Climate On — and Off — The Debate Stage

The first US presidential debate offers journalists an opportunity to meaningfully integrate climate into elections coverage.

The final debate of 2020 between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden plays in a television studio in Manhattan in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The dates have been set for two US presidential debates and the question we now have is: Will the moderators question the candidates about their plans for stopping climate change — and challenge them to get real about the severity of the climate crisis?

The first presidential debate, airing June 27 on CNN, provides moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash with an opportunity to stand out in the history of presidential debates, in which candidates have been questioned only a handful of times about climate change — and not always well. The usual question of whether candidates believe in climate science does a disservice to audiences — even when a candidate has continually denied the reality of climate change. Questions should, instead, deal with the facts, acknowledge that climate science is settled, and ask what candidates will do to stop it.

While the right has been trying to make climate change a part of the culture wars this election season, it stands apart as an issue. Scientists warn of a small and ever narrowing window in which to act to avert a crisis from which humanity likely will never recover; the next US president’s climate policies will significantly influence the world’s ability to act and the future habitability of Earth. There is no next time on climate change.

Pre-debate stories are a staple of election coverage, and sometimes shape questions that moderators ask. Climate needs to factor into this coverage as well. Getting the climate story right in this moment means that political reporters everywhere — not just the moderators — should integrate climate into their elections reporting.

Good elections coverage prioritizes “the stakes, not the odds,” as New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen says. The climate stakes couldn’t possibly be any higher — and audiences are increasingly worried. Considering that 2024 is shaping up to be another record-breaking year of heat, climate is sure to be at the top of voters’ minds.

Aggressively covering climate change and questioning candidates on what they’ll do to stop it is not a partisan act. It’s journalism’s job to tell the public what they need to know to be informed citizens. At this critical moment, we have to get the story right.

From Us

War and climate. Join us next Wednesday, May 29, at 12 pm US Eastern Time for “War and Climate Change,” a one-hour press briefing exploring how conflict and climate are linked. Panelists will be Neta C. Crawford, Montague Burton Professor at University of Oxford and the Co-director of the Costs of War Project; Rawan Damen, Director General of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism; and Ellie Kinney, Campaign Coordinator at the Conflict and Environment Observatory. Giles Trendle, co-chair of CCNow’s steering committee and former managing director of Al Jazeera English, will moderate. RSVP.

Noteworthy Stories

Self-serving. Rich countries including the US, Japan, and Germany are gaining billions of dollars in economic advantages from a program designed to help developing countries cope with climate change, finds a Reuters investigation. “Climate finance provision should not be a business opportunity,” said Liane Schalatek, an associate director at the Heinrich-Boll Foundation. It should “serve the needs and priorities of recipient developing countries.” By Irene Casado Sanchez and Jackie Botts at Reuters…

Cutting coal. The Biden administration will end new coal leasing in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, the source of more than half of the US’s coal, citing climate and public health reasons. Climate advocates applauded the move, while Republican state legislators strongly opposed it. By Maxine Joselow at The Washington Post…

Political alliances. The oil and gas industry is rallying behind former president Donald Trump after President Joe Biden’s decision to pause new permits for liquified natural gas export facilities, according to industry lobbyists. Trump joined a fundraising luncheon organized by three fossil fuel industry executives this week in Houston. By Lisa Friedman and Rebecca Elliott at The New York Times…

Brazil floods. The horrific floods In Southern Brazil last week are “a taste of the ever-worsening chaos to come,” writes SUMAÚMA co-founder and journalist Jonathan Watts, adding that politicians and industries are exacerbating the problem. “[T]hey greenwash their activities with vague promises and weak policies to cut emissions and protect ecosystems…” By Jonathan Watts at SUMAÚMA… 

Higher power. Pope Francis told CBS News that humanity has reached “a point of no return” due to “alarming” global heating. “Climate change at this moment is a road to death,” Francis said, adding that rich countries “can make the most difference,” but are not living up to their promises. Watch at CBS News…

Resources and Events

Source: Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

Climate opinions. Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has an easy-to-use, customizable new tool that allows journalists to generate an overview of climate beliefs, concerns, policy support, and more for US states, congressional districts, and counties. [Tip: Show the factsheet to your editors and non-climate colleagues to help them better understand what climate means to your audiences.]

Hurricane season. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration is predicting an “above average” Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30.

Extreme heat. The Oxford Climate Journalism Network provides “Seven lessons for journalism in the age of extreme heat,” including how newsrooms can help journalists prepare to report ahead of time.

Heatwaves. Climate Central’s new 2024 Summer Package includes US data, resources, and downloadable visuals in English and Spanish. Climate Central is hosting a webinar, “Taking Action on Extreme Heat: Preparing for Impacts and Understanding the Climate Connection,” with leading climate scientists and heat experts on May 28. RSVP. 

EU elections. Clean Energy Wire is holding a masterclass, “Getting the story right – populists’ impact on climate action in the EU,” on May 28. RSVP.

“Climate capitalism.” The Blavatnik School of Government and Oxford University are hosting a conversation with Bloomberg journalist Akshat Rathi about his new book, Climate Capitalism, in which he shares stories about people coming together to deliver climate solutions. May 28. RSVP.

Frontline communities. The University of Rhode Island’s Metcalf Annual Lecture Series is holding an event, “Environmental racism and climate impacts: How frontline communities are creating their own adaptations,” on May 30. RSVP.

Social engagement. Climate Nexus’ Water Hub will hold a workshop, “Digital Detox, A navigator’s handbook to tackling trolls” on practical strategies to foster positive engagement and combat online negativity. June 6. RSVP.

Pitching climate. The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard and the Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability at Harvard University are hosting an in-person discussion “Climate In The Newsroom: An Inside Look” on June 12. In-person. Cambridge, Mass. Learn more.

Via Social

Steve MacLaughlin, Meteorologist & Climate Change Reporter at NBC Miami, takes on Florida’s decision to roll back climate change laws.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis recently signed legislation removing most climate change references in state law. The law will also help expand natural gas, ban the construction of offshore wind turbines in state waters, and more. 🎧NPR talks to Inside Climate News reporter Amy Green about Florida’s new law.

Local Story Ideas

Stories on our radar that local journalists can consider for their own audiences:

  • Play a round. ABC News 4 and Climate Central uncover how climate change is challenging the greens at South Carolina’s Charleston Municipal golf course.
  • Visit a brewery. KSHB 41 in Kansas City, Mo., met up with Boulevard Brewery to find out how climate change is changing the beer business and what they’re doing about it.

Jobs, Etc.

Jobs. Block Club Chicago is hiring a bilingual reporter (Chicago, Ill.). Bloomberg is recruiting a weather reporter (New York, N.Y.). The Las Vegas Review-Journal is hiring an investigative reporter (Las Vegas, Nev.). North Country Public Radio is hiring an arts and culture reporter (Canton, N.Y.). WAMU 88.5 is seeking a senior reporter, D.C. politics (Washington, D.C.). WFYI Indianapolis is looking for a news reporter and newscaster (Indianapolis, Ind.). The Washington Post is recruiting a deputy health and science editor.

Investigative fellowship. The New York Times is offering a one-year Local Investigations Fellowship for reporters to produce “signature investigative work” in their state or region. Apply by September 3.

COP29 fellowships. Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security are accepting applications from journalists in low- and middle-income countries to report from COP29 in Baku, Azerbaijan, from Nov. 11-22, 2024. Apply by June 6, 2024.