Climate’s 10 Seconds of Fame

Reporting on climate change sinks to its lowest level since 2005

Empty stalls outside the UN climate talks the night before the opening. (Photo:Gretchen Weber)

When Al Gore lamented recently in the Huffington Post that “the media has failed to appropriately cover the climate crisis,” he was talking about the relatively small amount of science that made it into reporting about the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen.

But it looks like in 2010, the issue wasn’t so much a lack of science in the reporting, as the lack of reporting in general.  An analysis by the Daily Climate that’s been making the rounds, finds that in 2010 coverage among major media outlets of climate change dropped to its lowest level since 2005.  Between 2009 and 2010, it dropped 30%, according to the Daily Climate tally.

Another study, by Max Boykoff and Maria Mansfield appears to show a decline in global media coverage of climate change in recent years, and a drastic drop after a peak during the 2009 UN climate talks in Copenhagen.  Their data shows an uptick in some regions (conspicuously not North America) at the end of 2010 during the Cancun climate talks, but the volume of coverage still paled in comparison to the previous year.

In fact, the Daily Climate reports that Drexel University professor Robert Brulle, who has analyzed nightly network news coverage in the US for decades, found that coverage of the UN climate talks in Cancun last month by major US networks came to a grand total of 10 seconds.  That’s right: one 10-second clip.

“I can’t believe it’s this little. In the U.S., it’s just gone off the map,” he said, adding that overall, 2010’s climate coverage was so miniscule, it has him doubting his data.

From my own experience as a consumer of news, I sense that coverage of climate change has declined in the last year.  Graphic evidence of that decline repeatedly surfaced when I was in Cancun for two weeks last month covering the UN climate talks.  As an Earth Journalism Network fellow, I was part of a group of more than 40 journalists from around the the world, covering the talks.  Many based in the US experienced a disappointing lack of interest from editors, in sharp contrast, it seems, to the situation one year earlier in Copenhagen.  And it was clear from emails I was getting almost immediately from friends  in the US asking whether or not I was back yet that the climate talks were far from dominating the nightly news.

Is it that the media is no longer interested in talking about climate change, or is it that the American public no longer wants to hear about it?  Andy Revkin has a thoughtful post on his Dot Earth blog, tackling this and related questions.   Meanwhile, 2010 clocked in as the warmest year in the 131-year record according to NASA, and the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported today that December marked the lowest Arctic sea ice extent ever recorded.

Although, given the media stats, maybe you hadn’t heard.