Connecting the climate change dots with broadcast media

climate change broadcast media

The broadcast media landscape offers lots of opportunities to raise the profile of the climate change issue.

Connecting the climate change dots with broadcast media

By Alex Amonette

Imagine yourself talking with a Fox News editor or reporter about extreme weather events and the connection to our changing climate. You thank them for their coverage, ask them to acknowledge the connection to climate change, cite an authoritative source, and thank them again. Not you? Yes, YOU!

During a recent session of Citizens’ Climate University (CCU), CCL volunteer and former AP photojournalist Eve Simmons coached viewers on how to harness the power of broadcast media. It’s “all-hands-on-deck” time, so tune in to Eve’s tips for any environmentally minded viewer, and keep reading for a few key takeaways.

Media background

Eve acknowledged that CCL volunteers are spectacular at engaging with print media, thanks to years of training about letters to the editors, op-eds, and editorials. “I want to see us use those same skills and get a lot of bang for our buck with broadcast media,” Eve said, especially because these days more people watch, rather than read their news. So the more TV and radio news can connect the dots between climate change and extreme weather events, wildfires, economic or energy related news, the better.

“The challenge is the depth of the crisis is still not perceptible to the wider public,” Eve said. That’s where you come in. If we harness the power of broadcast media to inform, educate and motivate the public on climate change, our elected officials will have no choice but to implement policies that effectively address the issue.

Make the connections

Eve suggested that you, as a viewer, can reach out to editors, anchors, and correspondents in broadcast media to help them connect the dots on climate change. In the same way we write a letter to the editor for print media, a quick call or email to a broadcast media outlet can let them know that their audience is concerned about climate change and would like to hear more about it.

To help you be successful with your outreach to the broadcast media, Eve says:

  • Be quick and grateful! If they are airing a current or breaking news story, thank them for covering it. Remember that they are on a deadline and don’t have time for long conversations.
  • Ask them to acknowledge the link between the current news and the reality of climate change (and/or Carbon Fee and Dividend or carbon pricing, depending on what’s relevant).
  • Use statements from authoritative, respected sources. For example: Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, Commander of U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) (Ret.) says that climate change threatens our economic and security interests. Air Force Major General Rick Devereaux (Ret.) says, “The military is planning for climate change. They believe it is real.” Tom Boatner, former Chief of Fire Operations for the Bureau of Land Management, says that the size, intensity and number of wildfires have increased due to climate change. Choose the resources most appropriate to the news story you’re responding to.
  • End on a grateful note: your contact will remember how you made them feel.
  • As soon as you’ve contacted the editor or reporter, send out a message to your contacts asking them to do the same.

When to reach out

Just like with print media, certain opportunities offer great chances to reach out. Eve offered a few suggestions based on her 30-year career speaking about climate change.

  • When you notice local climate impacts. Eve snapped a photo of a sign in her grocery store that said: “Due to extreme weather, we are experiencing supply shortages and increased prices on berries, tomatoes, and vegetables.” She called her local TV and radio stations and asked them to cover that.
  • When there are huge national stories related to climate change. During Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, Eve was surprised to see that CNN’s live coverage didn’t mention climate change. She called the CNN Breaking News Hotline and said, “You guys are doing a great job covering this huge story. Can you speak to the links between what’s happening right now and climate change?” There was a long pause. Eve added, “The American and World Meteorological Societies have statements on this, as do the Pentagon and Department of Defense.” The editor responded, “Really? Oh. Okay.” Eve finished with a thank you, and then she alerted her network of contacts asking them to call CNN as well. Within an hour, CNN began interviewing experts about climate change. You can emulate this by keeping an eye on your local broadcast media and reaching out in the same way.
  • When you see great climate coverage. If your local broadcast media talks about climate change or climate impacts, that’s a great opportunity to reach out and tell them that, as a viewer or listener, you really appreciated that coverage.
  • Even on a slow news day. National Weatherperson’s Day on February 5 is an easy opening to contact your local or national weatherperson to thank them for their work and encourage them to include climate change in their weather coverage.

To get more involved with outreach to the broadcast media, join CCL’s Broadcast Media Action Team on CCL Community.

Weather and climate change: Attributing impacts correctly

Of course, if you’re going to ask broadcast media to connect the dots, it’s a good idea to make sure you’ve got those dots correct first. This CCU session also featured guest speaker Rick Knight, CCL Illinois State Co-Coordinator and Chicago Southwest chapter leader. He explored how global warming, caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, is connected to extreme weather events.

Click here to listen to his presentation, “Weather Attribution and Climate Change,” or keep reading for key takeaways.

Rick said, “No weather event ever has a single cause. There are always multiple causal factors; one of them is global warming. And as long as emissions keep going up, so will their contribution to extreme weather.” Scientists are now using rigorous analytical methods to quantify the contribution of global warming to weather events. Among the questions Attribution Science tries to answer are: Did global warming make this particular event more severe? Did it make it more likely? And, if so, how by much?

Rick recommended the following Attribution Science sources:

Rick also recommended understanding the following:

  • In any extreme weather event, multiple contributing factors, both human-caused and natural, are involved. Every weather event is affected in some way by climate change.
  • Global warming puts more water vapor into the atmosphere, which can increase the likelihood, frequency, and volume of heavy downpours;
  • Higher temperatures drive moisture out of the soil and long hot spells dry out vegetation, which can contribute to more intense wildfires;
  • Warming oceans feed more energy to hurricanes, making them larger, more intense, and longer-lived. This contributes to the devastation when they make landfall.

Finally, if you are asked about a recent extreme weather event and a possible connection to global warming, if a formal attribution study has not yet been done, the appropriate answer is, “We don’t know yet.”

Every week, Citizens’ Climate University hosts a live, online learning session to educate and empower climate action volunteers. Browse past lessons in CCL Community, and mark your calendar for upcoming sessions.

Alex Amonette
Alex Amonette is a freelance technical and grant writer/editor, lives in cattle and sheep country, and raises vegetables and hay.