting into all kinds of things, and the Coke universe of organizations are very active at the local level too, but utilities are really where you see a lot of that happening.

I think the folks at Floodlight have done an amazing job covering that and are a good example for folks that want to see what the utility disinformation story looks like in an election year. But yeah, that’s where I would look, is how are local campaigns trying to tell you that this or that bill is going to make your heating more expensive or limit your choices? There are all these ads right now that, “Oh, California’s trying to limit your choice of what kind of car you can drive,” things like that. Those are all disinformation campaigns that are interesting for local folks to know. Nobody likes to be lied to. Nobody likes a big corporation coming in and telling them what’s what about their community. So those are stories where I feel like you can reach people who you may not even know that they’re interested in this issue.

Bill McKibben: And Mark, if I can just add one thing to those excellent lists, I do think it’s also… I think maybe once in a while we forget the thing that underlies this story above all. 2023 was the hottest year in 125,000 years. 2024 is likely to be as hot or hotter. Somehow we got through that last year without it making, I think as much of an impression on people as it should have. When people look back at this point in history, the only thing that they’ll notice about 2023 was that it was the year when that temperature curve began spiking upward in a new way.

And so, I mean, some of that you can cover locally as strange things happen, and some of it’s the fun work of talking with really interesting scientists, but just figuring out ways to somehow get across to people. I mean, look, this is a kind of a failure with the basic structure of journalism in that this is the biggest story in the world every single day, but it’s rarely the most novel thing that’s happening in the world on any single day. So those things tend to capture our attention for the moment. It’s a work of a lifetime to keep trying to reorient ourselves, our readers, whatever, back to this most basic understanding. We’re losing our planet in real time. There’s no story that even comes close to that.

Mustafa Santiago Ali: Mark, if I could-

Mark Hertsgaard: Let me just interrupt here for a moment and say that that’s exactly why we founded Covering Climate Now five years ago. And we’ve gotten a number of questions here in the Q&A from colleagues in the Global South who are asking, “How can we and Africa and Asia and South America, how can we connect better with our colleagues in the Global North, particularly around the US elections and covering our own elections?” And there, I will just reiterate what I said at the top of the hour, Covering Climate Now is launching a project. We’re going to announce it next week on Climate Elections 2024 to help journalists in the United States and around the world to cover the elections taking place in dozens of countries this year through a climate lens to make it clear that climate is on the ballot. That’s what we’re calling the newsletter that we’ll be producing every week.

We’ll have story tips, we’ll have sources, we’ll have themes, we’ll have background for people on politics desks who don’t know much about climate change, how to get them up to speed, simple best practices like do not keep asking candidates do you believe in climate change. Because that framing implies that the science is somehow not settled. The question that you need to be asking candidates is what is your plan to phase out fossil fuels as fast as science requires? That way we push the argument forward. So please get in touch with us at Editors of Covering Climate Now or just look at this week’s Climate Beat newsletter, which comes out on Thursday, and we’ll go back to the Q&A in a minute. But Mustafa, you wanted to say something?

Mustafa Santiago Ali: Yeah, I was just going to add, there’s a couple of other sets of stories that we often don’t focus enough on. We’re finally starting to focus on youth. I would say really checking out all these innovative work that youth are doing in so many different aspects that connect to climate and to environmental justice, I think is critical. The other one is our athletes and artists and entertainers and influencers, making sure that we are also highlighting when they are doing the right thing. If they mess up, folks have no problem in putting that down, but there is all this really amazing sets of work that’s going on in that space that often doesn’t get the attention that it should. And actually those are individuals who actually break down barriers. If you think about it, the music artists, visual artists and others, often many different types of people enjoy their work. So really supporting them when they’re willing to step out and share information is critically important as well.

Mark Hertsgaard: I’m going to exercise the prerogative of the chair here and ask a question, I think to all of you, but maybe Bill first. Clearly the Republicans are planning to make a big deal about migration this year and the border and criticizing Biden for letting too many people in, and it’s of course not the right color of people in. So there are clear climate connections to that climate change is helping to drive migration flows from Central America. Is that something that reporters and news organizations, should that be a priority in terms of when they report on the GOP position on this, can there be ways to bring climate into that, or is it really sort of forcing the issue?

Bill McKibben: Well, in the first place, let’s just be very clear here, the Republican Party is entirely hypocritical about this. As they demonstrated again this week, having reached a bipartisan plan to do something about the border, they then decided they didn’t want to vote on it because they wanted to have an election issue for Donald Trump instead. It boggles the mind. Second thing to be said is this is a really crucial conversation to be having in a deeper context than just what are we going to do in the next six months at the US border?

This is going to be the most unrelenting pressure over… even if we do everything right on the energy right now, the forces we’ve already set in motion guarantee that there are going to be hundreds of millions of people who have to leave the places where they live now because you won’t be able to grow food there because it’ll be underwater, so on and so forth. And figuring out how to deal with that is probably going to be the single most difficult task in certain ways of this whole century because we know that this is an ongoing gift to demagogues of all kinds who use it constantly in order to empower the worst kinds of racist and xenophobic impulses. So it really is time to be trying to figure out how to deal with it, not just as a moment to moment issue. There are people there, there are people around with sort of good thinking and good resources to help begin down this path. I’ve been on the board for a while, or the advisory board, of what used to be called Lutheran Immigration Refugee Resettlement Services, and just rebranded as Global Refuge, that manages to resettle more people in this country than anybody else. But obviously, we need more than the piecemeal approaches we have so far. This is going to be an overwhelming challenge, and one that we should be trying to think about like actual adults with an actual concern for everybody on this earth, not in the ways that we’ve been dealing with it in our politics recently.

By the way, I will say, my guess is it’s just going to get worse, because it’s the one issue that Donald Trump has to run on, and he’s going to… Fasten your seat belts because it’s going to be ugly as hell.

Mark Hertsgaard: Thanks, Bill. One of the questions that’s gotten the most thumbs up here in the Q&A, I want to ask it because people want it answered. “What’s the right proportion of reporting on climate solutions as opposed to climate problems in order to speed the necessary transition?” So what’s the proportion between solutions and problems? Since Bill just talked, let me turn things around, let’s start with Amy, and then if anybody else wants to answer.

Amy Westervelt: Well, I’ve been on my soapbox for a while talking about how I actually think the whole way that we frame problems and solutions is not quite right. I often hear from people some version of accountability is negative, and just trying to find someone to blame and those kinds of things. In my mind, understanding how we got here and what caused this problem is critical to understanding what solutions will actually work, and to developing solutions that don’t repeat the same problems. We don’t want to have sacrifice zones for renewables, we don’t want to have a problem with mining in the future, any of these things. We’d like to understand what allowed this problem to get so far out of hand in the first place, and I don’t think we can do that without having good accountability journalism. So I always want to make that point when we’re talking about solutions versus problems.

And I would love it if solutions coverage would grow beyond just covering new technology, new ways for people to buy stuff, and one or two policy decisions. I actually think that there’s a way to not divide these things so much, and to cover solutions that are around community building, for example, just that move beyond solely how people spend their money and how they vote. So I didn’t give you a neat and tidy formula there, because I actually think we need to think a little more about how we frame problems and solutions on climate reporting.

Mark Hertsgaard: I will say though that at Covering Climate Now, we are trying to argue that this year, election year, is a perfect opportunity to walk those two parallel paths of the problem and the solutions, because voting is a solution. It is arguably the most important solution-

Amy Westervelt: Yes.

Mark Hertsgaard: … is to vote out of office the governments who are stopping what needs to happen, and vote into office leaders who at least will try to do the right thing. And Amy’s entirely right, that generally, our profession has focused on techno-solutions to climate and nothing else, but it’s not biased on our part as journalists to say that one candidate or one party doesn’t want to do anything about climate except make it worse, and one party wants to at least try to do something about it. That’s just facts-

Amy Westervelt: Yeah.

Mark Hertsgaard: … and it’s not our job to shift the facts to help some candidate.

All right, we just have a couple more minutes. I want to sneak in one question here from a colleague here in Canada who said that, “Here in Canada, the right-wing candidate for Prime Minister is leading his campaign with opposition to the federal carbon tax, saying that it’s going to make everyone poor, that kind of thing. I would love any tips from the panelists on unpacking the economic arguments around climate policy and sniff testing conservative claims.” Who’d like to jump on that?

Bill McKibben: Well, I can say just a few words. The most important development of the last 10 years has been the rapid, rapid fall in the price of renewable energy. We now live on a planet where the cheapest way to produce power is to point a sheet of glass at the sun. That is a wholesale different planet than the one we used to live on. And most of our economic analysis, and this was one of the things that was contested in this LNG fight, is a decade out of date. People are still assuming that renewable energy is the Whole Foods of energy, but it’s not, it’s the Costco of energy at this point, and that should be enough to change almost every economic analysis.

The data that’s coming out now is so interesting. There was a new RMI analysis a couple of weeks ago just saying all these economic analysis basically fail because they don’t account for the fact that in our current system, you just have to go on buying more coal and gas and oil every month for the rest of your life, just ongoing. The fact that once you’ve got a solar panel up, the sun delivers your energy for free, is not only incredibly interesting, it also explains the reason why the fossil fuel industry has worked so diligently for 40 years to make sure we don’t get very many of them up, and that’s what lies at the heart of this transition, whether or not we’re able to realize that the long-term economic future absolutely brightens when you do something that, for the very short-term, is going to be painful to a few special interests.

Mark Hertsgaard: Thanks, Bill. I’d like to turn to Mustafa now, and here’s a question that I’m sure it’s on a lot of people’s minds, and it’s controversial, so get ready. “Do you think that the Israel-Gaza War could impact the climate vote on the basis that a lot of people who care about climate action also care about the plight of the Palestinians, and are angry with President Biden for supporting Israel in such extreme circumstances?”

Mustafa Santiago Ali: I think it definitely could. Folks have been very clear, a large contingency of youth and others have shared that they are not comfortable in the way that the United States has played a supporting role there. Now, you have to evaluate the fullness of decades upon decades upon decades of policy and actions that have taken place there in that part of the Middle East. So folks raising questions to individuals and asking them to do better in this space is everyone’s right.

I think we have to take everything in totality though, so we have to ask ourselves the question, if you don’t have someone like President Biden, with the views that he has on a number of different issues, in office, will you be better off? And everyone has to make that analysis for themselves based upon the various things that they care about, because we know what the previous four years look like, and how many of the things that at least those who are in the youth category, the progressive category, and even in the moderate category, have said are important for our country were not being met. So in relationship to what’s happening there, everybody’s just going to have to make to make that decision for themselves. I think there will be some votes that will be lost, but again, I hope that folks will look at that important issue and others as they make their decisions.

Mark Hertsgaard: And quickly here, because we’re at the near the end of the hour, what about the prospect of a third party candidacy? How, if at all, should climate be brought into questions about the third party candidates who may or may not end up running? Mustafa, you go ahead.

Mustafa Santiago Ali: Okay, yeah. So as I stated before, for me, it is all candidates, whether it’s Republicans, Democrats, independents, or whatever third party candidate it might be, we should be asking everyone the tough questions about what they would do, how they would do it, how will you have the influence and the leverage to be able to get things done, whether it’s on the federal, the state, or even the county level? And then, make some decisions about, does this person, one, align with what I believe in? But not only do they align with what I believe in, do they have the infrastructure and do they have the gravitas to be able to achieve the things that they are saying that they want to do?

Because we often get caught up in the illusion of what people can do, not what we hope they’ll be able to do, but what they can do, and don’t take a full analysis of that. So I think folks just have to really go through all the things that they know are important, and ask the question, can this person get it done at this time? That doesn’t mean that they might not be able to do it in the future if they build out the infrastructure that’s large enough to have influence. As somebody who worked on Capitol Hill, I know how difficult it is to get a piece of legislation done and signed by a president. So you just have to really think critically about this, and then make that decision.

Mark Hertsgaard: Which recalls what Barack Obama used to say, when CEOs used to come into his office and tell him, “Mr. President, you should do X, Y, and Z.” And he said, “Yeah, I’m not a king, I’m a president, and Congress has to pass those bills first.”

We’re in the last minute, so Bill and Amy, I’m going to give you each 30 seconds to give us your final words of wisdom. Let’s start with Amy, and then you, Bill.

Amy Westervelt: God. I think I just was saying this to the person asking about economics, and I think it applies across the board, just every single thing you’re looking into, question what you think is objectively true, where that idea came from and who might’ve paid for it. Economic models are a perfect example. We act like those are objective science, they’re not. Someone with ideas and opinions put that model together, and they chose to include or leave out various things based on those opinions and ideas, and they might’ve been paid by someone to do that. So I think just always be thinking about, is someone trying to use me and my platform in the media to get a particular story across?

Bill McKibben: And I just stuck my story idea in the chat. We talk an awful lot about youth voters, and youth, that’s really important, but do not sleep on us old people. The new polling data shows that people above 60 trail, just by a tiny bit, youth in their concern about climate, and we actually vote like hell. We’re getting organized at Third Act, there’s chapters all across the country, it’s going to be fun to watch the same people who brought you the first Earth Day in 1970 kick some butt in the years to come.

Mark Hertsgaard: Third Act is a good story waiting to be written. And on that note, I will thank our three very distinguished panelists for an excellent hour of conversation, Bill McKibben, who really needs no introduction in this room, Amy Westervelt with Drilled, Mustafa Santiago Ali with the National Wildlife Federation. And I’ll also remind everyone that Covering Climate Now’s Annual Climate Journalism Awards are, again, opening for submissions. Submissions open this Thursday, February 1, and you can go to our website,, for more information on that. And with that, I will urge you all to keep apprised of what we do here at Covering Climate. Now, sign up for our newsletter at The Climate Beat. We’re going to make it clear that climate is on the ballot here in 2024. Thank you all for being here, and I wish you a very pleasant day.