As weather-related events like wildfires, droughts, and hot summer temperatures have made headlines in recent years, debates and disagreements across the political spectrum abound about climate change.
In general, left-rated media conveys the belief that climate change is human-caused and an urgent threat, and that climate science proves this. Their coverage conveys that carbon reduction is needed and without it, extreme weather events will happen much more frequently and at an increasing pace. It also conveys disagreements about how to best reduce emissions.
Some media outlets on the right, however, convey the belief that while the planet is warming, it may be a natural process and not catastrophic. Coverage is focused on criticism of the left’s climate policy proposals. While some convey a need for climate policy action, they disagree about what should be done.
climate denier/climate crisis denier
climate-change fueled drought
climate crisis agenda
radical climate agenda
climate change hysteria
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“Climate Crisis” or “Climate Alarmism”? Media Shows Word Choice Bias
We can see clear delineation between the left and right media in their word choices.
In Left, Lean Left, and some Center media outlets, we see terms like "climate crisis," "extreme weather," and "climate-fueled drought.” Examples include NPR (Lean Left), CNN (Lean Left), Reuters (Center), USA Today (Lean Left), and Washington Post (Lean Left). Words like “catastrophic” are also used — examples include CNN, Washington Post, TIME (Left bias), and The Conversation (Lean Left).
Some media outlets, like NBC News (Lean Left), MSNBC (Left), The Guardian (Lean Left), and The Seattle Times (Lean Left), use the term “climate denialism” or “climate deniers” to describe those with dissenting opinions on the issue of whether or not current weather events are tied to climate change or beliefs that the planet is not warming.
The right, such as The Epoch Times (Lean Right), Reason (Lean Right), and The Daily Wire (Right), tends to describe views on the left as "climate alarmist” and raises flags about the left’s "climate crisis agenda” or “radical climate agenda” (Fox News, Lean Right). “Climate change hysteria” is a term that is also used, including by PJ Media (Right bias), The National Interest (Center), Newsweek (Center), and Washington Times (Lean Right).
Perspectives Covered on the Right
Media outlets on the right often highlight voices who dissent from the research and policy responses that are typically embraced by global government organizations and major scientific institutions. They highlight individual scientists who agree we are in a warming period, but who disagree with mainstream ideas on the severity, cause, and what should be done in the realm of policy.
Reason magazine (Lean Right), for example, featured comments by climate scientist Judith Curry, who claims she once “spread alarm about climate change” but, after some researchers pointed out gaps in her research, she investigated and recanted. She argues the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gives researchers a monetary incentive to drum up alarmist claims; they get more funding if they do so.
Dr. Roy Spencer, a climatologist and former NASA scientist, wrote an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal Opinion (Lean Right) in which he said it’s not true that nearly all scientists agree about global warming, saying one survey “represents the views of only 79 respondents who listed climate science as an area of expertise and said they published more than half of their recent peer-reviewed papers on climate change. Seventy-nine scientists—of the 3,146 who responded to the survey—does not a consensus make.”
Other examples of alternative voices on climate change published in Right and Lean Right-rated media outlets include:
- IN-DEPTH: Climate Experts Criticize Alarmist Rhetoric Over Summer Temperatures, The Epoch Times (Lean Right)
- Climate Change Obsession is a Real Mental Disorder, Wall Street Journal Opinion (Lean Right)
- Despite What You’ve Heard, Global Warming Isn’t Making Weather More Extreme, Investor’s Business Daily (Lean Right)
- Our Fossil-Fuels Future, National Review (Right bias)
- Questioning the Climate Change Narrative, National Review
- Science is real. Climate reporters apparently just don't bother to read it, Washington Examiner (Lean Right)
While many right-wing media outlets focus on dissenting voices on the issue of climate change, some right-wing media outlets do focus on voices demanding climate action. For instance, an activist group on the right, American Conservation Coalition, was featured in the Washington Times (Lean Right) for taking “climate activism to the GOP presidential debate.”
Perspectives Covered on the Left
Media outlets on the left tend to highlight voices who agree climate change is man-made and that policy initiatives are needed to combat it.
A willingness to link current weather events to climate change is common. Voices typically highlighted are large institutional bodies like the United Nations and individual scientists who caution about climate change. Media outlets on the left will often use language like "scientists say” or “scientists agree” to convey that there is a climate consensus.
CNN (Lean Left), for instance, ran the interactive piece, “Was that wild weather caused by climate change? Scientists can now say ‘yes’ with confidence” in 2021. It refers to a 2021 study by World Weather Attribution, a group that studies whether climate change is to blame for extreme weather events, in which the group concluded that recent heat waves in the Pacific Northwest would have been “virtually impossible without the influence of human-caused climate change.”
Media coverage on the left often points to climate change as a contributing factor in specific weather events like droughts, hurricanes, and wildfires. For example, a CBS News (Lean Left) piece quoted a researcher who stated, "[Climate change is] leading to these unpredictable or unforeseen combinations that we're seeing right now and that are fueling this extreme fire weather. What these ... catastrophic wildfire disasters are revealing is that nowhere is immune to the issue.”
UN IPCC reports typically get lots of media coverage on the left. Other examples of voices who believe climate change is an urgent and man-created threat published in Left and Lean Left-rated media outlets include:
- Earth is warming faster than previously thought, scientists say, and the window is closing to avoid catastrophic outcomes, CNN (Lean Left)
- Now or never: One of the biggest climate reports ever shows time is running out, NBC News (Lean Left)
- Climate Change Is Speeding Toward Catastrophe. The Next Decade Is Crucial, U.N. Panel Says, The New York Times (Lean Left)
- The climate disaster is here, The Guardian (Lean Left)
Like media outlets on the right, sometimes media outlets on the left feature conservative voices who want action on climate change. NBC News, for instance, featured the headline, “Conservative climate activist breaks the stereotype,” focusing on Benjamin Backer, President and Founder of the American Conservation Coalition, who NBC describes as saying he believes climate is “an issue he says should not be debated.”
When it comes to climate change, word choices and viewpoint choices in media coverage reflect a spectrum of beliefs. Reading across the political spectrum can help us to see how different outlets handle the issue of climate change..
Julie Mastrine is the Director of Media Bias Ratings at AllSides. She has a Lean Right bias.
This piece was reviewed by Editor-in-chief Henry A. Brechter (Center bias), Deputy Blog Editor Isaiah Anthony (Center bias), Content Designer Joseph Ratliff (Lean Left bias), and Director of Product Samantha Shireman (Lean Left bias).