Reporting the US Midterms as a Climate Story

Voters deserve to know where candidates stand on the life-or-death issue of climate change

Climate survival is on the ballot in November’s US midterm elections, even if most Americans don’t know it yet. During the 61 days remaining before Election Day, journalists can help voters understand that the choices they make will profoundly influence whether today’s young people inherit a livable planet or not.

According to opinion polls, Americans say they will be voting primarily on three issues: the cost of living, abortion rights, and the future of democracy. Each of these issues will be powerfully affected by which candidates the voters choose and thus which party — Republicans or Democrats — controls one or both houses of Congress.

But the same emphatically holds true about climate change. The next Congress will shape what the US government does and does not do about the global climate emergency. As record heat, drought, and floods devastate communities from Kentucky to California and Pakistan to Somalia, the US midterms will determine whether the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is a high-water mark for US action or a first step toward more ambitious reforms. Likewise, the governors, mayors, and other state and local officials whom Americans select will shape what climate action is or is not taken in cities and counties across the US — which, as the world’s largest historical source of climate pollution, bears special responsibility for defusing the climate emergency.

It is not unprofessional editorializing for news coverage to make clear the implications these elections hold for civilization’s future — it is factually accurate. Nor is it partisan to make clear that one of the US’s two main political parties has for decades refused to acknowledge the climate crisis, much less offer credible proposals for combatting it. That, too, is simply factually accurate.

Voters deserve to know where candidates stand on this life-and-death issue, and they need journalists’ help to do it. Only the media can successfully press candidates on what they will do, if elected, about climate change. Republicans on Capitol Hill voted unanimously against the recent IRA, which included $370 billion to help slash heat-trapping emissions by 2030. That is their prerogative. But what do Republicans plan to do instead about climate change? Currently, their position amounts to: Do nothing. Again, that is their right. But voters equally have a right to know that that is the Republican position.

Voters also deserve to know how investments from the IRA will play out where they live. Is their state or county likely to see new solar power installations or battery factories built? What, if any, long-standing environmental injustices might be corrected? How many jobs will be created? There are plenty of angles to explore, including the irony that some states slated to gain major benefits are led by Republican governors who vehemently opposed the IRA.

Not only do voters deserve this information, it appears that many of them would welcome it. A new study indicates that most Americans support fighting climate change. But they don’t speak out because they assume, mistakenly, that most of their fellow citizens don’t share their view — an assumption that gets reinforced if the media stays quiet. “Whenever we look around, and we see nobody talking [about climate change], it just confirms that it seems like nobody cares,” said Boston College psychologist Gregg Sparkman, lead author of the study. “[When] policy makers have the same misperception, they’re not going to do a great job representing the will of the people.”

As journalists, let’s help our audiences understand that the politicians they elect in November will influence not only the cost of living, abortion rights, and the future of democracy — as important as each of those issues are — but also the future of civilization on this planet.

From Us

Journalism’s future. Columbia Journalism Review and Columbia’s Lipman Center for Journalism will host ‘The Objectivity Wars,’ an event centered on the battle underway for the future of journalism and how it’s practiced. CCNow co-founder Kyle Pope, who’s the editor and publisher of CJR, will moderate. Sept. 13. RSVP.

Up2Us2022. The New York Society for Ethical Culture is hosting ‘Up2Us2022: Strategies and Solutions to Save the Coolest Planet in the Universe.’ It will feature journalist and activist Bill McKibben, Project Drawdown’s Dr. Jonathan Foley, chief meteorologist for ABC News Ginger Zee, CCNow co-founder Mark Hertsgaard, and more. Sept. 19. In-person and online. RSVP. 

Noteworthy Stories

Pakistan’s floods. An unusually intense monsoon season combined with rapid glacier melt has left one-third of Pakistan underwater. Over 1,300 people are dead and 33 million people have been displaced. “The Global North can help the poor of the Global South by taking responsibility for the losses and damage of extreme weather fueled in part by the burning of fossil fuels,” writes Fatima Bhutto in an op-ed for The New York Times… 

Somalia’s suffering. Video reporting from Somalia shows the devastating conditions people are forced to endure after a million people have fled their homes in search of food due to climate-fueled drought. Hundreds of children have already died from malnutrition and related diseases as global aid from countries most responsible for the climate crisis has fallen short by millions of dollars. By Vice World News… 

Within reach. A new report finds that the White House could take a number of executive actions to reach Biden’s goal of cutting C02 emissions at least in half by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. By Allyson Chiu at the Washington Post…

You’re not alone. Climate change is worsening mental health issues and it’s not just people who face climate-related natural disasters who are suffering. Fear of global warming leads people to feel hopeless and powerless, and the climate crisis is a common source of distress for youth. A psychiatrist offers four ideas to help. By Lisa Doggett at NPR… 

Cheap travel. Germany’s experiment offering low-priced travel on public transport saved about 1.8m tons of CO2 emissions over a three-month period, according to the government. The emissions saved were equivalent to the powering of 350,000 homes. By Kate Connolly at the Guardian… 

Changing energy. North Dakota, the third-largest oil producer in the US, is conflicted over how to move forward with its energy future. Many hope to benefit from increased oil demand due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Others are ready to shift to renewables. By Ines Pohl at Deutsche Welle…

RIP Queen Elizabeth II. The British monarch, who died earlier today at age 96, was an unsung advocate of climate action. In 2004, for example, she made a rare intervention in world politics by privately urging British prime minister Tony Blair to challenge US president George W. Bush’s opposition to reducing heat-trapping emissions. By Mark Hertsgaard at Vanity Fair… 

Via Twitter

Bill McKibben shares CNN’s Clarissa Ward’s reporting on the ground in Pakistan, where a “tide of humanity” is in the midst of a public health crisis following devastating floods. “If you talk to people there’s a lot of resentment,” Ward said. “Pakistan is responsible for less than one percent of the world’s planet warming emissions and yet it is paying such a huge price for the effects of the climate crisis.”

Free to Publish

The following stories deserve special consideration for republication by CCNow partners:

For partner outlets: The full list of stories available for republication and instructions to do so can be found in our Sharing Library. To submit stories for sharing, please use this form.

Resources & Events

COP27. Media accreditation for COP27, which will be held in Egypt, is now open. Learn more. 

Events. The Natural History Museum in London will hold a panel discussion on the role of the media in the climate crisis. Speakers include the BBC’s Climate Editor Justin Rowlatt and Climate Investigative Journalist Amy Westervelt. Sept. 13. RSVP. 

The NGO Methane Action will host a webinar with former UK Chief Science Advisor Sir David King and other experts on methane removal. Sept. 15. RSVP.

Climate Journalism Network Switzerland is holding a workshop on telling climate stories using satellite images on Sept. 15. Learn more.

The New York Times is holding an all-day event examining the nexus between climate change and many critical international issues. Speakers include US Climate Envoy John Kerry, Nobel Laureate and Economist Esther Duflo, and former Vice President Al Gore. Sept. 20. RSVP.

Fridays for Future NYC will kick off a global climate strike in New York City on Sept. 23. It coincides with Climate Week NYC and the UN General Assembly. Learn more. 

Jobs, etc.

Jobs. The Associated Press has an opening for a text editor, climate. New Jersey PBS is recruiting a producer. The Baltimore Banner is looking for an environment/climate reporter.

Fellowships. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is looking for a climate editorial fellow and a biosecurity fellow. Climate tracker is looking for Caribbean climate justice journalism fellows.

Research tours. Clean Energy Wire is accepting applications from journalists based in Europe who will visit Germany, France, and Switzerland from Oct 9 to 12 to gain insights into the future of nuclear power. The deadline is Sept. 12. Learn more

Call for photography. Climate Visuals has launched an open call for photographers to submit ocean visuals for inclusion in the organization’s photographic library. Each chosen photograph will receive a $1,000 USD licensing fee; 100 images will be chosen. The deadline is Sept. 14. Learn more.