Paper No. 8
Presentation Time: 10:00 AM
THE ROLE OF EXTREME WEATHER IN THE MEDIA’S ATTENTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Bloomberg Businessweek proclaimed, “IT’S GLOBAL WARMING, STUPID.” Such a cover story by a weekly magazine suggested a threshold had been reached: The media had begun to focus more attention on the role climate change plays in intensifying natural disasters. Previous research has documented a positive correlation between news articles about climate change and climate-related sociopolitical events, such as the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The impact of extreme weather events on the media’s reporting of climate change has received less attention. We ask to what extent have extreme weather events driven media reports about climate change in the U.S.? Our analysis focuses on billion-dollar weather/climate disasters as identified by the National Climatic Data Center. Using the LexisNexis® Academic database, we searched U.S. newspaper and newswire articles from 1980 through 2012 for keywords including “climate change” (CC), “global warming” (GW), and nine terms related to extreme weather events. Here, we focus on results related to drought. The differences in media coverage since 1988 are striking: From 1988 to 2009, the proportion of articles mentioning drought and CC/GW relative to all articles mentioning drought increased from <1% to 15.2%. In 1988, 63% of the 122 articles that discussed CC/GW and drought mentioned that year’s drought; many of these articles reported that a link to climate change could not be made. In 2011 and 2012, much of the U.S. experienced drought conditions, and this is reflected in the number drought-related articles (26,504 and 32,322, respectively). The number of drought articles mentioning CC/GW increased by 23% from 2011 to 2012, but the proportion relative to all drought articles remained constant (9%) between the two years. Less than ten of those articles published in 2012 included statements arguing CC could not be “conclusively” tied to a specific drought. Although sociopolitical news events have been the dominant factor in the media’s reporting on climate change, these data suggest a media focus on the potential role of climate change in exacerbating natural disasters. As scientists continue to publish evidence of climate change as a causative agent of intensified natural disasters, we predict the media’s attention to this link will continue to increase.