Studies show that the general public does not know basic facts about climate science. Since climate change is arguably the most urgent issue of our time, it is important that people know whether the problem is occurring (fact 1: it is), what is causing it (fact 2: fossil fuels and the greenhouse effect), and whether there is a scientific consensus (fact 3: there is). They also need to know something about the magnitude of the problem (fact 4: massive alteration of our atmosphere) and the timescale of the resulting harm (fact 5: effectively permanent). Here, we investigate how often these five basic climate facts are conveyed in The New York Times news articles covering climate change from 1980 to 2018.
With only one exception, the frequencies with which these facts appear in news articles today are vanishingly small. For example, at the beginning of 2019, the scientific consensus on global warming is mentioned in only 4% of NYTimes climate articles. Likewise, the fact that the concentration of CO2 is the highest in human history, the fact that global warming is permant, and the mechanism of global warming appear in only 1%, 0.4%, and 0.2% of NYTimes climate articles, respectively. This suggests that print journalism is a largely untapped resource for educating the public on basic climate facts.