Global Burning: National Media Coverage of Climate Change and Wildfires in Canada

Wearing a protective mask, dog walker Leslie Kramer ventures out as heavy smoke from northern Alberta forest fires comes south to blanket the downtown area in Calgary, Canada, Tuesday, May 16, 2023. (Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press via AP)

Wearing a protective mask, dog walker Leslie Kramer ventures out as heavy smoke from northern Alberta forest fires comes south to blanket the downtown area in Calgary, Canada, Tuesday, May 16, 2023. (Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press via AP)

On November 2nd, Re.Climate hosted a webinar to present the findings of our latest report “Climate Change and Wildfires in Canada’s National Media”. This work provides a high-level review of 12,000 media stories in the Canadian National media and discusses reporting trends and proposed solutions within national media conversations concerning climate change and wildfires.

Over 200 people attended the event with lead researchers Chris Hatch and Dr. Ghadah Alrasheed, as well as distinguished professors at Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication, Dr. Trish Audette-Longo and Dr. Chris Russill, who is also the Academic Director of Re.Climate.

The speakers presented the report’s main findings and discussed a range of climate communication issues, including communicating energy transition, the power of storytelling, and misinformation around wildfire in the media.

Read the report here.

Missed the webinar? Watch the recording here.

Here’s what the panelists were saying

  • Climate change and wildfires have been receiving increasing coverage in the national media. There has been a 17% increase in climate coverage since 2021.  Media stories rarely mention the causes of climate change or why we need to eliminate—not just reduce—emissions.
Climate change coverage-a yearly comparison
Have wildfires increased coverage of climate change
  • The national media generally accepts the connection between wildfires and climate change, although this connection is usually not explicit—only 16% of wildfire stories make the connection to climate change.

  • Climate stories in the Canadian media are isolated from other extreme global events. There is little to no connection to evidence like global temperatures, sea surface temperatures, Antarctic ice melt, or wildfires in other parts of the world that are also intensifying due to climate change.

  • There is little clarity for the public on the pathway that is needed to switch from fossil fuels to clean energy. The steps for fuel switching such as electrifying everything and running on clean electricity are rarely made explicit.

  • The national media rarely spreads misinformation about wildfires. However, climate misinformation is much worse than many of us realize and can have real-world consequences. While journalists were quick to identify misinformation about the wildfires, explanations for why Canadians engage with climate conspiracies were mostly lacking.

  • When it comes to most-frequently quoted or referenced voices, politicians dominate the conversation in the Canadian national media, followed by wildfire and emergency officials, then academics, followed by  people directly impacted by wildfires (homeowners, local residents, evacuees). Doctors and other health professionals, Indigenous leaders and vulnerable populations are underrepresented.
Dominant voices in coverage of wildfires in national media
  • There is power in sharing the stories of climate disaster survivors in a way that honours the voice and dignity of those affected by these experiences. A  trauma-informed, co-creation storytelling model can empower communities to share their stories and find solutions.

You can view the presentation slide deck here.

Download the rest of the charts here.

Panelist recommendations

We asked our panelists for recommendations for applying this research to your climate communications practice. Here is what they had to say:

  • Amplify the public’s growing understanding that extreme weather and wildfires will keep getting worse and complete the narrative… until we stop burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal.

  • Paint a simple picture of the path forward: electrify everything—vehicles, homes, and factories that currently run on fossil fuels. And build clean energy to supply the switchover. Talk about how carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, and other solutions being promoted by industry are not going to get us to the heart of what needs to be done, which is moving away from fossil fuel-based energy sources.
  • Promote peer-to-peer conversations about climate change and an energy transition to increase literacy and trust, and overcome fatalism.

  • When talking about an energy transition, don’t just talk about the jobs that will be created by clean energy, instead illustrate the range of economic and work opportunities in responding to climate change (i.e. retrofitting, adaptation).

  • Look at ways to frame climate action as a way to address affordability such as expanding access to heat pumps.

  • Share good examples of climate journalism. In response to Canada’s Online News Act, Meta has blocked local, national and international news links from being circulated via Facebook or Instagram. Find other ways to share stories that matter, by forwarding emailed newsletters from trustworthy news sources, sending story links via direct or text messages, rounding up links to key stories in your own community dispatches, or—perhaps—inviting the reporters or photographers behind those stories to meet with you and your community.

  • Consider sharing your own experiences with the Climate Disaster Project. They want to learn more about how you are navigating change—including but not limited to extreme events like wildfires.


Recommendations for Journalists

  • Connect the dots between extreme weather events, climate change, and fossil fuels but be sensitive to timing. You can talk about the contribution climate change is making to the extreme weather event during extreme events but wait until the conversation has moved to how to recover to mention the solutions that should be adopted to prepare for and reduce future risks.

  • When covering wildfires, it’s important to cover the whole picture. Connect wildfires to climate change but discuss the other contributing factors such as ineffective fire suppression practices and outdated forestry policies.

  • Include health frames in stories to raise awareness of climate change and wildfire impacts on community health and engage wider audiences.

  • We should recognize how wider experiences with climate impacts and losses from extreme events are altering the climate conversation. Loss and loss aversion matter deeply to people, often more so than promises of positive futures. Think about how to create spaces for real and empathetic conversations about these matters. This involves drawing upon climate attribution science to discuss vulnerabilities to climate change in ways linking loss to our capacities for aid, care, fairness, and repair.

  • While sea level rise, storm surge, flooding, drought, and heat are real problems in Canada, wildfire has a special resonance given the vast forests covering the country, the number of people living in wildland-urban interfaces, and the disproportionate impacts of these events on Indigenous peoples. In this respect, the conversation about wildlife and climate change should localize impacts and humanize harms in ways that are specific to Canada and its regional cultures.
  • To address misinformation, it is important to challenge and fact-check but also to discuss how online narratives can have negative consequences for people trying to manage emergencies.


Global Burning: National Media Coverage of Climate Change and Wildfires in Canada

Webinar Recording


The Climate Disaster Project stories archive. Consider sharing your own experiences with the project

Climate Action Against Disinformation Backgrounder and communications recommendations

Brief: Messaging energy affordability

The CBC Climate Emergency Campaign: A Review of CBC’s Climate Reporting by the Community-Engaged Research Initiative at Simon Fraser University in collaboration with the Climate Emergency Unit

Talk Like a Human: Lessons on How to Communicate Climate Change by Potential Energy

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