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    The current state of climate journalism – and how to improve it
    By SWS staff

    News media are the key source of information about climate change and environment for most people. But what is the current state of environmental journalism? And how can those of us tasked with reporting climate stories make a difference?

    In Covering the planet, the first truly global investigation of the state of climate change and environmental journalism, Internews surveyed more than 700 journalists and editors across 100 countries. What the findings reveal, in terms of challenges and solutions, is worth paying attention to.

    The good news is that the volume of climate coverage is increasing in most places and climate stories are gaining more prominence. Journalists mainly put this down to the rise in extreme weather events and other climate-related issues, alongside increasing public interest, although this was less of a factor.

    But misinformation is also rising, with 58% of the journalists reporting that climate misinformation has increased in the last decade. Overwhelmingly, social media was seen as responsible for spreading misinformation. Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, has an interesting take on this. Speaking on a recent episode of The Climate Pod, he highlights how a new kind of climate denialism is spreading quickly on social platforms, driven by tech companies’ failure to properly moderate content, the willingness of some media personalities to deny climate change, and economic incentives for content creators to support misinformation. Almost two-thirds of journalists in the Internews survey said they felt obliged to use climate sceptics as sources for ‘balance’. No doubt, this also adds to the misinformation in public discourse.

    Shining a light on climate solutions

    Internews’ report puts forward some useful ideas about what can be done to address some of these challenges, such as the need for journalists to cover climate solutions as well as problems to increase people’s interest in, and appetite for, climate stories. Internews also suggests that putting humans’ dependence on the natural world front and centre of climate reporting is likely to make more people engage.

    In this episode of the Climate Curious podcast, co-hosts Maryam Pasha and Ben Hurst speak to climate marketing professor John Shares about how we can really make climate stories pop. He urges anyone tasked with communicating about the environment and climate change, to speak to real people about what is happening rather than politicians and to focus in on the details (for instance, examining the 100 top polluters, rather than the latest round of net-zero negotiations). Most importantly, Shares says that framing climate stories in relation to love – for our communities, the planet, the next generation – is the number one most effective way to spark interest, and this is true across all demographics.

    This is something that Potential Energy and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication echo in one of the broadest and most comprehensive global message testing studies ever conducted. Their findings, based on data from 23 countries, suggest that while policy and political leaders often focus on messages like green jobs, economic prosperity, ending injustice and even fighting the costs of extreme weather, across every country, the dominant reason for action on climate change is protecting the planet for the next generation. This is something to consider when looking to increase engagement in climate-related stories, whether that story is a news report or an advocacy brief.

    Countering false narratives

    When it comes to debunking climate myths, Internews is clear that journalists need training and resources to help them identify and avoid misinformation. If journalists and other climate communicators can build their knowledge on the science behind climate change they will feel more confident in swerving sources who seek to cast doubt on the evidence. On the question of whether this disrupts journalistic balance, one useful lesson to look to is the historical debate on whether the earth is round or flat. Now the evidence on this is clear, it would be wholly inaccurate to platform a ‘flat-earther’. But in effect this is what some newsrooms are doing when interviewing climate sceptics in the pursuit of ‘balance’.

    Various projects exist that can help identify climate mis- and disinformation in order to debunk it and are useful sources for climate communicators. One such initiative is the Climate Facts Europe project, which collates findings from various European fact-checking organisations. In its database, you one can find disinformation debunks, pre-bunking articles and narrative reports on climate trends.

    And let’s not forget the power that language can have to counter false narratives. Something that is clearly demonstrated by this study (also from Potential Energy and Yale) based on research with nearly 72,000 Americans. The aim was to better understand people’s view of the link between extreme weather events and climate change, and around half of study participants perceived current changes to our climate as natural. After testing over 200 messages, the researchers found that reframing extreme weather event stories by using the term ‘unnatural disasters’ cut through, opening the door to conversations about the true cause of these events: fossil fuels.

    Also worth checking out is this paper from New Zero World which offers a wealth of practical ideas on effective messaging approaches to take and how to communicate climate science accurately.


    All of the resources mentioned in this blog – and many more – can be found on the Climate Communications Resources Hub, a collaborative initiative led by Small World Stories to help everyone communicate more effectively about the climate crisis and its solutions.