On November 14, the US Global Change Research Program released the Fifth National Climate Assessment, which found that the United States is already experiencing the severe impacts of climate chaos, driven primarily by continued reliance on fossil fuels. One week later, the Financial Times reported that the Trump campaign is embracing what it calls Project 2025 — a 920-page conservative policy blueprint by the Heritage Foundation that, among other radical goals, urges the elimination of several energy department agencies and would overhaul the whole of the federal government to not only deny climate change but actively promote it.
Yet one would hardly know any of this reading coverage of the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nomination and betting markets’ most likely pick to be the forty-seventh president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. The former president has spent the past month openly courting fossil fuel money and mocking the very idea of climate change, and this objectively delusional and potentially catastrophic posture has barely registered a blip in the American news media’s radar.
A survey of major media outlets from the past month shows that many — such as NPR and the Wall Street Journal — haven’t mentioned Trump’s recent anti-climate demagoguery at all. And the ones that have typically frame it in terms of subjective “vanilla versus chocolate ice cream” partisan preference or a minor “energy policy” news item.
A New York Times “fact check” of a major “energy” speech Trump gave in Houston on November 2 didn’t bother fact-checking the most egregious lie Trump told, or heavily implied, several times in his ninety-minute address: climate action is pointless. His speech repeatedly belittles climate policy designed to curb fossil fuel extraction, but the Times’ Angelo Fichera is more focused on inflation and other auxiliary lies. Which are important, but given the stakes of a categorical climate denier being in charge for another four years, one would think the basic rejection of scientific consensus would merit at least a mention, if not deserve to be the central premise of the article.
The Washington Post’s November 10 covrage of Trump’s full-blown embrace of fossil fuels was given the “both sides” treatment, framing objections to the former president’s oil- and gas-only energy plan as an “environmentalists say” ideological position, rather than a factual one.
“Environmentalists say they’re not surprised by oil donors’ embrace of Trump,” Post reporters Josh Dawsey and Maxine Joselow inform us, “whose climate legacy they describe as disastrous.”
That full-blown climate denialism is disastrous is not a mere subjective assertion from an ideologically conflicted party, as presented by the Post. It is a uniform scientific consensus.
If Trump was standing on top of a building and told reporters he could fly, those opposing the wisdom of this position would not be framed as “Gravitists say Trump is unlikely to fly.” This immutable fact would be presented as reality, and the framing of the article wouldn’t be “Gravitists versus anti-gravitists” — it would be a piece about the denying of objective laws of physics, and the inevitable, violent implications of the most powerful person on Earth doing so. It would be a story of pathological delusion, not “some say” media refereeing.
Comparing Trump and Biden’s climate positions, CNN was equally blasé. “Trump has a well-documented distaste of renewable energy, a distrust of wind energy in particular and has promised to roll back as much as he can of Biden’s climate agenda,” CNN’s Zachary Wolf wrote on November 16.
“Climate scientists and activists will point to alarming data showing Earth warming faster than expected and argue the US is not doing nearly enough,” CNN tells us, “although more drastic action would take direct bipartisan action by the House and Senate, something that seems unlikely given the power of Republicans representing coal and oil states in the House and Senate.”
This is not a subjective or ideological position of “climate scientists and activists” — it’s reality. That Trump has openly rejected this reality, again, ought to have been the headline, framing, and primary takeaway. Instead, CNN readers get the impression it’s just another “Democrat versus Republican” issue.
In July, Politico framed Trump’s climate denialism with the anodyne headline, “Conservatives have already written a climate plan for Trump’s second term.” The piece frames Trump’s assault on the Earth’s climate and the survival of humanity as a partisan issue of “rolling back Biden’s signature climate law.”
The reader does hear from Andrew Rosenberg, a former senior official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but his position, that Trump’s plan “undermines not only society but the economic capacity of the country at the same time as it’s doing gross violence to the environment,” is presented as just One Man’s Opinion, rather than a scientific fact.
The Associated Press’s roundup of “Trump’s plans if he returns to the White House” from November 12 doesn’t mention climate change at all. The quick hit frames Trump’s embrace of accelerating the end of the world as mere “energy” policy.
“Trump’s goal, he says, is for the U.S. to have the lowest-cost energy and electricity of any nation in the world, including China,” writes Jill Colvin. The article continues, “[Trump says] he will exit the Paris Climate Accords, end wind subsidies and eliminate regulations imposed and proposed by the Biden admiration targeting incandescent lightbulbs, gas stoves, dishwashers and shower heads.”
And what is the inevitable consequence to humanity of these actions, if they come to pass? It’s left unsaid. It’s just another policy preference.
A rare instance of someone in mainstream media sounding the alarm is Hayes Brown of MSNBC, whose column detailed Trump’s disastrous climate policy. Headlined, “Trump’s climate plan: Kill us all even faster,” the piece makes clear that Trump’s energy position is animated by a nihilistic embrace of mass suffering.
Yet the article isn’t indexed as reporting, but rather “opinion.” Stating obvious facts about the inevitable result of Trump’s energy policies is seen as too editorial, too subjective, too ideological. The reality of climate change is still framed as just another opinion positioned in opposition to an equally valid position that it’s all just made up.
With only a few years remaining to mitigate the more extreme outcomes of climate chaos, and far less remaining for any outside chance of reversing course, the media removing urgency from the topic is conspicuous.
In March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released another harrowing report, authored by ninety-three experts, which found that the Earth’s average temperatures are on pace to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over preindustrial levels likely by the first half of the 2030s. This shift would surpass a climate threshold, beyond which lie catastrophic heat waves, flooding, megastorms, famines, and extinction that threatens human civilization itself. The only chance we have to avoid this terrible future is for industrialized nations to dramatically — and immediately — cut their greenhouse gas emissions.
“Emissions should be decreasing by now and will need to be cut by almost half by 2030, if warming is to be limited to 1.5°C,” states a press release accompanying the report.
A November 17 Media Matters analysis reviewed media coverage of a recent congressionally mandated climate report, which showed, once again, that the US embrace of oil and gas is accelerating climate change. The organization found that “national TV news outlets CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox News barely covered the report.”
There’s a subtext to the lack of urgency and coverage of Trump’s brazen climate denialism: dual Outrage Fatigue. After eight years of warnings about the dangers of Trump, and decades of warnings about the dangers of climate change, our media — and to some its audience — have become desensitized. But being used to a threat does not make the threat go away, and the realities of what will happen if the United States doubles down on its fossil fuel extraction and production are no less manifest and existential because they are seen as banal.
These stories are not about Trump “turning to oil barons” or Trump “misleading on energy.” They’re stories about the leading contender for the White House explicitly rejecting scientific consensus and steering the United States, and by implication, the rest of humanity, toward mass death. They’re stories about deliberately denying reality, not cheeky fibs or competing partisan opinions.
To be sure, Biden’s own embrace of fossil fuel extraction is also alarming, but it’s magnitudes different from Trump’s extremist Project 2025 plan, which mocks or belittles climate change a total of 127 times. Media’s clarity about the existential threat of the latter doesn’t mean it should cease criticizing the former — but the nature of the threat should be calibrated.
What Trump is doing — outright denial and attempting to reverse course back to the nineteenth century — is extraordinary, even among right-wing leaders in peer countries. The radicalism and antiempiricism of Trump’s position needs to be made central to the reader, not simply reduced to another routine partisan preference that “environmentalists say” may be dangerous.