The Climate Reporting Emergency

by | May 25, 2021 | Commentary

As the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 elections dominated the news cycle, the urgent threat of climate change nearly disappeared from the spotlight. The climate crisis is a global emergency that deserves major attention, yet – with the exception of major natural disasters – mainstream news outlets have failed to consistently report on the issue that poses the greatest threat to humanity.

“Nature is(n’t) Healing”

Among the many horrors of the COVD-19 pandemic, there were a few silver linings. The early lockdowns provided people with a glimpse of what the world might look like with less human interference. “Nature is healing” became a hopeful, viral (although misguided) quote, often posted under photos and videos of once-bustling areas returning to a quieter, cleaner state. With the absence of human activity, water and air pollution lessened, smog in cities like Los Angeles and Beijing lifted, and roadkill rates plummeted. Earth, it appeared, showed signs that it was capable of making a comeback.

Now, with lockdowns lifting, vaccinations on the rise, and over 7 billion people anxious to enjoy life outside their homes, it seems that the stage is set for a massive comeback of human activity and pollution. As people are desperate for travel, it is likely that the resulting emissions will be on par with pre-COVID levels, if not worse. And with pollution levels already at an unsustainable level, the world simply cannot afford a return to “normalcy” in this respect.

The Crisis

As it stands, without major intervention, the climate crisis is geared to have calamitous effects on humanity in the near future. While scientists claim that the remaining years humanity has left to effectively combat the crisis are numbered, it seems as though we may have already passed the tipping point.

 The United States experienced its worst ever year for wildfires in 2020. Endless photos from the west coast depicted an apocalyptic nightmare, prophetic of worse disasters to come without proper intervention. To make matters worse, the Trump administration pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement and allowed for grievous rollbacks on environmental regulations during the four-year reign. 

Mother Jones reported that cities around the world now have to deal with issues of “flooding, overheating, water shortages, and damage to their infrastructure from extreme weather” more often and are ill equipped to take the measures needed to help residents through future calamities. Each year has brought worsening temperatures and more devastating and frequentnatural disasters – and while mainstream news outlets have been consistent as ever in covering sensational disasters, they have failed to connect natural disasters to the climate emergency.

The Corporate Coverage

In a 2012 study conducted by Media Matters, corporate news outlets gave 40 times more coverage to the Kardashians than the increasing acidification of the world’s oceans – a process that, once past a certain point, would essentially mean an end to most life on Earth. Such an urgent story merits due coverage every day from major news outlets, but there has been a lasting drought of climate-related stories. This may be because the existential threat tends to net lower ratings than celebrity gossip. In other instances, corporate outlets may avoid reporting the devastating effects of fossil fuels because they’re locked in Big Oil’s grip.

Whatever the reason, this lapse created a “calamitous public ignorance” and an overall sense of apathy toward environmental issues among the American people. Although recently exacerbated by the Trump administration’s stonewalling of all climate-related matters, corporate media has ignored the far-reaching effects of climate crisis on immigration, health, the world economy, the global patterns of inequality, and more.

Independent outlets such as The Guardian and The Nation have for years published informative articles on the problems caused by the climate crisis and corporate media’s complacency in acknowledging those issues. Many independent outlets, such as GristInside Climate News, and Earth Island Journal, are devoted to environmental reporting. However, considering the magnitude of the crisis, mainstream media must share the duty – given its wide reach and large audiences – to provide accurate and consistent coverage of the climate emergency.


Illustration by Doug Chayka for The Nation

More from The Edge

For Patty Zimmermann, with Revolutionary Love

These words were written for a late-April weekend memorializing Patty Zimmermann, who was Editor-at-Large for The Edge, Director of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival, Professor of Screen Studies at Ithaca College, and a fierce friend and ally.  ...

Finding My Way to Max Tohline’s ‘A Supercut of Supercuts’

We often discover new media fascinations in roundabout ways. In February of 2022, when filmmaker J.P. Sniadecki emailed me to ask if I’d seen Chloé Galibert-Laîné’s “Forensickness” (2022), I had only the vaguest sense of what had come to be called the “video essay.” I...

Complicity and Resistance in a Time of Genocidal Agony

What to Do? I am writing especially thinking about Palestinian women. They have suffered so immeasurably and grotesquely while they have tried to care for their children and their pregnancies, while being malnourished, dehydrated, starved, and heartbroken while death...

The Key to Maintaining Democracy? It’s Conversation.

On January 25th, the Harvard Kennedy School hosted a panel to discuss how candid conversations about  differences in opinion contribute to healthy democracy and social cohesion. The event, which was held on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts,...

Elitism and the Rest of Us as the New Semester Begins

This week, most college and university campuses will open across the country. The ghastly war in Gaza continues and the U.S. has become more involved as it bombs Yemen. So, I am thinking about how unsettled the surround is as higher education institutions begin a new...

War Rape and the Question of Hamas

Israeli Zionist women have been speaking out these last few days to bring attention to the horrific rape of Jewish women, and the lack of outcry of feminists, for them, to this plight. They demand an indictment of Hamas and its sexual treachery towards women on...

The 10 Freeway Has Been Reopened but L.A.’s Transit Problem Remains

During the early hours of November 11, a fire erupted in a storage yard underneath the I-10 freeway near downtown Los Angeles, structurally compromising a large section of the road and resulting in, what was at the time, claimed to be an indefinite closure of the...

From My Body to Yours, and Gaza to the World

A Meditation on Death, Killing, and Possibility I knew my body was healing from the surgery when I found myself ready to engage with the world and posted on Facebook: I am always anti-zionist. And never an antisemite. And always an anti-racist feminist against...