If climate change is the existential crisis of our time, then it ought to provoke a reckoning for the news media.
For The Nation I analyzed media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on race and inequality, as a preview of the challenge of covering our emerging world of “climate apartheid.”
Before statistics revealed that the pandemic was killing black and Latino New Yorkers at more than twice the rate of the state’s white residents and that infection rates in Navajo Nation were higher than in all 50 states, one might have thought, based on news coverage, that Covid-19 was mainly a crisis of embarrassing Zoom malfunctions, bored children, and homeschooling nightmares. Although media attention rightfully covered the lack of vital equipment at hospitals, initial warnings about the underpinning inequalities that would later show themselves in a death count were largely ignored.
More than simply altering the practices of individual journalists or newsrooms, the threat of climate apartheid should challenge the news industry to confront a media worldview that, as we saw with the early pandemic coverage, too easily defaults to the perspective of an affluent, white citizen within a wealthy nation.