Using Climate Journalism to Connect Weather Events and Climate, with Jonathan Vigliotti

A slice of a computer screen shows the tops of two non-descript images below the words “top stories.”

Image caption: The increasing frequency of extreme climate conditions has led to heightened climate journalism to spread awareness and urgency. Image credit: Unsplash

Script & Audio by: Jericho Rajninger  |  Blurb by: Ashley Carter

Staying Educated About Climate Change

As climate change intensifies, the heightened frequency of natural disaster weather-related events is quickly becoming the new reality. Whether it be prolonged wildfire seasons in Northern California or destructive hurricanes off the Florida coast, citizens across the country are beginning to bear the burden of a changing climate. For those of us yet to experience the full force of such events, our primary means of gathering information on natural disasters is through the media. Without the media’s coverage of extreme climatic events, it is difficult for people not directly impacted to be fully aware of the dangers of a changing climate. While climate change impacts more people every year, severe impacts still feel like an abstract, distant concern that may never affect them personally. In order to reframe this perception, climate storytelling, which includes steps for action and recovery, is becoming foundational towards building empathy in the wake of the climate crisis.

What is Climate Journalism?

Climate journalism, the process of collecting and distributing accurate information on extreme weather events and climate change-related impacts, has been an essential element for informing the public about the effects of a changing climate. Following Al Gore’s 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, climate journalism increased by 1,000 percent in the media from the year 2000. This increase in viewership is most likely attributed to the rise of ethical concerns relating to the climate crisis as more people began to suffer the effects of natural disasters. The majority of Americans, approximately 54%, now identify climate change as a major threat to the country’s well-being. Media Matters found that news and morning shows such as ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox spent a total of around 23 hours discussing climate change in their annual 2022 reporting. Unfortunately, climate coverage still only accounts for around 1% of corporate broadcasting, even though the climate crisis is rapidly worsening.

Keeping the Public Aware and Prepared

Climate journalism not only raises awareness for the public, but can provide steps for change in combating one of the most pressing issues of our time. People need accurate information in order to make informed decisions. Strong, reliable reporting can provide citizens and policymakers the information needed to prepare for and adapt to the potential impacts climate change brings. Climate journalism can offer hope to the public, providing people with the voice and power to make a difference. By including climate change in the media, people can begin to see the incoming reality of this crisis, inspiring citizens to take action.

The Struggles of Climate Coverage

Unfortunately, there remain many obstacles that hold back media organizations from prioritizing climate coverage. Climate-related disasters can be hard to access, difficult to watch, and politically polarizing. Media outlets may struggle to gain large viewership, deterring them from covering climate events. Further, the various approaches to climate journalism can create discrepancies in the type of media coverage disseminated. For example, should climate topics be covered locally or nationally? What solutions should climate journalism focus on? Such a broad scope may distract from the realities currently being faced. Unfortunately, media coverage of environmental issues still only occupies a very small proportion of total media. There remains a need for increased resources, strategies, and investment in climate and environmental journalism. Further, many major news outlets publish misleading promotional content for fossil fuel corporations, greatly impacting the opinions of viewers on such controversial issues. There are, of course, many examples of excellent climate change coverage.  Our modest effort at Climate Break, as a small example, focusing on climate solutions and the wide variety of actions and initiatives being developed around the world, is designed to provide quick insights into climate solutions.  

Who is Jonathan Vigliotti?

Jonathan Vigliotti, CBS News correspondent, is just one example of the many climate journalists directly involved in the movement to inform the public on the effects of climate change. Vigliotti’s work as an environmental journalist has taken him to over forty countries and territories across six continents. Author of Before It’s Gone: Stories from the Front Lines of Climate Change in Small-Town America, provides personal insights into the everyday lives of Americans affected by climate change, presenting a compelling argument for the urgency of taking action now. Vigliotti believes that climate journalism has the power to spark change through the use of accurate, inspiring, and thought-provoking reporting. 

Further Reading


Transcript

Ethan: I’m Ethan Elkind, and this is Climate Break: climate solutions in a hurry. Today’s proposal? Using mainstream journalism to help people better understand the connection between climate science and extreme weather events. CBS News correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti says journalists covering natural disasters can help convey the urgency of climate change by more clearly explaining the greater forces at play.

Mr. Vigliotti: Climate change is abstract and when things are abstract, they can become overwhelming and people tend to turn away and turn off the part of their brain that allows them to understand what’s happening. I think storytelling is a powerful tool because ultimately it helps us connect the dots to see how the world works.

Ethan: Vigliotti believes that when climate change is a factor in a natural disaster, journalists should say so.

Mr. Vigliotti: Take people along for that journey to those front lines so that they can clearly see this abstract climate science in action.  I oftentimes get from viewers the question,  why are you standing in the middle of a hurricane? Why do you need to go to the front lines of a wildfire?  It takes a lot, but we need to continue investing in this kind of reporting because there is nothing more powerful than seeing these images. And when you connect them to climate change, visually and verbally in reporting, I think it opens people’s eyes up. 

Ethan: So how can people encourage mainstream media to cover more climate stories?

Mr. Vigliotti: Get in touch with the journalists that you trust. And I tell you, if you do that, you will inspire that person, someone like myself, to go up to my editor and say, we need to do more of this.

Ethan: Vigliotti’s new book is titled Before It’s Gone. You can learn more at climatebreak.org.

Using Climate Journalism to Connect Weather Events and Climate, with Jonathan Vigliotti