In late September, Covering Climate Now co-founder Mark Hertsgaard kicked off a two-day media conference with a powerful call to action.
Hertsgaard emphasized that climate change is not just a problem or crisis, but an emergency that demands relentless, round-the-clock coverage. He drew a parallel to the COVID pandemic, highlighting the urgent attention it received from the press.
“We know how to cover emergencies—we cover them a lot. … We saw that during COVID, right?”
During the COVID pandemic, the media strictly controlled its coverage based on expert guidance. Any suggestion that the virus leaked from a lab, which is now considered the most likely scenario, was dismissed as a conspiracy theory. Those who questioned the effectiveness of paper masks or the impact of remote learning were scorned. Even the scientist who pioneered mRNA vaccines faced ridicule and abuse before eventually winning the Nobel Prize in medicine.
For Mark Hertsgaard, this is not just a story of journalistic triumph, but a template for covering global warming. He now dedicates his time to guiding other journalists on how to approach climate reporting.
Covering Climate Now aims to integrate climate coverage into every aspect of newsrooms. Its partners include major TV networks and print publications, such as ABC, CBS, MSNBC, Time, HuffPost, and Vox. The initiative is supported by liberal foundations like the Rockefeller Family Fund and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
The conference itself, held at the prestigious Columbia Journalism School, showcased the blurred line between climate journalism and climate activism. While featuring interviews with climate activists, the majority of panels and speeches were led by journalists from prominent outlets like NBC, CBS, and Time. These journalists echoed Hertsgaard’s call to action, emphasizing that climate change is a do-or-die issue that transcends traditional industry norms.
Some panelists argued that climate coverage should be seamlessly integrated into every story. However, they seemed unaware of publications like The New York Times, which has already highlighted the impact of climate change on summer camps and mental health. CNN even warned of a potential tequila shortage caused by climate change.
During a panel on “Climate Change And The 2024 Elections,” journalists from Time, Telemundo, and CBS News rejected the idea of presenting facts for viewers to make their own judgments. Instead, they advocated for the press to overcome their fears of advocating for one political party over another. They argued that climate change is too urgent to risk another election victory for Republicans.
“I think it’s unrealistic to think that you can just approach it from a clinical, scientific point of view—here are the facts, everybody’s going to make up their own minds,” said former CBS News vice president Al Ortiz. “The fact is that if you have the Republican Party take over both the executive branch and legislative branches of governments, you’re going to stop climate change policy in the government for five years.”
Throughout the conference, panelists criticized the Republican Party for spreading climate misinformation and disinformation. Ironically, some of these panelists themselves used misinformation to defend the limitations of green energy and other climate-focused solutions.
For example, Time’s Justin Worland claimed it was misinformation to suggest that green energy leads to higher prices for American families. However, President Joe Biden’s Energy Department has acknowledged that clean electricity is significantly more expensive than natural gas. Green developments in New Jersey are expected to increase energy rates by 10 to 20 percent.
The conference also featured an interview with former United Nations climate official Christiana Figueres, who downplayed the mineral requirements of green energy compared to oil and gas production. In reality, electric vehicles require six times more minerals than gas-powered cars, and onshore wind plants require nine times more minerals than gas-fired plants.
It’s important to note that Covering Climate Now’s media partners may not report these facts. According to their blueprint, green energy’s shortcomings and the experts who highlight them should not be given a platform. The press should ignore those who argue in favor of oil and gas.
Covering Climate Now hailed the conference as a resounding success, with hundreds of journalists attending. Even those who couldn’t attend can incorporate the group’s practices into their coverage. The organization’s website provides reporting guides, including story ideas, questions for politicians and companies, and suggested language for journalists to use. These guides assert that there is no good-faith argument against the urgent need for action on climate change and that any extreme weather story should mention climate change.
Based on the member roster and speaker lineup, it’s clear that most mainstream media outlets support Covering Climate Now’s climate coverage revolution. Journalists who don’t should take note of Amy Goodman, founder of Democracy Now!, who issued a warning to any detractors during the conference.
“We have to make it unacceptable for journalists—even general political journalists—to not ask these questions,” she said.
How can journalists strike a balance between advocacy and objective reporting when covering climate change to ensure accurate and reliable information is provided to the public
To higher energy costs. He argued that the cost of wind and solar power has decreased significantly in recent years, making them more cost-effective alternatives.
This statement, though partially true, ignores the fact that the implementation of renewable energy sources often requires extensive infrastructure upgrades and initial investment, which can lead to higher energy costs in the short term. Additionally, Worland failed to mention that the intermittent nature of wind and solar power necessitates backup power sources, such as natural gas, increasing overall energy costs.
While the intention of the conference was to promote robust climate coverage, it is crucial to ensure that accurate information is provided to the public. Misleading narratives and selective presentation of facts only serve to undermine the credibility of climate journalism and hinder genuine efforts to address climate change.
However, it is noteworthy that many journalists at the conference recognized the importance of their role in advocating for climate action. They acknowledged the need to move beyond the traditional objective reporting and embrace a more proactive approach to combat the urgency of climate change.
Indeed, climate change is not just a scientific matter; it is a multifaceted issue that intersects with various aspects of society, including politics, economics, and public health. Journalists have a responsibility to inform the public and spark meaningful discussions on the actions needed to mitigate the impact of global warming.
The conference served as a platform for journalists to exchange ideas and strategies on how to integrate climate reporting into their respective newsrooms effectively. It emphasized the urgency of the climate crisis and urged journalists to prioritize comprehensive climate coverage.
Recognizing the power of the media in shaping public opinion and driving policy decisions, initiatives like Covering Climate Now play a vital role in facilitating collaboration among media organizations and promoting accurate and impactful climate reporting.
In conclusion, the conference led by Mark Hertsgaard and organized by Covering Climate Now underscored the critical role of the media in addressing the climate emergency. It emphasized the need for relentless, round-the-clock coverage of climate change, drawing parallels to the response to the COVID pandemic.
However, while the conference aimed to promote climate coverage, it is crucial to avoid misinformation and ensure accurate reporting. Journalists must strike a balance between advocacy and objective reporting, providing the public with comprehensive and reliable information.
The conference highlighted the blurred line between climate journalism and activism, with journalists recognizing the importance of advocating for climate action. It showcased the commitment of media organizations and journalists in integrating climate coverage into their reporting and amplifying the urgency of the climate crisis.
Moving forward, it is imperative for journalists to uphold the principles of accuracy and fairness while reporting on climate change. By providing well-researched, balanced, and impactful coverage, the media can play a crucial role in raising awareness and driving the necessary actions to combat the climate emergency.
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