Environmentalists to news networks: cover climate change more, skeptics less

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

Invoking news coverage of recent extreme weather events, environmentalists are urging the public to sign a petition to pressure major television networks to do more coverage of climate change.

The petition, by the League of Conservation Voters, is aimed at executive producers of nightly news programs for major broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, and NBC — who the groups say don’t focus enough news coverage on climate change issues and, when they do cover the issue, portray the issue as a “two-sided debate” by featuring climate skeptics.

“What’s almost worse is that when these networks have covered global warming, they have often treated climate change as a ‘two-sided debate’ rather than what it really is: an issue in which there is overwhelming scientific consensus,” writes Vanessa Kritzer, online campaigns manager for the League of Conservation Voters.

“By bringing on climate-denying politicians and pundits, and giving them as much ‘expert’ status as actual climate scientists, the networks perpetuate the false debate that polluter-funded think tanks have instigated to cast doubt on whether we should take action to address the climate crisis at all.”

The League argues that extreme weather from heat waves to Superstorm Sandy have been poorly covered by major nightly news programs. The environmental group cites one report by Media Matters which found that last year climate change was featured in 12 news segments on ABC, CBS, and NBC nightly news programs combined.

“Every night, tens of millions of people tune into the news on the major broadcasting networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC, expecting to learn about the most pressing issues facing our families and our nation,” reads the petition. “Given the urgency of addressing the climate crisis, we urge you to put global warming at the top of that list.”

Environmentalists have been pointing to extreme weather as a way to highlight the visible effects of climate change and urge lawmakers to take action on the issue.

“From record-breaking heat waves and massive wildfires to historic droughts and Superstorm Sandy, we’ve seen with our own eyes the increasing severity and frequency of extreme weather events this past year,” writes Kritzer.

The League aims to get 60,000 signatures in the next two weeks.

However, claims of extreme weather have been exaggerated, according to one professor, specifically with regard to hurricanes.

“Climate change is real and has a significant human component,” Roger Pielke, Jr., environmental studies professor at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “But that does not justify exaggerating the science associated with extreme events and disasters. One reason is that such exaggerations are not in line with current science.”

Pielke points out that flood magnitudes have not increased in over a century and a 2008 report said that “droughts have, for the most part, become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the U.S. over the last century.” There has also been no evidence of an increasing incidence of tornadoes, especially high-damage ones, in the U.S. since 1950.

Yet politicians are still expressing concern about rising global temperature.

“Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods — all are now more frequent and intense,” President Obama said in his State of the Union Address. “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science — and act before it’s too late.”

“It’s clear climate disruption is here. In the past year America has suffered from historic drought, extreme heat, superstorms like Hurricane Sandy, and this winter — record breaking snow,” wrote Mary Anne Hitt, campaign director of the Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign, who expressed support for the League’s petition. “The media spends a lot of air time reporting on these events but for the most part they ignore climate disruption’s role behind them.”

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