Why Media Ignores the Coming Disaster

Every disaster movie starts with the government ignoring a scientist

Why Media Ignores the Coming Disaster
Photo by AbsolutVision / Unsplash
"Every disaster movie starts with the government ignoring a scientist"

In 2023, News Coverage of Climate Change Declined by 25%

In case you haven't seen it, the Netflix movie "Don't Look Up" is about science vs status quo.

Upon discovering a planet-killer asteroid heading towards earth, scientists rush to warn the world. Only, they're met by skepticism stirred by a complacent media, political agendas and short term corporate priorities.

This is one of the best lines from the end of the movie when death is only seconds away. It strikes me every time I hear it: "The thing of it is, we really did have everything, didn't we. I mean, when you think about it."

Don't Look Up parallels with countless other existential threats not taken seriously. Nuclear war, AI takeover, fascism...and biosphere destruction.

With the climate rapidly changing - marked by increasing global temperatures, droughts, wildfires, atmospheric rivers, and more - corporate media chose to REDUCE coverage in 2023.

In 2023, the globe surpassed 1.5 degrees. Compare this to the IPCC's goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century. (Sure, the calculation methodologies aren't identical but the milestone was undeniably surpassed.)

Meanwhile, data collected by Media Matters shows media coverage of climate change declined by 25% in 2023. Remaining coverage is a miniscule 1% of total broadcasting time. Hardly a blink devoted to what's likely humanity's final challenge.

More facts from Media Matters:

  • In 2023, corporate broadcast TV news covered climate change for 1,032 minutes. This marked a considerable decrease from the 1,374 minutes aired in 2022 and the 1,316 minutes aired in 2021.
  • Climate coverage on ABC’s, CBS’, and NBC's morning news programs decreased by 23% compared to 2022.
  • Climate coverage on ABC’s, CBS’, and NBC's nightly news programs decreased 36% from 2022.
Volume of broadcast TV climate coverage in 2023 saw a marked  decrease compared to 2022 and 2021

The people need to know. Most have no idea how close we're to the edge.

This fictional clip captures the problem with corporate media:

Many are still anchored to long debunked skeptic myths, meanwhile voices of truth are pushed to the fringes and called "alarmists". Yeah, I'm an alarmist. That's because I'm fucking alarmed by the state of the world. More people should be.

Journalists have a responsibility to educate and warn people. Unfortunately, the vocal minority is frequently sidelined.

So why is big corporate media keeping people in the dark?

Toxic Positivity

If you work in a corporate environment or have browsed LinkedIn you've witnessed "toxic positivity" in action.

Shareholder returns rely on growth. Growth depends on an optimistic future. Thus, those working in a corporate environment must uncover reasons for optimism, regardless of probability. Under all circumstances, positivity is prioritized. Reality is downplayed or discarded.

Over the long-run, ignoring reality harms the corporation. However, individual employees and shareholders are motivated by short-term compensation. So even if everyone is quietly aware of reality, they're incentivized to ignore it.

Blind corporate optimism in the face of existential threats is like painting over rust; it might improve appearances in the short term, but the underlying decay continues unabated.

This attitude bleeds into mainstream media, influenced by the same biases as other corporations.

Short Attention Spans

Corporate media does occasionally report on existential risks. A threatening asteroid, alarming threats of nuclear attack, droughts, wildfires. However, the public has a short attention span and the news cycle moves fast.

People are inundated with dopamine hits from all forms of media. It takes more energy to follow a slow-moving thread, no matter how catastrophic. When ratings determine what gets aired, corporate media will prioritize eye-catching (and dopamine-triggering) information.


Next to shareholders, who really controls media? Advertisers.

Advertising is the revenue source for most media. Companies spend a ton of money convincing viewers/readers/listeners to consider their products. If you were selling Big Macs, would you want to advertise on a show promoting a vegetarian diet? If you were selling TVs, would you want to advertise next to an article explaining how the idiot box has dumbed-down society?

Corporately-controlled media purposely creates programming (including news content) advertisers want to partner with. Consequently, media objectives must align hand-in-hand with the premise of endless consumerism and growth.

A concerted effort to educate the public about the poly-crisis would promote the concept of de-growth, which is antithetical to corporate interests.

This is why Collapse 2050 is reader supported. I am opposed to networked advertising on Collapse 2050. I think most ads displayed would conflict with the messages I'm conveying. Also, let's be honest - money can change people. I don't want any temptation to water down my opinions.

Political Bias

News is increasingly partisan, catering to either the "left" or the "right". Each group matches a profile and corporate media uses this information to its advantage.

Many people want their biases confirmed and will engorge on media that satisfies their appetite. They're not interested in learning or obtaining a balanced view. Most aren't even interested in pressing news. They simply want their daily affirmation of "you're right, they're wrong".

The media serves this up in a pseudo-intellectual wrapper and calls it healthy viewing.

The Bunker Class

Do the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world really want the 99% to panic?

While they build their hundred-million dollar apocalypse survival bunkers, they downplay the existential risk via the media they own or influence. They don't want others front-running them.

A Slow Moving, Difficult to Observe Disaster

Riots in your city center or an explosion at a local refinery grabs attention because the crescendo to forte is rapid. There's a reason why the Mission Impossible movie series is popular: the action starts right away.

In contrast, climate change, deforestation, rising seas, animal extinction and ecological destruction are beyond the average person's attention span. As slow moving crises, the narrative remains consistent from day-to-day so frequent reporting becomes repetitive.

From this perspective, it's understandable why news media is reluctant to continually report on the poly-crisis.

People Need to know

I think it's unrealistic to expect broadcast news to organically increase coverage of climate change and other existential risks. It's simply not in their interest.

Instead, climate scientists, researchers and journalists must craft, package and deliver a coordinated, relatable and shocking narrative of what's coming and pro-actively pitch this story to media. Organize a road show to The Tonight Show, The View, 60 minutes, Jimmy Kimmel, Fifth Estate, everything. Periodically saturate the airwaves with a dose of reality, instead of relying on news broadcasters to insert the occasional 3 minute segment.

As ridiculous as it sounds, climate activists need better marketing.

It's so easy to be dismissed as fanatics when activists throw soup in galleries and glue themselves to the road. To change attitudes, the public must visualize how their lives could be affected. In the early 1980s, movies like The Day After did just this.

Preceded by months of traditional and guerilla marketing, The Day After - a 1983 movie about nuclear Armageddon - was watched by 100 million people.

Many consider this movie a driving force for nuclear policy change (excerpt from Wikipedia):

US President Ronald Reagan watched the film more than a month before its screening on Columbus Day, October 10, 1983. He wrote in his diary that the film was "very effective and left me greatly depressed" and that it changed his mind on the prevailing policy on a "nuclear war". The film was also screened for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A government advisor who attended the screening, a friend of Meyer, told him: "If you wanted to draw blood, you did it. Those guys sat there like they were turned to stone." In 1987, Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which resulted in the banning and reducing of their nuclear arsenal. In Reagan's memoirs, he drew a direct line from the film to the signing.

Watch "The Day After":

Mandatory Viewing
A collection of the best documentaries on climate change, civilizational collapse, nuclear war, peak oil and more.

I'm not optimistic, but I do think humanity still has a chance to prepare for what's coming - perhaps even mitigate some of its effects.

At the very least, we have an opportunity to relearn self-reliance and community values as we plunge into collapse. But none of that can happen if people aren't somewhat alarmed by the poly-crisis.