It was the equivalent of getting an exclusive interview with Churchill and Roosevelt in 1942 and not asking them about the war.
Why the media must make climate change a vital issue for President Trump
The absence of climate change as a leading topic in the election was a failure of the media – and it’s now their responsibility to get Americans talking about it
Sunday 13 November 2016 10.00 GMT
Imagine the world was facing upheaval on a scale not seen during modern civilization, a change that would imperil the world’s great cities by the rising seas and snuff out species at at the fastest rate since the dinosaurs disappeared. Then imagine you were a journalist, had repeated chances to ask the next president of the United States about this and decided to not do so.
The apparent failure of the media during the presidential election has been multifaceted and fiercely debated. But the absence of climate change as a leading topic in the election of Donald Trump is perhaps the single greatest rebuke to the idea that power should be held to account for the benefit of this and future generations.
This failure was most apparent during the presidential debates, where four-and-a-half hours of television saw not one moderator question pitched to Trump or Hillary Clinton on climate change. It was left to Ken Bone, he of the red sweater and brief internet fame, to come closest with a question about coal mining.
The mind-boggling consequences of unchecked climate change, which is essentially what Trump proposes by denying the problem exists, dwarfed every other issue – yes, including emails – discussed during the debates. And yet it wasn’t raised. It was the equivalent of getting an exclusive interview with Churchill and Roosevelt in 1942 and not asking them about the war.
Climate change was also missing in broader coverage of the election, especially on cable TV, where slow-moving scientific emergencies don’t make good fodder for breathless horse-race journalism. The public were periodically warned that the seas are eating away America’s east coast and that no it’s not just you, it really is warm this year, but climate change was treated as a side issue rather than being central to every economic, energy and foreign policy question the country is grappling with.
Kerry Emanuel, a leading climate scientist, said: “This is the great issue of our time and we are skirting around it. I’m just baffled by it.”
To be fair, many Americans also skirt around climate change too, even if they are concerned about it. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say that climate change is at least somewhat important to them personally, according to the Yale Program on Climate Communication, although few people talk about the issue with family or friends.