Forests are burning, reefs are dying, and nobody has heard anything about it. And then, for a week, these issues hit the news. The stories are a sensation. Charities and fundraisers are started and promoted. Celebrities and politicians get involved. And then, nothing. Though the charities and fundraisers are still active, and the media may publish a few stories, it’s practically radio silence once again.
Environmental issues are too often ignored in favor of more sensational stories. A study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs found that the number of stories about the environment on network news sources went from 377 in 1990 and 220 in 1991 to only 106 in 1998 and 131 in 1999. At the same time, the number of stories about entertainment jumped from 134 in 1990 and 95 in 1991, to 221 stories in 1998, and 172 in 1999. These trends seem to be carrying on into the 2000s, with both news sources and social media featuring celebrities and trends over the environment. Dan Fagin, President of the independent Society of Environmental Journalists stated his opinion on the subject in 2003.
“Whether the subject is global climate change or local sprawl, aging power plants or newborn salmon, debate over environmental issues has never been … so obfuscated by misleading claims. Meanwhile, getting environmental stories into print, or on the air, has never been more difficult.” said Fagin.
However, when environmental issues find their way onto major news networks, their prominence is short lived. The Amazon rainforest has been burning at an alarming rate since Jan. of 2019, though as many people on social media have pointed out, major news networks had not reported on the story. If they had, the story did not make it onto the front page or reach any sort of prominence. After this was pointed out on social media and posts spreading awareness for the situation were shared en masse, major news networks began publishing articles and airing stories on TV.
Celebrities also expressed their feelings on twitter with hashtags such as #prayforamazonia and #savetheamazon. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio even pledged five million dollars to help combat the fires in the amazon rainforest through the environmental group he co-founded, Earth Alliance. But once the month of August came to an end, the stories became fewer, the buzz on social media died down, and the Amazon rainforest fires seemingly lost the attention of the people.
Far from the jungle, in the beautiful waters off the coast of Seychelles and Australia, vibrant and colorful coral reefs have turned a horrifying bone white. Undergoing what is called coral bleaching, where the organisms that live on coral get cooked alive due to unusually high-water temperature and leave the coral an unhealthy white color. This sort of event has caused the loss of up to ninety percent of coral reefs along Seychelles and Australia’s coasts as well as other large reefs around the world. With such a high percentage of loss, it’s surprising that this issue is not featured on news networks more often. While stories may occasionally surface, this issue doesn’t seem to gain much attention. On social media, posts to raise awareness, may pop up when new information on the destruction of reefs us released, but no long lasting discussions or movements have emerged from these bursts of social media attention.
When important environmental issues occur, the media should use its influence to raise awareness and gain support for relief and conservation efforts for more than a couple weeks. Both major news networks and people on social media platforms should use the unique platform that they have to actually make a difference rather than treating issues such as burning forests and dying reefs as the equivalent to celebrity gossip, just to be talked about for a few days and forgotten the next week.
Maeve Campbell // Head of Graphics