Headlines about climate change in 2023 differed from Left- and Right-rated news media.

AllSides analyzed 100 articles on climate change from 20 outlets rated Left, Lean Left, Lean Right, and Right, according to the AllSides Media Bias Chart™. We found that outlets across the political spectrum diverge in their word choice on the same climate-related news, and reflect polarized interpretations of news events within intentional choice of phrases and focuses.

Words News Outlets Use to Report Climate Change

The left and the right media vary in their coverage of the climate and climate change. While outlets on the left and right mostly agree on the term “climate change” to describe the environmental phenomenon in question, outlets on the right use the term “global warming” more often than climate change. We noted that the divergence in the term usage does not necessarily reflect a disagreement on whether climate change exists, but rather on its causes and consequences.

RELATED: What “Climate Change” Means to Liberals and Conservatives

Outlets on the right often connect the term “global warming” with the term “narrative,” especially in reports of the Maui wildfires in 2023.

AllSides looked at the number of times words like “global warming,” “climate crisis,” “climate activists,” and “climate denial” were used in 100 climate-related news articles in 20 outlets on the left and right. The percentage of words used in each outlet in the analysis are as follows — dark pink denotes more frequent usage:

Note: AllSides took account of usage of select words both from the journalists and sources outlets quoted from.

For instance, Newsmax (Right bias) described the “global warming narrative” as containing a lack of scientific evidence: 

With a record-breaking hot summer and current fires in Maui, the government seems to be using this opportunity to yet again push the global warming narrative while ignoring the science.

In addition, National Review (Lean Right bias) shared a similar sentiment that global warming hardly explains most climate phenomena: 

The global warming that terrifies the good rule-heeding burghers of today is real enough. However, it has almost literally nothing to do with most phenomena attributed to it.

The phrase “climate crisis” appears more often in reporting from outlets on the left. For example, The Atlantic (Left bias) referred to “climate crisis” to underscore a degree of severity and emergency of climate events:

Certain regions of the country have long been prone to tornadoes, hailstorms, hurricanes, or other weather-related disasters, but this summer the dire signs of a climate crisis seem to have multiplied.”

Lean Left outlets are more prudent in attributing environmental events to “climate crisis.” For instance, CNN (Lean Left bias) suggested possibilities that Maui wildfires are not fully climate-related to qualify as a crisis: 

While it is difficult to link the Maui fires to the climate crisis without a thorough analysis, scientists say conditions there are consistent with trends that are known as climate changes. Specifically, parts of Maui were in a severe drought that left vegetation dried out, potentially providing fuel for wildfires.

Lean Left outlets also used the term “climate crisis” more commonly to describe the multitude of environmental and socio-economic risks associated with climate change. For instance, in another article, CNN drew on the inequitable distribution of climate-related impacts: 

The impacts of the climate crisis continue to fall hardest on poorer, vulnerable countries that have done least to cause it.

Similarly, Washington Post (Lean Left bias) linked preparedness to “climate crisis”:

Many of the most affected countries have contributed the least to the climate crisis, and are ill-prepared to manage the rapidly multiplying threats.

Outlets on the right take a more skeptical approach towards determining whether there is a crisis. In a piece titled, 1,609 Global Scientists Rightfully Debunk Climate Hysteria, which contained one of the few mentions of the term “climate crisis” from this outlet, Newsmax raised skepticism of claims of a crisis:”

Any claim of a consensus that "science is settled" regarding the existence of a dire climate crisis emergency caused by carbon dioxide is a deceptive, destructive, and costly fraud.

The term “climate activists” is used significantly more by outlets on the right than those on the left, too. For instance, a National Review headline read, “Climate Activists Attack 400-Year-Old Painting with Hammers.”

In another article, Newsmax used the verb “bullied” to describe climate activists’ response towards an ABC News (Lean Left bias) article on Maui wildfires, suggesting a negative connotation of climate activists (emphasis from AllSides): 

When ABC News attempted to explain that climate change wasn't the culprit for the wildfires in an article titled "Why climate change can't be blamed for the Maui wildfires," the outlet appeared to be bullied by climate activists.” 

Liberal and Conservative Media Show Bias in Climate Change Headlines

Media outlets across the spectrum diverge in their coverage of climate-related news, and display bias through word choice and the focus of their headlines. From the 100 climate news articles we analyzed, here are some trends we’ve seen in their headlines.

One interesting trend we found is the mention of scientists in headlines. Both Left and Lean Left-rated outlets often refer to scientists in their headlines to transmit credibility on the seemingly severe impacts of climate change. Here are some examples of how they include scientists in their headlines: 

Outlets on the right also mention scientists in their headlines to draw credibility for their claims, but from the opposite perspective: to challenge climate science that outlets on the left side of the spectrum support. You can spot the difference from the following examples:

In other trends, headlines from media on the left typically have a strong tone of emergency and blame politicians, usually Republicans, for a lack of sense of emergency. Here are some of these headlines:

Several outlets on the left also highlight calls for holding seemingly unresponsive decision makers to be accountable in court, and use terms like “climate justice” to imply legal grounds for climate action: 

Lean Left outlets also emphasize the emergency of climate change and unpreparedness. Unlike Left-biased outlets, however, Lean Left outlets seldom point to a villain for lack of actions — the receiving ends of their “alarm” are as broad as the “world:”

In covering major climatic events like the Maui wildfires, Lean Left media do not solely focus on climate change, either; they point to broad and compounded issues behind the wildfires: 

Right-biased outlets’ headlines, however, question whether climate change should be “blamed” for the wildfires:

In the coverage of Hurricane Idalia, President Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ contrasting remarks on whether climate change was the cause of the hurricane were highlighted by outlets on the right in particular:

Another particular emphasis for Lean Right and Right outlets is on government spending involved in tackling climate change, with “Biden” as a keyword in their headlines: 

How AllSides Conducted Its Bias Analysis 

The AllSides team conducted this analysis from 100 articles across 20 media outlets that we have rated in our AllSides Media Bias Chart™. The 20 media outlets include five Right-rated outlets, five Lean Right-rated outlets, five Lean Left-rated outlets, and five Left-rated outlets. We selected five articles from each outlet, with one focusing on the Maui wildfires, and one focusing on Hurricane Idalia. All 100 articles were published between February and December 2023. 

Among the 100 articles, we identified a list of relevant words or phrases that were used frequently by left-leaning outlets and right-leaning outlets. We also utilized the help of Google AppScript and Microsoft Excel to compute the numerical frequencies of each word and to exclude irrelevant words like "the," "this," "of," "and," "would." We then determined whether the shortlisted words and phrases’ usage frequencies have a statistical significant difference between right and left leaning outlets.

For questions about this analysis, contact AllSides at feedback@allsides.com

Kristen Xiao is a Research and Content Intern at AllSides. She has a Center bias.

This piece was reviewed by Andrew Weinzierl, AllSides’ Bias Research Manager & Data Journalist; Malayna J. Bizier, News Assistant (Right bias), Julie Mastrine, Director of Marketing and Media Bias Ratings (Lean Right).