New Monthly Summaries: News Media Focused on Political and Policy Dimensions of Climate Change

Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO)
January 2017 Summary

January ushered in a new era for many things, including media attention to climate change. As many around the world braced for a new phase of approaches to science and the environment by the United States (US) Trump administration – who took up power on January 20th – stories focused largely on political and policy dimensions of climate change this month.

Coverage of climate change and global warming increased most prominently in the US this month, with coverage up 13% from December 2016, and 117% from the previous January. Numbers across all sources in twenty-seven countries showed a 2% increase from December 2016 overall.

A larger majority of stories appearing in US media and around the world surrounded the election of Donald J. Trump in November 2016. Reverberations throughout the country and around the world kicked up coverage. Examples included stories on Trump’s first Executive Orders re-initiating Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipeline projects, and articles on how funding would be curtailed in key federal agencies. Actions, and threats like these, sparked media attention.

To illustrate, Ian Austen and Clifford Krauss from The New York Times reported how for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump’s “revival of Keystone XL upsets a balancing act”. Stephen Mufson and Brady Dennis at The Washington Post reported on how the White House website’s energy pages, which went up within moments of Trump’s inauguration, removed references to combating climate change, a topic that had been featured prominently on the site under President Barack Obama. Betsy McKay from The Wall Street Journal reported that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it recently postponed a gathering it had planned to hold next month on the effects of climate change on health, and Coral Davenport from The New York Times reported on a freeze on federal grant spending at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Health and Human Services as well as other government agencies.

Stories in January 2017 about Trump nominations for key posts in the administration – particularly for Secretary of State (former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson), EPA Administrator (Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt), Secretary of the Department of Interior (Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke) and Secretary of the Department of Energy (former Texas Governor Rick Perry) – focused mainly on worrisome dimensions of these appointments for those who care about climate and environmental protection, justice and human well-being among other things. Moreover, some media pieces also addressed cultural dimensions regarding how climate concerns were voiced in Women’s marches across the world on January 21st, and (mainly in US coverage) how ‘alt’ Twitter accounts cropped up from US National Park Services and other US agency spin-offs to communicate #climatefacts and dismay about Trump Administration plans for shifts in science, environment and climate policy engagements.

So as Barack Obama and his administration vacated the White House, media attention was paid to Donald Trump’s and his aides’ promises for swift and aggressive action to dismantle and block Obama’s climate-related policies and actions, such as incorporating the social cost of carbon to project planning and Clean Power plan regulations. Media treatments also covered how Trump administration behaviors served to embolden Republican legislative officials in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, where the elimination of regulations on coal mining near streams and rules to reduce methane emissions were said to be prioritized in the next Congressional sessions. On January 4, Chelsea Harvey from The Washington Post wrote “As a new Congress convenes this week, regulatory reform is the rage, and the upshot seems to be that at least a few of President Obama’s environmental regulations could be dismantled quickly by the Republican Congress, with President-elect Donald Trump’s approval”. Read more …

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