| Heat Waves and Flooding | MR Online

Reports on heat waves and flooding usually neglect to explain why they’re happening: Study

Originally published: FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) on June 28, 2024 by Olivia Riggio (more by FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting))  | (Posted Jul 02, 2024)

This month brought yet another record-breaking spate of flash floods and deadly heatwaves across the U.S. Yet, as a new study by Heated (6/27/24) reveals, despite ample reporting on these events, a majority of news outlets still did not link these events to their cause: climate change.

Emily Atkin and Arielle Samuelson, writers for the climate-focused, Substack-based outlet, analyzed 133 digital breaking news articles from national, international and regional outlets reporting on this month’s extreme weather. Just 44% mentioned the climate crisis or global warming. Broken down by weather event: 52% of stories that covered heatwaves, and only 25% of stories that covered extreme rainfall, mentioned climate change.

As Atkin and Samuelson write, by now we know that climate change is the main cause of both extreme heat and extreme flooding. And we know the biggest contributor of climate-disrupting greenhouse gasses: fossil fuels, which account for about 75% of global emissions annually.

| Heated 62724 Most mainstream outlets continue to write about these lethal record breaking events as if they were merely acts of God | MR Online

Heated (6/27/24): “Most mainstream outlets continue to write about these lethal, record-breaking events as if they were merely acts of God.”

Still, the study’s authors found, only 11% of the articles they studied mentioned fossil fuels. Only one piece (BBC, 6/24/24) mentioned deforestation, which scientists say contributes about 20% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. None mentioned animal agriculture, which the FAO estimates contributes about 12% of global emissions.

Stark omissions

The omissions were laughably stark: A New York Post piece (6/21/24) ended with a New Yorker and former Marine who said he’d been in “way hotter conditions”—in Kuwait and Iraq. An AP article (6/4/24) quoted the “explanation” offered by a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management:

It does seem like Mother Nature is turning up the heat on us a little sooner than usual.

Heated recognized some outlets that consistently mentioned climate change in their breaking coverage of heat and floods this month. That list included NPR, Vox, Axios, BBC and Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Then there were the outlets whose breaking coverage never mentioned it: ABC News, USA Today, The Hill, the New York Post and Fox Weather. When questioned, many of these outlets pointed the study’s authors to other climate coverage they had done, but this study’s focus on breaking news stories was deliberate:

Our analysis focused only on breaking stories because climate change is not a follow-up story; it is the story of the lethal and economically devastating extreme weather playing out across the country. To not mention climate change in a breaking news story about record heat in June 2024 is like not mentioning Covid-19 in a breaking news article about record hospitalizations in March 2020. It’s an abdication of journalistic responsibility to inform.

| This New York Post story 62124 had no mention of climate change but it did have Fox Weather meteorologist Stephen McClouds reassurance that its not record breaking heat | MR Online

This New York Post story (6/21/24) had no mention of climate change, but it did have Fox Weather meteorologist Stephen McCloud’s reassurance that “it’s not record-breaking heat.”

Explaining isn’t hard

A crucial takeaway for journalists and editors in this piece is that explaining the cause of these weather events isn’t hard. It’s often a matter of adding a sentence at most, Atkin and Samuelson write. They provide examples of stories that successfully made this connection, as with BBC (6/24/24):

Scientists say extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and intense as a result of human-caused climate change, fueled by activities like burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests.

Or the Guardian (6/23/24):

Heatwaves are becoming more severe and prolonged due to the global climate crisis, caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels.

Notably, the Guardian piece was a reprint of an AP article that did not originally include that sentence; Heated confirmed that it was added by a Guardian editor.

| The Washington Post 61324 noted that two recent extreme rains in Fort Lauderdale Florida bear the fingerprint of human caused climate change which is increasing the intensity and severity of top tier rain events | MR Online

The Washington Post (6/13/24) noted that two recent extreme rains in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, “bear the fingerprint of human-caused climate change, which is increasing the intensity and severity of top-tier rain events.”

AP, however, was sometimes able to provide appropriate context, as in a June 21 piece:

This month’s sizzling daytime temperatures were 35 times more likely and 2.5 degrees F hotter (1.4 degrees C) because of the warming from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas—in other words, human-caused climate change.

More denial than acknowledgment

During last summer’s apocalyptic orange haze on the East Coast, caused by record Canadian wildfires, I conducted a similar study (FAIR.org, 7/18/23) on U.S. TV news’s coverage. Out of 115 segments, only 38% mentioned climate change’s role. Of those 115, 10 mentioned it in passing, 10 engaged in climate denial and 12 gave a brief explanation without alluding to the reality that climate change is human-caused. Only five segments acknowledged that climate change was human caused, and just seven fully fleshed out the fact that the main cause of the climate crisis is fossil fuels.

When there are more segments denying climate change than acknowledging fossil fuels’ role in it, you know there’s a problem.

This year, I noticed coverage of worldwide coral bleaching that did make the appropriate connections (FAIR.org, 5/17/24). As Atkin and Samuelson emphasized, the difference between careless and responsible reporting on this issue is often just a few words.

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