Looking for good climate change coverage from broadcasters?

John Sutter

CNN columnist John D. Sutter has elevated the discourse on climate change with his 2 Degrees blog. (Photo by Edythe McNamee/CNN)

Looking for good climate change coverage from broadcasters?

By D.R. Tucker

There is plenty of news about bipartisanship on climate these days — but for some reason, one can’t seem to find it on broadcast and cable news. Those who work for the online divisions of American mainstream media outlets are doing yeoman’s work covering various aspects of the climate issue, most notably the producers of MSNBC.com’s Green and CBSNews.com’s Climate Change sites.

Another impressive site is CNN.com’s 2 Degrees, produced by John D. Sutter. In an April 29 post on 2 Degrees, Sutter notes that despite controversial remarks on climate change by some Republican presidential candidates, Republicans — particularly conservative Republicans — are beginning to face up to the worrisome problem of a warming planet.

Citing a recent survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, Sutter observed, “The percentage of conservative Republicans (not just Republicans but conservative Republicans) who believe climate change is happening has jumped 19 percentage points in the last two years, to 47%…A whopping 84% of registered voters, including 75% of Republicans, support funding research in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, the data show. Three-quarters of voters, and 61% of Republicans, support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. And 68% of voters support a carbon tax on fossil fuel companies if the money collected from taxing pollution is refunded to the people in the form of tax cuts.”

On May 4, Sutter was interviewed about his piece and the changing Republican attitudes on climate by investigative journalist and radio host Brad Friedman (in the interest of full disclosure, this author contributed to Friedman’s BradBlog.com from 2012 to 2015). Sutter’s interview provided as much hope for a bipartisan resolution to the problem of carbon pollution as his April 29 piece did.

“I think that there is a lot less division on this issue than [is] made out in the media,” Sutter told Friedman. “I think the skeptical voices, especially on the conservative side, are often heard the loudest. They come through the loudest on blogs. They have big media platforms and they get attention, but I don’t think that that’s representative of what the actual American public thinks and what voters think.”

Friedman asked Sutter about the dynamic of certain conservatives embracing clean-energy research while dismissing the importance of moving as quickly as possible away from fossil fuels. Sutter replied that the lack of urgency about leaving dirty energy behind was not limited to conservatives: “I think there’s little understanding in the public at large, not just among conservatives, about the certainty of the climate science and actually how severe things could get if we don’t pull off of fossil fuels very quickly.”

Friedman then asked Sutter: “What does the Yale Program on Climate Change chalk up these new findings to, as the needle finally begins to move in the right direction” on climate? Sutter cited Laudato Si, and the powerful role Pope Francis has played in raising awareness about the moral imperative to curb carbon pollution; he also noted the incessantly breaking temperature records and media coverage of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Friedman then cited Sutter’s observation that “there remains a significant knowledge gap on this subject, and it’s one we in the news media must do a better job of closing,” as well as a recent study by Media Matters for America noting that CNN features an unusually low amount of news stories about climate change relative to the importance of this subject. Asked why this might be the case, Sutter declined to comment on the Media Matters study, but stated that as a general rule, cable and broadcast news outlets should expand their coverage of this issue. Further, he noted:

“From a journalist perspective, at any outlet, this is a hard topic to cover. It’s something that deals with the future…you’re dealing with situations that don’t yet fully exist with people who haven’t even been born yet, and it’s hard to get people to think on those long time horizons.”

Those who do think on long time horizons — those who are trying to preserve a stable climate for their children and grandchildren — have embraced revenue-neutral carbon pricing as the best possible solution to reduce emissions, and Sutter has reported on the Washington state carbon-pricing initiative known as I-732. Sutter observed that the carbon-pricing policy that will be implemented if I-732 is approved by Washington state voters in November is modeled after the successful carbon-pricing policy in British Columbia. “I think that there’s a lot of evidence that this kind of thing can work…it has been shown to make a fairly big difference.”

Sutter has made a fairly big difference in his reporting on climate — as has Friedman and his colleague Desi Doyen, whose “Green News Reports” on climate and the environment can be heard on radio stations nationwide. However, the threat posed by climate change — and the efforts to avert the worst consequences of carbon pollution — deserves to be the lead story of our lifetimes.

D.R. Tucker
D.R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer. He is a weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly, and has also written for the Washington Spectator, BradBlog.com, ClimateCrocks.com, Huffington Post, the Boston Herald, the Boston Globe Magazine, the Metrowest Daily News and the Concord Monitor.