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Newscasts Must Cover Climate

Photo by Arthur Ogleznev from Pexels

“And now for the climate…”

As David Sirota pointed out in a recent interview on MSNBC, an occasional mention of climate change isn’t enough to reflect the seriousness of the crisis. We need to cover climate in every single newscast.

When I visited my grandparents as a child, I was fascinated by their obsession with the weather. They only received two stations in rural Mississippi, both a bit fuzzy. They’d tune in first to Channel 3, which delivered the weather forecast at 6:18. Then they’d switch to Channel 12, which delivered the forecast at 6:23.

My grandparents were farmers and wanted to be doubly sure they knew what to expect in the coming hours.

Another early memory is wondering why so much airtime was wasted on sports. There was a war in Vietnam, Watergate trials in Washington, long lines at the gas station. And we needed to spend a full quarter of every newscast on games?

Of course, sports was followed by millions, brought in hundreds of millions of dollars. It was “newsworthy.”

If we can’t make mainstream news cover the climate adequately, let’s stop supporting them and support independent news that does.

Until climate catastrophe and the world’s sixth mass extinction event are treated as comparable to the latest basketball game, we have no hope of adapting to the changes we’re already facing.

Wildfires burn entire towns, increasingly severe storms and more frequent flooding eventscost more and more each year.

When my grandparents watched two weather forecasts, it was for confirmation or to understand slight variations. It wasn’t to get “both sides” on the coming hailstorm or overnight freeze. They didn’t see one forecast for a 10% chance of rain and another for a 90% chance and then decide which forecast they were going to believe before deciding whether or not to bale hay. All forecasts were based on the best science available at the time.

Of course, given the facts, it might be depressing to spend five minutes of every newscast on climate.

But isn’t the news we already see depressing? That’s no reason to avoid the topic.

Climate news could be scary.

And news about rising fascism and the decline of our democracy isn’t?

Would a news anchor start her broadcast with, “Ten homes in the northeast part of the city collapsed into a sinkhole this afternoon. We’ll be bringing you a special report next week at 11:00”?

Crises are newsworthy right now.

Ongoing crises like the embassy takeover in Tehran or the Great Recession or the pandemic get covered in every single newscast.

Greta Thunberg points out that we need to treat the climate crisis as if our house is on fire.

If corporations and the wealthy control politicians, and politicians control policy, then the only way to create change is to show people the importance of climate by setting aside part of every newscast, local and national, to cover the crisis.

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Of course, since all major news networks are corporate themselves, and since they receive ad revenue from fossil fuel corporations, we must pressure the networks.

But we can’t just wait for them to do their job. And we can’t just complain when they don’t do it. The job needs to be done, and while we pressure, we must simply do the job ourselves as best we can.

Whether we’re making movies about climate to force the conversation, or writing books, holding rallies, boycotting, speaking with our elected officials, commenting publicly in city council meetings, or whatever else our circumstances allow, we must include climate in everything we do.

Sending a winter holiday card featuring a snowy landscape to friends and family? Include a note about rising global temperatures. Sending congratulations to a loved one on the birth of their child? Include a note expressing your sincere wish that society takes the climate crisis seriously so that the child will have a habitable world to live in.

I buy blank greeting cards with photos of fossils or paintings of dinosaurs for just this purpose.

Am I a sick fuck?

Perhaps, but to paraphrase Jennifer Lawrence’s character in Don’t Look Up, “We’re all gonna die!”

My country-raised mom shouted this every time we merged onto the freeway, so it comes naturally to me.

We can be kind, and funny, and friendly, and insist that climate is important enough to include in every conversation, to cover in every newscast.

When a coworker mentioned cities where she might like to relocate in five years, I said, “Oh, those are great choices. But do remember that the Thwaites glacier will probably have melted by then and that sea levels may have risen a meter. And don’t forget which areas seem most likely to be hit with expanding desertification or heavier rainfalls.”

Am I a killjoy?

Is covering the pandemic in newscasts a buzzkill?

The answer may well be yes in both cases, but just because we don’t want to talk about these things doesn’t mean we don’t have to.

If society is going to mobilize enough to address the climate crisis in any meaningful way, the topic must be important enough to speak about for at least five minutes in each newscast. And until that happens, it’s up to us to keep it in the minds of our friends, families, and coworkers.

And in our own minds.

We all need to escape once in a while, and we all need a balanced life in order to sustain mental health.

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But denial as our primary strategy isn’t healthy. That’s true when the issue is disease or fascism or corporate influence or climate disaster.

And if we can’t make mainstream news cover the climate adequately, let’s stop supporting them and instead support independent news that does cover the stories we need to hear.

Johnny Townsend