The Sad State of Climate Change in the News Media

Jørgen Holst July 19, 2012
The Sad State of Climate Change in the News Media

On Saturday May 26th this year, German solar power plants produced a world record 22 gigawatts of electricity per hour. That’s equal to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity, and provided 50% of their national electricity needs for that day.

Never before anywhere has a country produced as much photovoltaic electricity. Or, solar power to us laymen.

The German government decided to abandon nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, closing eight plants immediately and shutting down the remaining nine by 2022. The power they provide will be replaced by renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and biomass.

The record-breaking amount of solar power shows that one of the world’s leading industrial nations was able to meet a third of its electricity needs on a work day, Friday, and nearly half on Saturday when factories and offices were closed. And I don’t think of Germany as a particularly sunny nation, although I could be wrong, I’ve never actually been there.

The 22 GW per hour figure is up from about 14 GW per hour a year ago. That’s more than a 50% increase in one year!

To me, this is absolutely fantastic news, worthy of at least one bottle of champagne, some loud cheering and a couple of newspaper front pages. In a world still fairly dominated by energy created from fossil fuels, the fact that Europe’s only functioning financial and industrial power house is able to cover half its power needs from solar power is nothing other than amazingly great news.

But it’s not news. No Norwegian newspapers, printed or online, radio stations or TV programs have mentioned it. It wasn’t mentioned by any larger US news sources, and when you Google it, the Vancouver Sun is the top hit. Canada cares.

I didn’t hear about until a few weeks later, when it was mentioned on the Slate Political Gabfest podcast, and then in the context that I’m writing about here, that it’s crazy no one has mentioned this.

But this is the problem right now, that more and more people all over the world, and more and more leaders of both businesses and nations, are realizing that this climate change isn’t a made up concept by a few left wing lunatics. It’s real, and it’s happening right now.

The crazy thing is that the news sources are reporting about the storms, the droughts, the torrential rains and all the human sorrow and tragedy that follows. They show pictures of crying children and families who have lost everything, and if they manage, they get in as close as they can and ask the people who only have their dignity left “How does it feel to lose everything?”

But in this era of talent shows and wardrobe malfunctions, the news sources have gotten so ligth-weight and superficial that they don’t spend a single moment trying to talk about what causes these phenomenon that create so much sorrow. Just as they don’t spend any time on the few good news about renewable energy and what is done to battle climate change. They only show the results of the results.

As Bill McKibben says in his piece “Connecting the Dots” in the Guardian on May 4th this year, the news media is now the one institution that just doesn’t get that the weather systems are changing due to the climate change. “If we are going to tell this story – and it is the most important story of our time – we are going to have to tell it ourselves.”

In fact, a Media Matters analysis from April this year shows that “the news coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX has dropped significantly since 2009. In 2011, these networks spent more than twice as much time discussing Donald Trump as climate change.”

Are they lazy? Bought and paid for? Or are they just giving us what they think we want?

Or even worse: Are they giving us what we actually want? Have we gotten so lazy and weary that we need to read about other sad fates to feel better about ourselves?


Don’t we want some good news? Don’t we want to understand how things are connected, so we can see the big picture? Don’t we want to hear and read that things actually help, and that there is hope?