carbon emissions climate change Rule: Ask The Question Rule: Cover The Topic solutions

5 Years Later: ABC, CBS & NBC Climate Solutions Reporting Still Dismal

Maybe Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist who gained attention with her “school strike for climate” outside Swedish parliament last year, will finally be the one to sound the alarm on the rocketing rate of climate change, and the dire need and diminishing window for action on it. The ‘big 3’ broadcast networks, ABC, CBS & NBC, certainly aren’t doing it.

Thunberg, fearless and becoming ever more prominent, unabashedly rebuked ~200 attendees at the COP24 Climate Conference in Poland last December for their subpar record on global warming. 

“You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is,” she said.

At Davos this year she told billionaire entrepreneurs and global leaders:  ~“According to the IPCC, we are less than 12 years away from not being able to undo our mistakes. Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.” 

Davos speech: speaking truth to power (watch it!)

Even with all the media attention she is getting, it hasn’t done the broadcast network’s nightly news viewers any good, there’s been nary a mention of her on their newscasts—sadly unsurprising, given the pittance of climate reporting by them, in general. “On climate change, we have failed, … and the media has failed to create broad public awareness,” she admonished them.

Five years ago, I took a look at the big 3’s reporting on global warming solutions on those news shows for the preceding 5 years. It wasn’t good. From July 2009 – July 2014, searching TV News Archive I found 0 reports on “taxing carbon” and “carbon sequestration”, and 1 report (CBS) on “cap and trade”.  Within a smaller 1.5 year window (2013 – July 2014), and searching more general terms (“carbon emissions”, “greenhouse gases”, “global warming” & “climate change”), I got 4-6 hits of any substance, for each of the 3 networks.

Now, 5 years later, assessing their record again for the 5 years prior, it is little improved. Aside from “Paris Climate Agreement”, the number of news segments for all other ‘climate solution’ search terms, combined, maxed out at 6 for CBS (only 1 in-depth), with 3 each for ABC (all minor refs), and NBC (2 in-depth).  (See [intlink id=”2099″ type=”page” anchor=”Clim_Sol_Data_2014-19″]Climate Solutions Data[/intlink], and Search Terms List & TV News Archive Notes, below.) 

In their coverage of the “Paris Climate Agreement”, the networks followed expected patterns, each with clusters of reports around the 2015 PCA negotiations & signing (terms, adequacy) and 2017 Trump pullout (jobs, fallout out from leaders & CEO’s) events, with a smattering of PCA references throughout the period, each varying from the others in number and degree.  For in-depth reports, the tally was: ABC–1, NBC–2, CBS–4, with a mix of climate-related stories linked in, such as: coal vs. renewables jobs (ABC & NBC), Norway’s climate success with subsidies and incentives (CBS), Glacier National Park’s diminished 26 out of 150 glaciers remaining (NBC), and the cost of extreme weather (CBS). 

Good, where it was, but not all that one would hope for. 

Actually, rather abysmal given the acceleration of shocking reports on the environment that seem to come flying at us, almost nonstop, from print media.  From recent readings of 84o F arctic temps, and 415 parts/million carbon levels (the highest in human history, and rising, with ~1,300 tons of carbon dioxide/second spewing into the air from fossil fuels, which still comprise 81% of the world’s energy use), to the staggering implications of the 25-years long and, until recently, underestimated by 60%(!) warming of oceans (90% of trapped atmospheric energy is absorbed–8 times the annual global energy consumption), to the “18 of the 19 warmest years on record occurring since 2000” stat–the hits just keep on coming.

Against that steady drumbeat of bad news, a parade of equally unrelenting climate policy reversals continues to issue forth from the Trump Administration, adding insult to injury, as in some hideously demented comic parody, run amok. The latest reversals include: rolling back of emissions rules for coal plants, relaxation of automobile mileage standards, and the easing of rules for oil and gas leaks, to name a few. The New York Times just reported a tally of 49 rollbacks, completed, with 34 more in progress, for a total of 83.

I have pledged to keep this site bias and snark free, but the above scenario couldn’t help but conjure up another standoff in nature I recently encountered while hiking.

 Turkeys vs. deer; looks like the turkeys are winning.

In January of this year, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (HR 763) was introduced in the House. The bipartisan bill (D-58, R-1) is geared to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions with a steadily rising fee on fossil fuels” and is backed by 3,500 U.S. economists, including Nobel laureates, former presidential advisers and Federal Reserve chairs. ~“A carbon tax offers the most cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed necessary, and will harness the marketplace to steer us toward a low-carbon future,” they declared in a joint statement. In his Op-Ed reporting this, Jonathan Marshall, of Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL), touts the benefits of the bill–90% emissions reduction by 2050, creation of ~2.1M jobs, GDP growth (citing Sweden’s 60%), and even cost-compensation in the form of monthly dividends to the public.

Monthly dividends to the public.  What a deal!  Now, if we could only get the TV news media to report on it. Thus far, it has turned up on just CSPAN, and FOX News (in a 5-minute discussion with Mark Reynolds of CCL; see Featured Video, bottom, Home page).

Will shaming the major networks to report on climate solutions make any difference, even if they do relent?

The NYT’s David Leonhardt gives his view on why promoting climate solutions using technical terms (e.g. “carbon tax”) instead of human benefit terms (e.g. “cleaner energy”, “better health”) fails, citing examples and outcomes for each approach. The ‘human connection’, and anecdotes of its political benefits have become ubiquitous to the point of broad acceptance in recent years and, for sure, there is merit to it. But couching issues strictly in human terms falls short and can never preclude the need for straight-up, dispassionate and accurate information, consistently delivered. To argue so is a false choice and one that subordinates rational thinking, a distinguishing characteristic of humans, to emotion–a devolutionary proposition, to be sure.

Fortunately for us, an unnecessary one, as well. For just as people aspire to make a human connection and ‘do the right thing morally’, so do they seek edification through knowledge. They just don’t like having ‘answers’ and ‘solutions’ rammed down their throat. It is because of this distinction that I believe in the goal of ATD–the widespread dissemination, across the board, of a higher level of reporting, directed, in part, by the public themselves. Further, I would say, putting tools in the hands of people to direct their own edification is the human connection. It empowers them by increasing their personal stake in Democracy, and fosters engagement, both with the media and their fellow citizens.

Since my last 5-year survey, both the broadcast and cable networks’ nightly news viewerships have grown to 23.75M (average, ABC, CBS & NBC, combined) and 4.76M (average, CNN, MSNBC & FOX News, combined), respectively. (See PEW 2016 data.)  Though cable’s viewership grew faster than the broadcast networks’, the networks still get, on average, ~5 times more eyeballs than cable, per night.  When you consider that elections are won or lost by margins that are far smaller than the networks nightly viewership (9.5M for Obama in 2008, the biggest win going back 8 elections, vs. 23.75M network viewership), the case can be made that broadcast network reporting could have significant impact on voters (though causality cannot be proven, either way; nor is this an apples to apples comparison).

For myself, my bias and snark breach and the fact that I identify as Democrat, notwithstanding, I simply see the world as one that is governed by the real-life forces that govern it, and not by ideology. So, I just simply always want to know what the facts of issues are. All of them. And all of the time. And if we all come into better and more regular possession of those facts, we can launch our debates from an even playing field and, then, really begin to solve problems.

Here are my Rule break calls for the media.

  • ABC, CBS & NBC:  Cover the Topic of carbon tax–it’s time!

All news media: Ask the Questions: 

  • What are the methods and costs of putting a price on carbon? 
  • What are the methods and costs of removing carbon from the atmosphere? 
  • What is the cost of failing to meet the PCA goal of 1.5o temp raise? 


Oh, and thank you, Greta.


Search Terms List:

(Notes: Multiple permutations of search terms were used, as warranted. Also, the need for quotes is deceiving since ‘hits’ occurred if any of the main terms within quotes were found in a TV newscast, not just the full quote.)

  • “carbon tax”, ”tax on carbon”, ”taxing carbon”, ”price on carbon”, ”carbon surcharge”, ”price on emissions”, ”emissions tax”
  • “fossil fuels fee”, “fossil-fuels fee”, “fee on fossil fuels”
  • “Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act”
  • “H.R. 763”, “HR 763”, “HR-763”, “HR bill 763”
  • “Green New Deal”
  • “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change”, “IPCC”
  • “Paris Climate Agreement”
  • “United States Climate Alliance”
  • “U.S. Climate Alliance”
  • “Greta Thunberg”


TV News Archive Notes:

I noticed, anecdotally, the closed caption text that is used for searches has more gaps than it seemed to 5 years ago.  From experience, however, overall patterns emerge to tell the story and I believe there is value in this tool. See other [intlink id=”1347″ type=”page” anchor=”TVNewsArch_CCGaps”]TV News Archive Notes[/intlink] on my contact with on this subject.


Additional Links – Articles that give (what I consider to be) a ‘full’ picture of the topic, representing opposing opinions & data fairly.

Scientific American:  2019 U.S. Power-Sector Trends –> Rise in Emissions

New York Times:  EPA Finalizes Coal Rules Rollback

New York Times:  Problem with Carbon Tax

Bloomberg:  Half World’s Power from Wind, Solar by 2050

carbon emissions climate change Rule: Cover The Topic solutions

Tax on Carbon: Do Solutions Stand a Chance If the Media Never Covers Them?

Planet’s burning up, and I’m seeing red.

In the last 5 years, not one of the broadcast networks–ABC, CBS or NBC–Covered the Topic of carbon tax on their nightly news shows, and only CBS reported on cap and trade, with a single segment in that entire period. The concept behind both–putting a price on carbon emissions as incentive to curtail them–is favored by many as the best method to reduce emissions and help slow global warming.

That’s right.  On the major network’s news: carbon tax 0, cap and trade 1.  In 5 years.

Meanwhile, there was no shortage of footage on extreme weather–floods, fires, tornadoes, snowstorms, etc.–on those same shows.

Those reports, along with a sprinkling of others on climate change, have, no doubt, increased awareness that it is real. But repeated coverage of a problems effects will not, alone, lead to policy change. So in my opinion, the answer to the question in the title is no, solutions don’t have a chance if the media doesn’t cover them, especially given the current intractability of congress.

Think about it. Without coverage of solutions to problems, a void of information is created. That opens the door wider for legislators to politicize and hijack discussion of solutions, something they’re already good at. Then, when polls reflect fragmented opinion of an uninformed public, politicians use that as cover to do nothing, and nothing gets done.

In June, there was a stir when former treasury secretary Henry Paulson came out in favor of a carbon tax in a NYT Opinion piece.  This was news because Paulson is a republican who was appointed by President Bush and republican legislators have been against taxing carbon.  He isn’t the first prominent republican to call for one though, there have been many from George Shultz (sec. of state under Reagan) to Christine Todd Whitman (former EPA head).  And the economic case has been solidly made–from revenue-neutral, efficiency/cost benefits cited, to 2.1M new jobs / 33% polution reduction / in 10 years (REMI study), to the proven successes of cap-and-trade programs.

And yet, despite the fact that May and June were the hottest months on record for the planet and the steady stream of storms, heat waves and extreme weather raged on, congress has done nothing.

Having recently discovered a great news video search tool, Internet TVNews Archive, I decided to use it to evaluate coverage of this topic by the broadcast networks.

I don’t typically watch the ABC, CBS & NBC news shows (except maybe on weekends), and had been ignoring them for lack of time and to the detriment of ATD project integrity.  They are important because, according to Pew Research, “over the course of a month”, 65% of US adults watch network news, and “an average of” 22.6 million tune in nightly to 1 of the big 3, — higher numbers than for any other station. Needless to say, I am ecstatic over finding TVNews Archive*. (See Pew & TVNews Archive links below.)

So, after putting the search tool through some paces to satisfy me that it works*, I cast a deep net.  For each of the 3 networks, I plugged in the terms “carbon tax” and “tax on carbon”, going back 5 years to July 2009, the earliest archive year.  The results:

Search:  “carbon tax”, “tax on carbon”;  5 years
ABC   5 hits:    2-GMA, 1-This Week, 1-Breaking News, 1-Nightline
                                (2013 most recent)
CBS   5 hits:    all local news (2013 most recent)
NBC  12 hits:    mostly local news (2014 most recent)

Thus, in the past 5 years, not 1 of the major broadcast networks covered the subject of carbon tax on their signature nightly show- the shows that garner those 65% and 22.6M viewership stats.

I then widened the net to include the terms “cap and trade” and “carbon sequestration”, other proposed emissions remedies, and again searched the same stations and period of time.

“Carbon sequestration” got 0 hits for ABC & CBS, and only 1 on NBC for local news. So, again, 0 hits on the nightly news shows for all 3 networks.

“Cap and trade” had many more (ABC-106, CBS-97, NBC-115) but spread across other news shows, with none on the big nightly news except for CBS, which scored a single hit with its interview of Al Gore in 2009.  (**Note below.)

Summary of entire broadcast networks search (except last line), last 5 years:

Search term  (last 5 yrs.)                    ABC           CBS           NBC
“carbon tax”, “tax on carbon”                5                5               12
“cap and trade”                                  106              97             115
“carbon sequestration”                          0                0                 1
All above terms, nightly news only       0                1                 0

Narrowing the search to the last 1.5 years (since January 1, 2013) yielded:

Search term  (last 1.5 yrs.)                  ABC           CBS           NBC
“carbon tax”, “tax on carbon”                 1                1                2
“cap and trade”                                     12              18                8
“carbon sequestration”                           0                0                0
All above terms, nightly news only        0                0                0

To get a sense of context and scale for the ABC, CBS & NBC numbers, I searched all 24 archived stations (see list at end), for the last 5 and 1.5 years respectively (***Note below):

Search term                                     All (5 yrs.)             All (1.5 yrs.)
“carbon tax”/“tax on carbon”             2,307                     1,042
“cap and trade”                                  9,796                     1,172
“carbon sequestration”                         150                          41

For a more direct comparison, I narrowed the networks down to 2 specific ones (CNN, PBS), and searched for just the last 1.5 years, getting:

Search term  (1.5 yrs.)                          CNN               PBS
“carbon tax”/“tax on carbon”                 20                  79
“cap and trade”                                       25                  91
“carbon sequestration”                             0                    2

So, on the subject of taxing carbon, both CNN and PBS had substantially more coverage in a 1.5 year period, than the broadcast networks over a much longer, 5 year period.

Careening to the other end of the spectrum from specific carbon solutions, I went general.  I searched for “carbon emission”, “greenhouse gases”, “global warming”, “climate change” and “extreme weather”, non-solution environmental terms.  And this time I limited it to just the nightly news shows of the 3 networks, again for the last 1.5 years.

Search (1.5 yrs.)    ABC World N   CBS Evening N   NBC Nightly N
“carbon emission”          1                         2                        3
“greenhouse gases”       2                         8                        3
“global warming”          10                         5                        9
“climate change”          17                        34                      43
“extreme weather”       102                       20                      28

The numbers show a clear pattern: the more general the search term, the more hits on network news.  Nothing beats dramatic videos of torrential downpours, raging fires, highway pileups, tornado swaths of destruction and other heartbreaking stories of loss, to make a point. And, again, no doubt they have some impact.

But when it comes to reporting on solutions, 1 news segment for 3 major networks, in 5 years, is beyond outrageous.  How can we form an opinion, make our positions known, and change our lot in this democracy if the media doesn’t report on actual, workable solutions–solutions that need to be enacted by congress, whose members we elect?

Information drives people.  People vote and drive polls.  Polls and voting drive action.

Reader, resist the temptation to remain cynical, assuming there is nothing you can do. Little by little, we citizens have seen the only power afforded us in the Constitution, our vote, erode. It is time we demand the media live up to their duty as The Fourth Estate. It is time to make them understand–they do not work for corporate interests, they work for us!

ABC, CBS and NBC:  Cover The Topic of solutions to climate change.

It’s.  Your.  Job.

*                *                *                *                *                *                *

*Note: The TVNews Archive database may have data gaps, though none were uncovered in the use of it for this blog. In addition, emails were sent to each network informing them of the content in this blog, and requesting verification of it.  [intlink id=”1347″ type=”page” anchor=”TVNewsArch_CCGaps”](more info)[/intlink]

**Note: This “cap and trade” archive search produced 4 hits for each networks nightly news- all mere references in the context of either political campaigns or the legislative environment, so I did not count them.

***Note: There was some overlap with the 2 ‘carbon tax’ terms, and also with the same show being re-aired in 2 time zones, but both seemed infrequent for the non-broadcast networks.  Any such overlaps for the broadcast network news 1.5 year search results were caught and filtered out, as well as the 5 year, “carbon tax”/”tax on carbon” results. Also, except for the broadcast networks, no attempt was made to verify the actual substance of topic coverage- there were just too many.

Additional Links:
[intlink id=”1347″ type=”page” anchor=”PEW_2013-2014″]PEW Data[/intlink],
[intlink id=”1347″ type=”page” anchor=”TVNewsArch_NW2014″]TVNews Archive Network List[/intlink]