There Is a New Boom in Climate-Related Coverage and Storytelling

Is the climate crisis finally getting the attention it deserves?

Climate Change
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Sometime in the spring of 2020, I started listening to Season One of the podcast series "Hot Take." As someone who had been writing about the environment, sustainability, and the climate crisis for decades, it had a profound effect on me. I mean, I already knew that the things I and my fellow climate-minded writers covered were important. What "Hot Take" co-presenters Amy Westervelt and Mary Heglar drove home so clearly was something equally as important: How we write about them—and who gets to do the writing—matter just as much.  

Through a mix of thoughtful insights, genuine empathy, justified anger, and a decent amount of humor, they picked apart not just the big stories of the day and why they were important, but also how the telling of those stories shaped our understanding of them and how they might point us toward solutions. It’s no exaggeration to say it helped me to identify at least some of my past and present failings, and I returned to lessons from this podcast over and over again when I was tackling my own book writing project on climate hypocrisy—and was lucky enough to interview both co-hosts. 

I was delighted when I heard "Hot Take" had been snapped up by progressive podcasting powerhouse Crooked Media. What’s equally exciting is that this acquisition appears to be one part of a broader rise in media interest in climate. At least, that’s what a quick scan of the "Hot Take" newsletter this week would suggest, as Westervelt explored news that not only did climate coverage in 2021 beat all years before it but there seems to be an uptick in major new outlets hiring bona fide climate reporters too: 

“In the past few months, The New York Times has pulled in writers from its Culture and Technology desks to climate, and announced this past week that reporter Somini Sengupta will be taking over their Climate Fwd newsletter. Somini brings a climate justice approach to all of her stories, so we're excited to see what she does with the newsletter. And then The Washington Post blew everyone away this week with an announcement that it plans to add 20 new positions to its climate desk.” 

Last Tuesday, the Associated Press announced it will expand its climate coverage. The newswire plans to hire 20 journalists across four continents to focus on the "profound and varied impacts of climate change on society in areas such as food, agriculture, migration, housing and urban planning, disaster response, the economy, and culture."

And all this comes fresh on the heels of a major climate storytelling breakthrough in Hollywood, too. While there were plenty of diverging opinions on the critical merits (and otherwise) of "Don’t Look Up!" there’s one thing that is undeniable: It was a massive success in terms of attracting viewership, not to mention Oscar nominations. And as climate storytelling guru Anna Jane Joyner suggested on Twitter, that should mean good things for all of us who’d like to see this crisis getting the attention it deserves:

At this point, the natural optimist in me has to be reminded of the time I thought Al Gore’s "Inconvenient Truth" documentary would serve as a cultural tipping point. Or when I hoped the growth in media coverage of organic foods and electric vehicles might spill over into a serious discussion of climate stabilizing public policy. (Heck, I have a distinct memory of being 9 years old, and deciding that Sting showing up for the rainforests was a sign that adults were finally taking the threat seriously.) 

Misplaced optimism and naivety aside, when we’re seeing fire season extend year-round out West, or hearing news from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that sea levels on the U.S. East Coast will rise a whole foot by 2050, it seems reasonable to hope—and in fact, demand—that this crisis will finally get the coverage it deserves. 

Of course, quantity doesn’t equal quality. And from an excessive focus on lifestyle environmentalism and carbon footprints to an unforgivable tendency to overlook climate injustices and disparities, there are plenty of ways that mainstream media climate coverage has messed up over the years. That’s why I’m profoundly grateful not just for the climate journalists and writers who are finally getting hired in decent numbers, but for the folks who are scrutinizing how that work is being done. 

As Heglar stated in the press release accompanying the Crooked Media acquisition: "Climate change is the biggest issue facing mankind and if we don’t learn how to talk about it, we’re never going to fix it.”