This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

May-June 2022

Climate coverage crisis

Canadian media needs to reflect climate emergency

Dhriti Gupta

Picture of earth on fire

Photo by iStock; Design by Valerie Thai

In August 2021, the UN Secretary-General declared the findings of a recent global climate report “a code red for humanity.” In response, a team of journalists and researchers released the “Climate Coverage in Canada” report in November, which heard from 143 scientists, 148 journalists, and 1,006 members of the public on how they perceive news about climate change.

While early findings indicate scientists and journalists agree that the earth is growing warmer due to human activity, the Canadian public seems less sure—only 80 percent of those surveyed said the earth is warming because of human activity, as compared to 97 percent of scientists and journalists. Sean Holman, an author of the study and professor of environmental and climate journalism at the University of Victoria, says that if journalists and scientists are in consensus about climate change, it’s worth examining why Canadian news coverage doesn’t reflect the severity of the crisis at hand.

Canadian news management isn’t on the same page

The study found a disconnect between what journalists want to cover and what they’re assigned. Of those less willing or able to cover climate change, 44 percent of journalists cited a lack of interest from newsroom management. “Journalists on the ground understand how climate change is affecting Canada,” says Holman. “But those running Canadian newsrooms might not have the same understanding.”

Neither journalists nor scientists have faith that current coverage properly equips voters to make political decisions about climate change. Only 18 percent of scientists and 21 percent of journalists believe the public knows enough about climate change to make informed voting decisions. Beyond providing more climate coverage, scientists and journalists agree newsrooms shouldn’t provide a platform for op-eds that reject climate science findings. Holman remarks that while media organizations such as the BBC and the Los Angeles Times have policies against climate science rejectionism, some major Canadian news media outlets seem to be in the business of promoting it.

More cooperation is needed between scientists and journalists

Though scientists and journalists surveyed had similar understandings of climate change, nearly half of the scientists said concerns about being politicized or misrepresented kept them from doing media interviews. Both groups say climate scientists should be consulted in editorial decision-making about related coverage.

“There’s an opportunity there … for scientists and journalists to be talking more,” Holman says. “We need to be creating a shared community to support evidence-based decision-making.” One solution with widespread support was forums hosted by journalists, where the public can directly ask scientists questions about climate change and its impacts.

What comes next for climate coverage?

The study explored how regular news coverage can better incorporate climate change information. More than 90 percent of scientists and journalists wanted to see stories about natural disasters and extreme weather that explain how those events are likely to increase, both in severity and number, because of climate change.

From the 175 open recommendations submitted by scientists and journalists, the study heard support for another strategy: localized rather than globalized coverage. “Climate change often feels like it’s something happening far away rather than something close at hand,” Holman says. He emphasizes specific and regional information should be available, so people feel like they can make a difference in their everyday lives.

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