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An on-air journalist makes a report as flames flare up behind him from the Santa Ana wind-driven Bond fire burning near a hill-side residence along Santiago Canyon Road in Silverado, California on December 3, 2020. (Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

An on-air journalist makes a report as flames flare up behind him from the Santa Ana wind-driven Bond fire burning near a hill-side residence along Santiago Canyon Road in Silverado, California on December 3, 2020. (Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Media Coalition Declares That Journalism Should Reflect 'Climate Emergency Is Here'

"Why 'emergency'? Because words matter. To preserve a livable planet, humanity must take action immediately."

Jessica Corbett

Lead partners of a global consortium of news outlets that aims to improve reporting on the climate emergency released a statement on Monday urging journalists everywhere to treat their coverage of the rapidly heating planet with the same same level of urgency and intensity as they have the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Signing the Climate Emergency Statement is a way for journalists and news outlets to alert their audiences that they will do justice to that story."
—Mark Hertsgaard, CCNow

Since Covering Climate Now (CCNow) was co-founded in 2019 by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation in association with The Guardian and WNYC, over 460 media outlets—including Common Dreams—with a combined reach of two billion people have become partner organizations.

CCNow and eight of those partners are now inviting media outlets to sign on to the Climate Emergency Statement, which begins: "It's time for journalism to recognize that the climate emergency is here. This is a statement of science, not politics."

The statement notes that a growing number of scientists are warning of the "climate emergency," from James Hansen, formerly of NASA, to the nearly 14,000 scientists from over 150 countries who have endorsed an emergency declaration.

"Why 'emergency'? Because words matter," the CCNow statement explains. "To preserve a livable planet, humanity must take action immediately. Failure to slash the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will make the extraordinary heat, storms, wildfires, and ice melt of 2020 routine and could 'render a significant portion of the Earth uninhabitable,' warned a recent Scientific American article."

CCNow's initiative comes after U.S. government scientists said last week that "carbon dioxide levels are now higher than at anytime in the past 3.6 million years," with 2020 featuring a global surface average for CO2 of 412.5 parts per million (PPM)—which very likely would have been higher if not for the pandemic.

As Common Dreams reported last week, amid rising atmospheric carbon and inadequate emissions reduction plans, an international coalition of 70 health professional and civil society groups called on world leaders to learn from the pandemic and "make health a central focus of national climate policies."

"The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us that health must be part and parcel of every government policy—and as recovery plans are drawn up this must apply to climate policy," said Jeni Miller, executive director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance.

CCNow also points to the public health crisis as a learning opportunity, describing the media's handling of it as "a useful model," considering that "guided by science, journalists have described the pandemic as an emergency, chronicled its devastating impacts, called out disinformation, and told audiences how to protect themselves (with masks, for example)."

"We need the same commitment to the climate story," the statement emphasizes.

CCNow executive director Mark Hertsgaard echoed that message Monday in The Nation, for which he serves as environment correspondent. He also addressed reservations that some reporters may have about supporting such a statement:

As journalists ourselves, we understand why some of our colleagues are cautious about initiatives like this Climate Emergency Statement, but we ask that they hear us out. Journalists rightly treasure our editorial independence, regarding it as essential to our credibility. To some of us, the term "climate emergency" may sound like advocacy or even activism—as if we're taking sides in a public dispute rather than simply reporting on it.

But the only side we're taking here is the side of science. As journalists, we must ground our coverage in facts. We must describe reality as accurately as we can, undeterred by how our reporting may appear to partisans of any stripe and unintimidated by efforts to deny science or otherwise spin facts.

According to Hertsgaard, "Signing the Climate Emergency Statement is a way for journalists and news outlets to alert their audiences that they will do justice to that story."

"But whether a given news outlet makes a public declaration by signing the statement," he added, "is less important than whether the outlet's coverage treats climate change like the emergency that scientists say it is."

Editor's Note: Common Dreams has signed on to the Climate Emergency Statement, which can be read in full below:

COVERING CLIMATE NOW STATEMENT ON THE CLIMATE EMERGENCY:

Journalism should reflect what the science says: the climate emergency is here.

It's time for journalism to recognize that the climate emergency is here.

This is a statement of science, not politics.

Thousands of scientists—including James Hansen, the NASA scientist who put the problem on the public agenda in 1988, and David King and Hans Schellnhuber, former science advisers to the British and German governments, respectively—have said humanity faces a "climate emergency."

Why "emergency"? Because words matter. To preserve a livable planet, humanity must take action immediately. Failure to slash the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will make the extraordinary heat, storms, wildfires, and ice melt of 2020 routine and could "render a significant portion of the Earth uninhabitable," warned a recent Scientific American article.

The media's response to Covid-19 provides a useful model. Guided by science, journalists have described the pandemic as an emergency, chronicled its devastating impacts, called out disinformation, and told audiences how to protect themselves (with masks, for example).

We need the same commitment to the climate story.

We, the undersigned, invite journalists and news organizations everywhere to add your name to this Covering Climate Now statement on the climate emergency.

Signed,

  • Covering Climate Now
  • Scientific American
  • Columbia Journalism Review
  • The Nation
  • The Guardian
  • Noticias Telemundo
  • Al Jazeera English
  • Asahi Shimbun
  • La Repubblica

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