Weekend Reader: Communicating climate, a guided tour

Covering climate change as a disaster scenario isn't a strategic mistake, it's a necessity.

Monday's NBC Nightly News led with the disastrous flash flood.


Following the traditional mangling of what a "thousand year flood" is, the reporter asked the county executive if something other than "bad luck" caused the second such flood in three years. There was no mention of climate, nor of the poor land use policies believed to be another factor. (Key moment is at 3:13 in this video.)

Enter good ol' Al Roker. Methodically, rapidly and good naturedly, the veteran meteorologist laid out the link between climate change and ungodly downpours on Thursday's NBC Today Show in less than 40 seconds. So it can be done.

Also this week, Harvard's Shorenstein Center ran a lengthy piece by veteran NPR correspondent and Shorenstein fellow Elizabeth Arnold. Amidst many useful points about news coverage of climate, Arnold makes the fundamental point that it's too gloomy to connect with news consumers.

Funny, I had always wondered why Schindler's List hadn't been re-cast for Broadway as a musical comedy. But seriously, folks.... Arnold prescribes a greater mix of solutions-oriented stories to leave readers, listeners, and viewers with a message of hope. Easy for an NPR veteran to say, but just try that over at NBC Nightly or cable news, where I toiled for 18 years.

Case in point: Media Matters for America, a left-of-center press watchdog nonprofit, estimated that Roseanne Barr's racist tweet got 16 times as much cable news attention as the news that Puerto Rico's death toll in Hurricane Maria may have been understated by a factor of 70. A factor of 70. And while there's no actual data on this, I'm guessing that Roseanne's linking racism to her taking Ambien got more news coverage than scientists linking climate change to weather disasters like Ellicott City.

These days -- particularly in these Trump days -- many of the key climate stories are political ones. I'll pre-assign a Peabody Award to any story that can turn Washington's climate politics to a positive, solutions-oriented piece. The bottom line as I see it, is that we're dealing with the classic symptoms of addiction, and the patient, hereinafter known as "us," doesn't yet know we have a problem.

Covering climate change as a disaster scenario isn't a strategic mistake, it's a necessity.

Having said that, there are a few valuable places that specialize in monitoring climate coverage, or in exploring how these issues are communicated by scientists, activists, and journalists.

Climate Feedback is a California-based group dedicated to critiquing mainstream press coverage of climate scientists. Its science-heavy staff and advisors pick apart news stories and opinion pieces for scientific accuracy, conspicuously picking apart a Wall Street Journal editorial that exclusively relied on climate-denying sources.

Media Matters for America is a news watchdog site whose political biases, and Democratic party loyalties, are clear. But they offer solid research and frequently rapid-response analysis, like the one above on Al Roker's flood coverage when coverage of climate change or other environmental issues hits or misses the mark.

Two academic outposts cover polling data and the receptiveness of audiences for climate news and information. The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the Center for Climate Change Communication often partner on projects. At the University of Colorado, the Media and Climate Change Observatory does monthly content counts on how heavily (or not) climate issues are being covered internationally.

Top Weekend News

Pope Francis plans to meet with business giants like BP and Black Rock on climate change. (Axios)

The New York Times has a deep dive on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's cozy relationship with a coal baron.

From PRI's Living On Earth, Steve Curwood talks with two authors of the study estimating a huge death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria. The numbers are......complicated.

From Bob Berwyn at Inside Climate News: Some hurricane experts say it's time to create Category Six.

Opinion Pieces and Editorials

The New York Times editorializes on Trump's "climate foolishness."

Paul Krugman, The Times's Nobel Laureate economist, weighs in on "Coal, Cash and Bad Faith."

NPR's Scott Simon with an essay on why Roseanne and Samantha Bee got far more attention than the news on Puerto Rico's death toll.

This Week in Trump

The climate movement tries to outmaneuver President Trump. (LA Times)

Podcasts of Note

On the Commonwealth Club's Climate One podcast, Greg Dalton talks with three of California's top gubernatorial candidates.

From PRI's Living On Earth, EHN's Peter Dykstra and Steve Curwood take a look beyond the headlines at a tree-sitting Appalachian pipeline protest, and discuss Forest Service workers who are taking construction lessons from beavers.

From last August, but perfect for the start of Atlantic Hurricane season: The Weather Channel's Mike Bettes and Dr. Rick Knabb show what you'll need for a hurricane preparedness kit.

The Revelator mapped light pollution, and the huge new contributions from fracking operations. It's bad news for migratory birds.

www.vox.com

Most Democrats and Republicans think the government should make climate change a priority

A new survey finds broad support among American voters for doing more on climate change.

ADSE's Young Researchers Conference 2021

The Alliance for Diversity in Science and Engineering (ADSE) is hosting its 9th Young Researcher Conference from January 28-30th, 2021. Read more about the conference and how to register here.

Biden may cancel Keystone XL pipeline permit as soon as his first day in office

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden is planning to cancel the permit for the $9 billion Keystone XL pipeline project as one of his first acts in office, and perhaps as soon as his first day, according to a source familiar with his thinking.
insideclimatenews.org

Global efforts to adapt to the impacts of climate are lagging as much as efforts to slow emissions

A new UN report highlights how an adaptation gap hurts the most vulnerable countries and urges increased financing and cost-effective, nature-based preparations.

www.abc.net.au

Climate change pushed ocean temperatures to record high in 2020, study finds

Climate change saw the world's oceans absorb 20 zettajoules of heat in 2020, driving seas to record temperatures and setting the scene for decades of savage weather and environmental devastation.
e360.yale.edu

More than 400,000 US clean energy jobs have been lost so far during the pandemic

The clean energy sector in the United States lost 429,000 jobs last year due to the economic impacts of Covid-19, with the industry hitting its lowest number of workers since 2015, according to a new analysis of federal unemployment filings.

www.wesa.fm

Philadelphia aims to be carbon neutral by 2050

Sounding optimistic after four years of battling climate change with little help from the federal government under the Trump administration, Mayor Jim Kenney said Friday that Philadelphia will aim to become carbon neutral by 2050.

stateimpact.npr.org

Harrisburg resident’s charges dismissed in alleged Mariner East ‘buy-a-badge’ scheme

A judge has dismissed all charges against Harrisburg resident James Murphy, a security firm employee who had been charged in connection with an alleged bribery scheme related to Mariner East pipeline construction in Chester County.