Increasing Media Reporting on Climate Change: Making Extreme Event Attribution Science Accessible to Journalists

Extreme weather fueled by climate change is becoming more frequent and intense. Events such as the Thomas Fire and subsequent Montecito mudslides, Hurricane Harvey’s inundation of Houston, and California’s multi-year drought have resulted in social devastation and significant economic losses. Scientists have developed a suite of methods to assess the role of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change in driving these events. However, media coverage of these same events usually fails to discuss the role that climate change already plays in extreme weather.

Stokes and Funk are leading a team in developing a resource for journalists to tell the story of climate change while covering the formation, unfolding, and aftermath of an extreme weather event. This resource will provide journalists with the information that they need to include a cursory overview of the role of climate change in fueling an event on which they are reporting, complete with accessible information on the ‘state of the science’ for each type of extreme event (heatwave, drought, wildfire, extreme precipitation, and flooding), organized by geographical region. This resource is intended to help ensure that media coverage of extreme events is scientifically sound and accurately addresses the role of climate change; it is intended to help shift the public dialogue from the false notion that these are ‘natural disasters’ and into the domain of recognizing the very human fingerprint on heatwaves, droughts, fires, and floods.

The project team includes Dr. Leah Stokes, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and affiliated with Environmental Studies and the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management; Dr. Chris Funk, a senior Researcher Geographer with USGS and UCSB Geography’s Climate Hazards Center; and Emily Williams, a PhD Candidate in Geography who works on climate change attribution.