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“Climate Silence”: Corporate Media Still Failing to Link Wildfires & Extreme Weather to Climate Crisis

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We speak with author Genevieve Guenther about “climate silence” and how the corporate media routinely fails in reporting on worsening extreme weather events. “You need to connect the dots from what you’re reporting to the climate crisis, and then through the climate crisis to the use of fossil fuels that is heating up our planet,” says Guenther, whose forthcoming book is titled The Language of Climate Politics.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We bring in Genevieve Guenther, founding director of End Climate Silence, a volunteer group dedicated to helping the media cover the climate crisis with the urgency it deserves. She tweeted Wednesday, “A grim milestone: the top 4 stories after the Russia headliner on the @nytimes app are all #ClimateChange stories. Of course only one article, an explainer piece, actually mentions the #ClimateCrisis and none mention #FossilFuels. This is a fail,” Professor Guenther says.

Welcome to Democracy Now! So, many would say the weather is being covered constantly. Yet you head a group called End Climate Silence. Talk about what’s missing.

GENEVIEVE GUENTHER: So, I founded End Climate Silence in 2018 after I spent a morning in my car listening to public radio and hearing three segments on stories that were clearly climate stories. One was about the drought in the Pacific Northwest. One was about the floods in Japan that year that had been displaced millions and millions of people. And another one was about how self-driving cars would change the way we moved around and change our transportation systems. And none of those stories even mentioned climate change, even though, clearly, climate change was playing a role in the creation of those stories and would have a role in the ongoing transportation systems that we would need to create in order to halt global heating. And so, I founded End Climate Silence in order to try to teach the news media that even if you’re not telling what you think is a science story or an environment story, even if you’re reporting on breaking news, as this, you know, smoke all across the United States clearly is, you need to connect the dots to what you’re — from what you’re reporting to the climate crisis, and then, through the climate crisis, to the use of fossil fuels that is heating up our planet.

So, for example, most of the stories on the wildfire smoke would talk about the unprecedented wildfires that are raging across Canada right now, and some of them even discussed the heat and the drought that’s been creating this fire weather north of the United States. But none of them actually articulated the words “climate change,” and they didn’t explain that it is the ongoing use of fossil fuels that is putting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and creating these conditions for these extreme weather events, these disasters, which are already affecting Americans’ health, Americans’ safety, Americans’ ability to live normal lives.

So, our job and the job of the news media is to, every story, make those connections between what’s being reported and the reality of the crisis, because if you don’t do that, you’re actually performing a kind of climate denial, where you are pretending that something that is happening is not happening, where you are proceeding as if the climate crisis weren’t already here and weren’t already hurting us, hurting our children, hurting our ability to live normal lives and be healthy. So, we need to stop this practice. We need to end climate silence and always make that link to the climate crisis, even if you’re not writing a specifically — a specific climate story or a science story or an environment story.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Genevieve, before we conclude, if you could explain? Presumably, you’ve spoken to some of these journalists, journalists who cover these stories without talking about the climate crisis. What do you understand about why this issue is not highlighted in their reporting?

GENEVIEVE GUENTHER: Well, I think it’s — I think that two things need to happen. There needs to be more education about climate change in news media. So, reporters who are put onto the climate beat obviously are duty-bound to educate themselves about the climate crisis. But other reporters, for example, the Chicago bureau chief who wrote one of these stories in The New York Times that didn’t mention the climate crisis, these reporters don’t have any particular professional obligation, as it stands now, to learn about the climate crisis. But as our planet heats up, even if we — you know, even if we phase out fossil fuels as soon as possible, we are going to continue to see some of these extreme weather events, until our climate reaches a certain equilibrium. So, all reporters, no matter what their beat, need to be educated in the climate crisis. And so, this needs to happen in journalism programs, and it also needs to happen in onboarding of new journalists into television stations, into newspapers, into radio stations. All venues need to have a kind of institutionalized method to educate their reporters about the climate crisis.

And then there needs to be a culture shift, where editors understand that the climate crisis is no longer a story simply for the science or environment section. It’s a story that is on the front page nearly every day, especially in the summers. And it behooves everybody to make those connections, so that readers, viewers, listeners, all citizens can be educated and informed, so that they can make the decisions they need to make in the ballot box, as activists, as consumers, as Americans and human beings on this planet.

AMY GOODMAN: And we just have 30 seconds. I know there are meteorologist groups that, for example, are doing “Show Your Stripes,” that show the climate catastrophe when they’re showing the weather. And finally, 30 seconds on your article”:https://www.noemamag.com/we-need-to-talk-about-the-carbon-footprints-of-the-rich/, “We Need to Talk About the Carbon Footprints of the Rich: Dramatically unequal consumption lies at the heart of the climate crisis.” Your final comment?

GENEVIEVE GUENTHER: Yes, I mean, my point there is that sometimes we think about emissions in terms of national contributions to the carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, but I think it’s actually more useful to think about this in terms of class. So, it’s the top 10% of people in income brackets who are contributing the vast majority of emissions. The top 1%, some of these people have carbon footprints that rise over a thousand tons of carbon a year. And we know that billions of people in Africa and in the Global South emit almost no carbon at all, and yet they’re the people who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. They are on the frontlines. It’s coming for us all, but, obviously, the poorest people are suffering first and worst.

So, what I’m arguing there is that we don’t only need to think about national policy and federal policy, but we need to start talking about a new culture where rich people are not allowed to burn down this planet —

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to —

GENEVIEVE GUENTHER: — with impunity.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there, but we’ll continue to cover this issue. Genevieve Guenther, founding director of End Climate Silence, professor at New School.

This is Democracy Now! Next up, to Montana. We’ll speak with a teenager who joined other teens in bringing suit against Montana. Stay with us.

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