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A still from the NBC News special Ann Curry Reports: Our Year of Extremes—Did Climate Change Just Hit Home?

Climate Change Hits the Big Time on Prime Time


Climate change has hit the prime-time big-time, from Hollywood to New York City’s mainstream news networks, in the form of two television documentaries on the subject.

A-list celebs make their mark on the debate in Showtime’s eight-part Years of Living Dangerously, which cost $20 million to produce and began airing on April 13. The series “features an Oscar red carpet roll-call of Hollywood celebrities along with a cast of high-profile U.S. journalists and columnists, all looking at the impact a warming climate is having on people around the world,” reports Climate News Network, a UK-based website that disseminates information on the topic. It airs on Sundays at 10 p.m.

The series brings celebrities whose names and faces are familiar to many worldwide, into the lives of so-called ordinary people who are seeing the effects of climate change in their daily lives.

“These are the stories of people whose lives have been transformed by climate change,” said director James Cameron, who is one of the backers of the Showtime series, to Climate News Network. “Everyone thinks climate change is about melting glaciers and polar bears. I think that’s a big mistake. This is 100% a people's story.”

Similar concerns are highlighted in the less glitzy, but no less informative, NBC special Ann Curry Reports: Our Year of Extremes—Did Climate Change Just Hit Home? which aired on April 6. In the one-hour show, the veteran journalist talks to climate scientists and people living on the front lines of change. She not only profiles phenomena ranging from the Arctic ice melt to the ravages of Superstorm Sandy, but also delves into the ways these events are linked, as when she extracts the nugget that soot from increased wildfires may be exacerbating glacial melt.

Although Curry spoke to an Inuit person, she traveled all the way to Greenland to find someone, rather than consult the traditional knowledge of Native peoples in Alaska and Canada. But he said what needs to be said.

“We have been here for thousands of years,” Inuit leader Aqqaluk Lynge told Curry. “And we tell you that things are changing.”

The two shows are part of an increased attention being paid by broadcasters to climate change, coverage that has been lacking, according to the website Media Matters, which surveyed the minutes devoted to covering the issue in 2013.

“Overall, network TV news outlets ramped up climate change coverage in 2013,” the website reported in January. “CBS aired 56 minutes of coverage on the topic in 2013, slightly more than NBC's nearly 52 total minutes of coverage and far greater than the 18 minutes of coverage that ABC devoted to climate change.”

Media Matters gave NBC, and Curry’s approach to the issue, a thumbs-up.

“By making hard-hitting connections between global warming and impacts being felt today, and turning to the work of established climate scientists, NBC's climate change special shows that the network is continuing to make strides on an issue of critical importance,” Media Matters said.

Strides, yes. But it may not have been lost on viewers that in the New York City region, at least, a commercial for fracking—the controversial practice that involves mixing toxic chemicals with water to blast apart rocks and extract oil and natural gas—immediately followed NBC’s coming-attraction promotion just before the show started. 

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