This Earth Day, Climate and Democracy Are Both in Trouble

CCNow’s new “Climate & Democracy” project spotlights the risks, and the solutions.

Climate activists march in Brooklyn, New York on September 27, 2019. (Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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Since Paris, “the world seemed to have swerved sharply away from democracy and toward autocracy — and in the process dramatically limited our ability to fight the climate crisis.” So wrote Bill McKibben in a Guardian article on Monday launching Covering Climate Now’s latest joint reporting project, “Climate & Democracy.”

From April 11 through Earth Day on April 22, CCNow partner outlets including the Guardian, The Nation, Columbia Journalism Review, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, VICE, Now This, Al Jazeera, Times of India, Die Tageszeitung (taz), and The Daily Maverick will run stories exploring whether defusing the climate crisis requires also defusing the democracy crisis, and how that can be accomplished.

The project includes CCNow’s next newsmaker interview, with US congressman Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, who argued the case for impeaching former president Donald Trump for inciting the January 6 attack on the US Capitol aimed at overturning the 2020 election results and who has long championed aggressive climate action. The interview — conducted by Reuters, the Guardian, and Climate One public radio, and embargoed until Monday, April 18 — will be available for publication or broadcast by all CCNow partners.

For the last 16 consecutive years, democracy worldwide has declined and authoritarianism has been on the rise, according to a new report by Freedom House. Last year nearly 75 percent of the world’s population lived in a country that faced democracy deterioration. This is happening as the climate crisis is close to careening out of control. At the COP26 climate summit last November, some of the worst laggards were countries where authoritarianism is either entrenched or on the rise: China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, India, the US.

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, released April 4, highlighted how undemocratic decision-making is blocking urgently needed climate action. Humanity already possesses most of the knowledge and technologies needed to rapidly phase out fossil fuel use and other climate-destructive practices and shift to cleaner, healthier practices, the IPCC pointed out. What’s blocking progress is resistance from incumbent industries — especially oil, gas, and coal — and governments that bend to their will. Democracy, and the people power it facilitates, can counter their intransigence.

Only after Greta Thunberg and fellow activists with the Fridays for Future movement led some 6 million people into the streets in September 2019 did governments (and let’s be honest, most newsrooms) finally start treating climate change as a top-tier issue. It was activists with the Sunrise Movement and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign who successfully pressured Joe Biden to dramatically strengthen his climate proposals during the 2020 campaign, boosting climate into a key election issue.

Activism is even underway inside industries, as Justin Worland reports in a cover story for TIME, with Amazon employees walking off the job to demand the company take stronger climate action and oil and gas companies having difficulty recruiting top talent because young people want to be part of the solution, not the problem.

We hope journalists and newsrooms everywhere will take insights and inspiration from the surge of coverage CCNow is organizing around “Climate & Democracy.” As you consider doing your own reporting, here are some questions worth asking:

  • What is the state of democracy in your community and country, and how might that affect climate action?
  • What are the power dynamics at work that either obstruct or facilitate climate action, and how can citizens affect these dynamics?
  • What are the climate solutions with the most relevance in your region, and how can they be achieved?

If you produce a story on climate and democracy, be sure to let us know by emailing us at or by tagging us on Twitter with @coveringclimate.

Noteworthy stories

Scientists. About 1,000 scientists in 25 countries last week staged demonstrations, including some getting arrested, last week to demand meaningful action on climate. There’s a growing movement of scientists stepping into activism from a field that is by definition objective, impartial, and information-based. From Inside Climate News’s Today’s Climate Newsletter, by Kristoffer Tigue.

Cable news news. A study paid Fox News viewers to switch to CNN for a month, after which their belief in misinformation (e.g., that the 2020 election was stolen) markedly decreased — a useful reminder that the news people watch, read, and hear inevitably shapes how they understand the world around them. By Adam Gabbatt for the Guardian…

Heavyweight. The IPCC’s latest report is fodder for climate litigation and policy battles around the world. It finds that lawsuits against fossil fuel companies and governments are influencing “the outcome and ambition of climate governance.” By Lesley Clark in Scientific American…

Heavy pour. Climate change made the record-breaking 2020 Atlantic hurricane season wetter and more dangerous. The upcoming season is likely to be rainier, too. Seth Borenstein for ABC News…

CDR. A group of big companies have announced a carbon dioxide removal venture — a strategy the latest IPCC report considers necessary in order to reach international climate agreements. But what does a future with carbon dioxide removal look like and how should it work? From Molly Taft at Gizmodo…

Money moves. The Biden administration announced $46 million in funding to address climate impacts in Indigenous communities — places where the climate crisis is usually felt first and worst. By Shawna Chen for Axios…

Republication Recommendations

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

For partner outlets: To submit stories for sharing, please use this form. As always, instructions for republishing and the full list of stories available for republication can be found in our Sharing Library.

Odds & Ends

Event. The Peasant and Indigenous Press Forum is holding a press event where peasant and Indigenous communities at the forefront of food and land issues will share their stories with the media. April 19, 9 am US ET. RSVP.

SEJ wrap. “Houston, you hold a special place in my heart now thanks to SEJ and all the organizers,” said CCNow’s engagement editor, Mekdela Maskal, who participated on a climate solutions panel and an environmental engagement reporting panel at SEJ’s annual conference last month. Recordings from the event can be found here. And be sure to get in touch with Mekdela if you’re looking for resources or to chat about ideas.

Changing attitudes. Carbon Brief undertook research on UK newspapers’ approaches toward climate change, and provides analysis on the shifts over the last 10 years. Check out their interactive multimedia report here.

Trauma resource. Journalist’s Resource has a new explainer on practicing trauma-informed journalism. See it here.

Slide into XR’s DMs. Extinction Rebellion has a dedicated WhatsApp channel to keep the press informed of their actions. Join it here.

Jobs. The Washington Post is looking for an Instagram Editor for climate. The AP is hiring a news editor for its climate collaborations. NBC News’ climate unit is looking for an associate producer.

If you have any feedback on this newsletter, or know of information that should be included here, shoot us a note at