If the public discourse about climate change is influenced by broadcast TV networks, how did the networks cover the climate crisis in 2020?
(Graphic: Melissa Joskow / Media Matters)

As conservationists, we tend to think about the climate crisis fairly often. After all, a lot of our work directly helps mitigate or adapt to the impacts of a warming planet. But how are other sectors thinking or talking about climate?

Two separate and contrasting takes on this recently drew attention. We’ll highlight one of them this week and circle back to the other in the future.

Media Matters released a study of “How broadcast TV networks covered climate change in 2020.” It’s a little startling. This graph says it all:

Media Matters lays out a set of key findings that go beyond this. Here’s a sampling:

  • There was less than half as much coverage in 2020 as in 2019.
  • Broadcast TV news only mentioned the link between pandemics and climate change 3 times on nightly news shows, despite being in the midst of a pandemic.
  • 35% of all climate segments aired in September, when there was extensive coverage of western US wildfires.
  • 3 months – March, April (yes, that would be Earth month), and June had no coverage at all.

And take note of the following finding:

As the story notes “This lopsided representation flatly ignores the reality that, due to historical and current injustices, climate change disproportionately affects communities of color. In fact, recent polling shows that these communities ‘are more concerned than Whites about climate change.'”

Finally, only 29% of climate segments mentioned potential solutions or actions for addressing climate change, a lower percentage than 2019. Media Matters quotes former New York Times climate reporter Kendra Pierre-Louis and now host of a climate solutions podcast, How to Save a Planet:

For the past 10 or 15 years, there has been a form of climate journalism that focuses on the problem to such a degree that it can be disempowering. People can feel like the scale of the problem is so large and there aren’t any solutions.

So we’re trying to get people to understand that they can be part of the solution. They can plug into aspects of our society to move the needle on climate change.

It’s too early to tell if coverage in 2021 will be different. But, one would hope the level of conversation occurring around climate in certain national discussions — such as around infrastructure — is promising.

Fortunately, protecting land, creating parks and increasing green space are all direct climate solutions with multiple benefits at the local level. And that is our work. We need to constantly hold these up as ways to “move the needle” here in the Chesapeake watershed.

Don’t forget to send us your 2020 land conservation success stories as they develop. They’ll land in the new and growing collection at success.chesapeakeconservation.org, a tool we can all use to show collective impact. See the checklist below for easy-to-follow, simple guidelines.