Climate change stands to impact every facet of our daily lives; from the water we drink, the communities we build, tourism, migration, etc. It is crucial for media outlets to keep the public informed, but the coverage has to be productive. It shouldn’t leave its readers in a state of paralysis or fear.

According to “Influencing Audience Perceptions: How Fox News, CNN & MSNBC Portray Climate Change in 2019” by Grace Meekin, CNN has a signature style when it comes to addressing the climate crisis. When examining quantitative results from Meekin’s data collection, she found that CNN utilizes imagery of rapid melting ice in Alaska, the displacement of people after environmental disasters, and the wildfires across the West Coast on their social platforms as well as in their live broadcasts. Additionally, they refer to climate change exclusively as the “climate crisis”. Meekin notes that replacing the word “change” with “crisis” emphasizes the urgency and severity of the matter. Titles of articles on their website range from “Deadly Texas wildfire torches 1 million acres…” to The climate time-bomb is ticking’: The world is running out of time to avoid catastrophe...” Reporters have also stressed the responsibility that we have today to decrease the impact of climate change for the wellbeing of future generations. Chad Myers, a severe weather expert for the outlet, stated during his What you can actually do to slow the climate crisis segment that “your grandchildren are depending on you.” It is evident that CNN is working diligently to inform and warn people about the impending climate crisis with an emphasis of doom and gloom. This style of reporting global warming entails discussing a feeling, atmosphere, or sense of despondency which may not be best serving the American public.

The National Institute of Health highlights a growing concern surrounding climate anxiety. This refers to a, “heightened emotional, mental or somatic distress in response to dangerous changes in the climate system,” which can manifest itself as a sense of hopelessness, grief, anger, guilt, and existential dread. According to a survey conducted by the Yale and George Mason University Program on Climate Change Communication, one in ten Americans report experiencing anxiety because of global warming. Furthermore, climate concerns are significantly higher among young people. These feelings have negatively influenced their everyday lives, including their ability to concentrate, eat, sleep, study and enjoy their relationships. This can lead people to limit the climate news they consume or stop staying informed all together to mitigate their anxiety.

In direct juxtaposition,  journalists who seek to produce more well-rounded coverage about climate change have created their own advocacy oriented media organizations. Heated, a newsletter created by Emily Atkin, stands out as it strives to provide accurate and nuanced perspectives about the climate crisis. In Emily’s own words, “It is not your fault that the planet is burning. Your air conditioner, your hamburger, your gas-powered car—these aren’t the reasons we only have about a decade to prevent irreversible climate catastrophe. No; the majority of the blame for the climate emergency lies at the foot of the greedy; the cowardly; the power-hungry; the apathetic.” Heated’s main goal is to empower the public and remind readers that no individual can solve the climate crisis on their own. Instead of only having titles related to catastrophe that feel intangible, the publication highlights how climate change can apply to an array of topics with articles such as:There's no such thing as a “climate-friendly” Super Bowl,This is all the gas industry's fault,” “Here’s how much Democrats get paid to shill for fossil fuels,” and “Yes, climate activism can win”. Heated has an article for almost everyone, and it does not shy away from keeping both Republican/Democratic leaders and corporations accountable for their role in climate change. Additionally, because it is not a mainstream publication, it elicits personal interactions with the readers. People are able to reach out and get a direct conversation with Emily or her team members, which makes them feel like they are a part of a vigilant community for change instead of a helpless onlooker. One article that stood out to me was “How HEATED readers are moving the needle”. It detailed how a reader was moved to action after reading an article detailing  how a powerful lobbying group was obstructing climate policy across the country. This reader reached out to organizers across San Mateo to halt the lobbying group’s efforts, and was able to mobilize countless others to protest. Emily opened up the article’s comment section for her entire readership to organize local climate activism in their own communities. People expressed that they actually felt empowered, and swapped advice on how to get involved in the fight against climate change.

It is important for news outlets to accept the fact that information and communication hold immense potential to enhance our lives and societal well-being. However, legacy news outlets have also emerged as a fertile ground for aggravating polarization and posing a threat to societal harmony. Pew Research uncovered exactly this concern. They conducted a series of interviews that found that language describing climate change as a crisis or an urgent threat caused suspicion amongst participants.  Interviewees expressed distrust in national news to provide credible information surrounding climate change. One participant, a man in his late 40’s from the South, expressed his belief that “Networks and radio and newspapers and television, they’re all getting paid to tell me something. And if they don’t have my attention then they’re not getting paid. So they’ll do whatever they need to get my attention… It’s all about ratings and, you know, getting people to watch.” Additionally a woman in her mid-30’s from the Midwest echoed a similar sentiment, stating, “From a personal standpoint…when the statements are, ‘The world is getting warmer and Earth is going to be ended in five years because we’re all terrible humans and we throw trash on the ground.’...instead of causing me to be concerned,  it causes me more climate anxiety and skepticism about where the information is coming from and why it’s being presented in such a grandiose term, for lack of a better word.”

Audiences are best served by the approach of advocacy-oriented outlets where they can have direct influence on the content instead of legacy partisan based outlets whose approach is shock and awe.