“The major television and print outlets largely ignored climate change in their coverage of wildfires in Colorado, New Mexico and other Western states,” reports Media Matters in a new study. “All together, only 3 percent of the reports mentioned climate change, including 1.6 percent of television segments and 6 percent of text articles.”
Media Matters cites a number of scientific reports linking climate change to more frequent fires, larger and longer-burning fires, and lengthier fire seasons. The study goes on to cite fire experts who believe that “journalists should explain how manmade climate change could worsen wildfire risk in certain parts of the western U.S.” A quote from one of those experts, Thomas W. Swetnam of the University of Arizona’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research:
Given the facts that year after year we are breaking century (or longer) records in wildfire area burned in the western US, and the warming trends are clear and as expected, the lack of any mention of anthropogenic climate change even with caveats is, in my view, irresponsible and bad journalism.
Here’s the exception that proves the rule, a rare article discussing the links between climate change and freakish weather, from the Associated Press:
Climate scientists suggest that if you want a glimpse of some of the worst of global warming, take a look at U.S. weather in recent weeks.
Horrendous wildfires. Oppressive heat waves. Devastating droughts. Flooding from giant deluges. And a powerful freak wind storm called a derecho. …
“This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level,” said Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona. “The extra heat increases the odds of worse heat waves, droughts, storms and wildfire. This is certainly what I and many other climate scientists have been warning about.”
Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in fire-charred Colorado, said these are the very record-breaking conditions he has said would happen, but many people wouldn’t listen. So it’s I told-you-so time, he said.
The rest of the media seem to be responding to Trenberth’s “I told you so” with a “nyah, nyah, nyah, I can’t hear you.”
Heat, wind, fires: Just freakish weather or something more? ‘Told you so,’ one scientist says, Associated Press.
STUDY: Media Avoid Climate Context In Wildfire Coverage, Media Matters for American.
Get Grist in your inbox