MeCCO 2018 Year End Retrospective

2018 saw media attention to climate change and global warming ebb and flow, amid competing interests in other political, social, environmental, economic, and cultural issues around the globe. In the context of media attention paid to issues from Australian national elections to Yemeni conflict, climate change and global warming garnered coverage through stories manifesting through primary, yet often intersecting, political economicscientificcultural and ecological/meteorological themes.

At the global level, October was the high water mark for coverage of climate change or global warming among the sources tracked by our Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO) team. This trend of highest levels of coverage in October was also the case at the national level in Australia, Canada, Spain, the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) in 2018. This coverage was attributed primarily to attention paid to the United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on impacts of 1.5oC warming. It was also bolstered by media coverage of continued impacts and reverberations from Hurricane Michael (coming on land in the US Florida panhandle) and Typhoon Yutu (tearing through the US Northern Marianas Islands) in October along with continued cleanup efforts from September’s Typhoon Mangkhut (damaging the Philippines) and Hurricane Florence (making landfall in the Carolinas).

Figure 1 shows media coverage of climate change or global warming month to month over the last 180 months – organized into seven geographical regions around the world – from January through December 2018.

In January 2018, we at MeCCO expanded coverage to sixty-two newspaper sources, six radio sources and six television sources. These now span across thirty-eight countries, monitoring segments and articles in English, Spanish, German and Portuguese. In addition to English-language searches of ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’, we began additional searches of Spanish-language sources through the terms ‘cambio climático’ or ‘calentamiento global’, and commenced with searches of German-language sources through the terms ‘klimawandel’ or ‘globale erwärmung’ as well as Portuguese-language sources through the terms ‘mudanças climáticas’ or ‘aquecimento global’.

In the aggregate across the newspaper sources, coverage was down 26% in 2018 compared to 2017. However, at the country level, coverage increased most notably in the UK (up 22%), New Zealand (up 22%) and US (up 20%) in 2018. Meanwhile, coverage held relatively steady in Australia (up 1%), Canada (down 2%), Germany (down 1%), India (up 2%) and Spain (down 1%). As such, the overall decrease in coverage was detected through sources outside these key countries. By comparison, coverage in Central American and South American sources monitored by MeCCO were down 23%. This may be a warning sign of possible limited capacity to cover climate change in global sources that do not generally have the comparable resources of these other country’s outlets.

Our broadened monitoring involved the expansion into regional monitoring of Latin American newspaper coverage, beginning in January 2005. This also included new monitoring of climate change or global warming in US television coverage – ABCCBSCNNFox News NetworkMSNBC, and NBC – from January 2000 through the present. And our 2018 monitoring expanded to representative radio coverage in six main sources – American Public Media (US), National Public Radio (NPR) (US), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) (UK), SW Radio Africa (Zimbabwe), Radio Balad (Jordan), and Radio France Internationale (RFI) (France) – also from January 2000 through the present.

In the aggregate across US television sources, coverage in 2018 went down 30% compared to 2017. Across global radio sources we at MeCCO have monitored, coverage in 2018 was down 8% from 2017.

At the US country level, Figure 2 illustrates these trends month to month in US press accounts across five newspaper publications in 2018 – The Washington PostThe Wall Street JournalThe New York TimesUSA Today, and the Los Angeles Times. Figure 3 shows trends across US television news – ABCCBSCNNFox News NetworkMSNBC, and NBC.

Throughout the year (as in 2017) there has been continued prominence of news from US outlets on climate change or global warming associated with Donald J. Trump. We at MeCCO have referred to this as a ‘Trump Dump’, where media attention that would have focused on other climate-related events and issues instead was placed on Trump-related actions, leaving many other stories untold. Throughout the year 2018, in terms of the frequency of words in US news articles, ‘Trump’ was invoked 22,942 times through 5,106 stories in The Washington PostThe Wall Street JournalThe New York TimesUSA Today, and the Los Angeles Times in 2018. In fact, ‘Trump’ was mentioned more than twice as frequently as ‘science’, ‘scientific’, ‘scientists’ and ‘scientist’ combined (a ratio of 2.2 times more frequent). These abundant mentions of Trump were a remarkable ratio of nearly 4.5 times per article on average. However, this is down slightly from a ratio of nearly 4.7 times per article on average in 2017.

Meanwhile, ‘Trump’ was invoked 41,172 times through 980 stories on US network television news outlets ABCCBSCNNFox News NetworkMSNBC, and NBC in 2018 (a ratio of approximately 42 times per segment on average). Even though the NBC Meet the Press December 30 special report on climate change was seen to be an encouraging new media approach, the show nonetheless mentioned or quoted Trump fourteen times during the hour-long program (see December section and conclusion for more).

This was illustrated in a number of ways throughout the year. For example, media copiously covered comments about “beautiful and clean coal” as the President set carbon-based industry preferences in his January State of the Union address and throughout the year, factual challenges and all. As a second instance, Trump reactions to the November release of the Fourth US National Climate Assessment (NCA 4) generated media attention where journalists like Rebecca Ballhaus from the Wall Street Journal reported, “President Trump said Monday that he doesn’t believe the central finding of a report released last week by his administration … Mr. Trump said of the report, “I’ve seen it. I’ve read some of it. And it’s fine”.  Further elaborations and additional examples can be found in the month-to-month accounts that follow in this 2018 retrospective.

Among others analyzing media representational practices, Lisa Hymas from Media Matters picked up on this in 2018. She astutely commented, “The media should be chasing down stories on climate science, the people being affected by climate change, responses and solutions to the problem. Instead, even when they report on climate change, they’re still chasing Trump”.

Figure 4 depicts word frequencies in US newspaper accounts across the calendar year 2018.

This report is an aggregation and reprise of monthly summaries that our MeCCO team has compiled and posted each month on our website. It is our second annual review of coverage. The project is currently based in the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research (CSTPR) in the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder. However, contributions are made through collaborations and partnerships with MeCCO members at the University of New England (USA), Babson College (USA), Universidad de Sevilla (Spain) and the National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES) in Japan.

As 2019 begins, it is a time for important reflection on how the past year 2018 shapes the one to come. It is also a critical time to ponder how our histories up to the present shape those that will follow. Australian drought, Sub-Saharan African human displacements, Central and South American biodiversity losses, Asian commercial fishing woes, Brazilian presidential elections, IPCC and NCA reports, US federal (in)action mixed with rollbacks and wildfires across North America and Scandinavia punctuated more general trends across the 2018 media and climate change landscape. Consequently, the month-to-month summaries (below) highlight key events, stories and developments through politicalscientificcultural and ecological/meteorological themes. Read more …

This entry was posted in Commentaries. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments are moderated and must be approved to become visible to the public. Please do not submit your comment twice.