Wen Stephenson calls out journalists on crisis coverage Climate Change

In A Convenient Excuse Wen Stephenson, former editor at The Atlantic and The Boston Globe and senior producer of NPR's On Point, indicts journalists. Why aren't journalists covering the climate crisis, where billions of lives are at stake, as a crisis?

In our current media landscape, it apparently takes a magazine like Rolling Stone — in an issue with Justin Bieber on the cover — to offer a writer like Bill McKibben the opportunity to spell out the facts, in cold hard arithmetic, for a mass audience.

The bottom line: we have to find a way to leave 80 percent of accessible fossil fuels in the ground, forever, and make a rapid shift to clean energy, if we're going to avoid the very real risk of catastrophic climate change within this century.

"Unsafe" climate change is not a distant threat. It's here, now. We've fundamentally altered the planet's life-support system, and conditions are going to get much worse.

... because of the inherent inertia of the planet's climate system, and the sheer amount of CO2 already in the atmosphere, our "window of opportunity" to prevent catastrophic warming is extremely narrow. It may even have already closed. We don't know.

Yet even as climate scientists sound increasingly alarmed, there's virtual silence in the mainstream media ... about the urgency of the threat.

What's needed now is crisis-level coverage.

In a crisis, the criteria for top news is markedly altered, as long as a story sheds light on the crisis topic. In crisis coverage, there's an assumption that readers want and deserve to know as much as possible. In crisis coverage, you "flood the zone." You shift resources. You make hard choices.

The climate crisis is the biggest story of this, or any, generationso why the hell aren't you flooding the climate "zone," putting it on the front pages and leading newscasts with it every day? Or even once a week? Why aren't you looking constantly at how the implications of climate change and its impact pervade almost any topic — not just environment and energy stories?

... the opinion pages and magazines ... mainstream blogs... there's essentially no debate of any kind that reflects the scale and urgency of the crisis.

It's as though many of the best journalistic minds of multiple generations quail at the thought of seriously addressing what a crisis of this magnitude implies about their long-held assumptions — the unquestioned primacy of endless economic growth, for example, or the notion that there can be economic justice without climate justice. [emphasis mine]


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Replies to This Discussion

Donald Brown from Widener University School of Law at Ethics & Climate agrees with Stephenson

Five Grave Communications Failures of The US Media On Climate Change

... 5 grave tragic communications failures of the US media on climate change.

These include the failure to communicate;

  1. The strength of the scientific consensus
  2. The civilization challenging nature of the magnitude of greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed to prevent dangerous climate change
  3. The barrier that the United States has been in international climate negotiations that have been ongoing since 1990 to achieve a global solution to climate change
  4. The essential ethical and moral nature of the climate change problem, a fact that has profound significance for policy formation
  5. The nature of the climate change disinformation campaign.


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