Climate change has captured the attention of the world’s media. Phrases such as “global warming” and “climate change” have given way to the editorialized rallying call “climate crisis” as news outlets increasingly become advocates for climate causes. The impact of this refocusing can be seen in coverage of Friday’s youth “climate strike,” which garnered more online news attention than all but two days of the Paris “yellow vest” protests and more television coverage than all but seven days of the Hong Kong protests.
The timeline below shows the percentage of worldwide online news coverage in 65 languages monitored by the GDELT Project from Nov. 1, 2018 through Sept. 22, 2019 that mentioned "climate change" or "global warming" or "climate crisis" or “climate strike” and “protests” or “protest” or “protesters” or “riot” or “riots” or “strike” compared with “Hong Kong” and “protests” or “protest” or “protesters” or “riot” or “riots” compared with “Paris” and “protests” or “protest” or “protesters” or “riot” or “riots” or “yellow vest” or “yellow vesters.”
Click on the chart for a larger image.
Friday’s global climate strike received more worldwide online news coverage than all but two days (Dec. 8 and 9) of the Paris protests and more than any single day of those in Hong Kong. On March 15, another global climate strike received equal attention as the Parisian protests, while Aug. 24 climate protests in the aftermath of the G7 summit received as much attention as the Hong Kong protests that same day.
It is clear that at least when it comes to online news, climate protests have been extremely mediagenic.
Television shows a similar emphasis on Friday’s climate demonstrations. The timeline below lays out the combined percentage of airtime on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News covering the three events, using data from the Internet Archive’s Television News Archive processed by the GDELT Project.
Friday’s strike received more attention across the three channels than all but seven days of the Hong Kong protests and all but one day of those in Paris. In aggregate, the months-long duration of the other two events means they have received more attention overall, but it is remarkable that a single day of peaceful climate protests managed to eclipse months of clashes and violence in the other two cities.
Of the three channels, Fox News has covered the climate protests of the past year 1.2 times more than CNN and MSNBC combined and the Paris protests, with their climatic origins, 1.4 times as much as the other two combined. The Hong Kong protests, which have no linkage to climate change, were emphasized by CNN almost as much as Fox News and MSNBC combined.
What about public interest? The timeline below shows U.S. search interest for “Paris protests” compared with “Hong Kong protests” and “climate strike” using Google Trends.
Searches began increasing over the course of Thursday as people sought information about the protests and began trending around 6 a.m. EST, peaking from 7 a.m. to noon EST on Friday. By Saturday evening searches had all but died off, showing that while the protests garnered enormous search interest, that attention was short-lived.
In the end, the outsized global attention paid to Friday’s climate strike compared with the Paris and Hong Kong protests reminds us that climate change has become a cause celebre among the world’s journalists.
RealClear Media Fellow Kalev Leetaru is a senior fellow at the George Washington University Center for Cyber & Homeland Security. His past roles include fellow in residence at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government.