As the slow-motion meteorological nightmare known as Hurricane Dorian approaches Florida's coast with life-threatening rain totals and historic wind speeds that are likely to leave a path of brutal devastation in its path, the media has shifted into its well-rehearsed weather disaster mode. As correspondents and reporters scour the coastline in preparation, the news media's attention to climate change and its critical connection to weather catastrophes continues to be criminally thin.
It's discouraging that in 2019, many years after the press should be doing a better job of making the explicit link to climate change in its coverage, news outlets still fail—and not just with hurricane coverage, but with the growing list of extreme weather events.
Climate change certainly does not cause hurricanes, which have been thrashing America's shores for centuries. But climate change clearly intensifies the storms, making them more powerful and more deadly. And that's news. Because of climate change, hurricanes now move more slowly (see: Hurricane Dorian), and they produce bigger, more dangerous rainfalls (see: Hurricane Harvey).
So why is climate change so often ignored during the ‘round-the-clock disaster weather coverage? Looking at cable news coverage since Friday, Aug. 29, “hurricane” has been mentioned more than 1,600 times on the three leading all-news channels. “Climate change” has been mentioned just 90 times, according to the monitoring site TVEyes.
“Judging by the climate coverage to date, most of the US news media still don’t get grasp the seriousness of this issue,” The Nation and the Columbia Journalism Review noted earlier this year in a jointly published article. “This journalistic failure has given rise to a calamitous public ignorance, which in turn has enabled politicians and corporations to avoid action.”
This timidity, of course, comes in the face of a relentless and well-financed conservative crusade to cast doubt on the bulletproof science behind climate change, and man's role in increasing greenhouse gas emissions. That crusade enjoys huge support from powerful media players such as Fox News, which broadcast anti-science propaganda year round.