US media coverage of climate crisis hits all-time high

By AFS Staff

December 21, 2021

News coverage of climate change in the United States reached an all-time high in October and November 2021, according to recent data from the Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO), an international, multi-university collaboration based at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Data shows the language being used to describe climate change is also changing. More intense words and phrases, such as “climate catastrophe” and “climate emergency,” are being used to describe the phenomenon, according to data collected between 2006-2021 by MeCCO and the language learning platform Babbel.

“Climate change is no longer just a science story. It’s now a political, economic, societal and cultural story,” said Max Boykoff, MeCCO lead project investigator and chair of the Department of Environmental Studies at CU Boulder.

Monitoring stories around the globe from 127 newspapers, radio and television stations in 59 countries and 13 languages, MeCCO found that media coverage in October and November—which coincided with the 2021 United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland—in the United States was the highest it’s been since November and December 2009, when the conference took place in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Globally, MeCCO found that newspaper coverage of climate change increased 114 percent year-over-year in October 2021. Additionally, radio coverage in October 2021 increased 29 percent compared to September 2021 and newspaper coverage jumped 22 percent in the same time period. While newspaper coverage comparatively plateaued in November 2021, it increased 81 percent from a year prior, and radio coverage increased a whopping 45 percent from October to November 2021.

An increase in the use of the term “climate catastrophe” in US news outlets increased 50 percent between 2020 and 2021. In the United Kingdom, use of the term tripled.

MeCCO used the same methods to analyze coverage of COVID-19 earlier this year. The research team will release its fifth-annual year-long summary of climate change in the news in January 2022.

Image: Glacial ice melting in Alaska. Photo: Shutterstock: Ash.B

This article was first published on CU Boulder News.