A crisis in coverage: How the news media fails to report on the climate emergency & what you can do

So when I was growing up in the early eighties, a brighter tomorrow seemed like it was just a day away. Book publishers and television shows
plied the young with stories about how the science fiction of their childhood would become the science fact of their adulthood. And I loved all of it.
But those stories often included warnings. And I remember one of those warnings from the book, Future Cities, like it was yesterday. It showed two trips to the 21st century. The first was to a planet of greener communities and electric monorails, because there’s always a monorail in the future. But the second was to a planet
that we had failed to take care of, creating smog-filled cities where
pedestrians had to wear protective clothing. About 40 years after those illustrations were published,
I looked outside my apartment window in downtown Calgary,
the heart of Canada’s oil and gas industry. And I saw the world that I had been worried about. It scared me because scientists say that the
frequency and severity of the wildfires that created those smoke-filled streets,
and forced pedestrians to put on pollution masks, are only going to increase
as a result of the climate crisis. But as a journalist, what scared me even more was how my colleagues in the news media covered that disaster. So tonight, what I’m gonna do is, I’m going to talk about why and what you can do right now to make that coverage better. In 2018, the wildfire season which set much of
western North America ablaze, was a record setter for British Columbia. It put the province under a
state of emergency for 23 days. And during that time, the news media
mobilized to cover that emergency. The Canadian Press, The Calgary Herald,
The Vancouver Sun and The Edmonton Journal, together published more than 180 unique stories
about those forest fires. But here’s the thing – just 14 of those stories
mentioned the demonstrable connection between those fires and the climate crisis.
And that has consequences. In our society, the news media is supposed to provide us with the information that we need to make rational and empathetic decisions, whether it’s in our private lives or our political lives. But anyone who is relying on Western Canada’s
three biggest broadsheets for their news may have never known that the climate crisis that was literally taking their homes and breath away, was being stoked, was stoking
these wildfires. And if they don’t have that information, then they can’t be expected to make good decisions about the climate crisis, whether it’s
who to vote for in the next election, or whether or not it’s to save up money for an air purifier. And this was not the only time, or the last time, the news media failed to provide
the truthful information the public needs. We saw that failure when many
Canadian newspapers prioritized puffery about a newborn royal baby over proof
that a million species are risk of extinction due to human activity,
including the climate crisis. We saw that failure again when a lot of those newspapers failed to report on a high profile report showing that human civilization could be at risk as a result of the climate crisis if we do nothing. And again we saw that failure when those same newspapers failed to report that four of the major industrial greenhouse gas emitters in the world are based here in Alberta. But the news media isn’t just failing to provide the public with the truthful information that they need. During a disaster, we expect the
news media will provide us with the information that we need to keep
ourselves and our loved ones safe, whether it’s staying indoors or
seeking higher ground. But on the biggest disaster of our time,
the climate crisis, they’re not doing that even though climate scientists have been really clear about what we need to do in our day-to-day lives, in addition to supporting major environmental reforms, to safeguard the rest of the 21st century. Those scientists say that eating meat, driving cars and taking planes are three of the things that we do that damage our planet the most. Taken together, they add 4.4 tons to your
annual greenhouse gas emissions, assuming you only take
one single round-trip transatlantic flight. To put that in perspective, if we want to keep
global heating below 1.5 degrees Celsius, we need to reduce our annual
greenhouse gas emissions to 2.5 tons by 2030. So in other words, just by changing what you eat and how you travel, you can do a lot to keep the world safe. But when I took a look at more than
400 Canadian news outlets, in the 10 months after the United Nations dropped its bombshell climate change report, last October, what I found was they produced
just 10 breaking news reports about a current or predicted climate disaster that included information on how a single dietary change could help forestall many future
changes to our planet. Given this lack of information,
is it any wonder that we feel helpless? Is it any wonder that we wait for someone to do something about the climate crisis? And is it any wonder that we think
that someone can’t be us? The media must do better.
And you have to call on the media to do better. And if they don’t cover the climate crisis
with the urgency that it demands, it’s your responsibility
to provide that information, whether it’s around the kitchen table, in conversations with your friends, or on social media. Because your voice, the voice of the people, is louder than any publisher or broadcaster and this issue is too important for us
to stay silent. Because if we stay silent, then the children of today aren’t going to be able to dream of a brighter future, of a brighter tomorrow. So what I’m calling on each of you to do tonight is, tell the truth about the climate crisis before it’s too late. Thank you.

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