MSNBC Ramps Up Climate Change Coverage Ahead of 2020 Election

Chris Hayes - H-  2019

The network's Chris Hayes and Ali Velshi are moderating a two-day presidential candidate forum on environmental issues this week.

CNN and MSNBC are competitors, but the networks are aligned in doubling down on climate change as a key issue in the run up to the 2020 presidential election.

CNN kicked things off on Sept. 4 with seven straight hours of town halls focused on climate change. MSNBC host Chris Hayes, who is co-moderating a two-day presidential forum on climate change on Thursday and Friday, applauded CNN's efforts.

"I thought they did a great job," Hayes told The Hollywood Reporter. "I particularly thought it was a stroke of genius to have so many questions from different scientists, policy wonks, people affected. Those questions were great."

Hayes and his colleague, anchor Ali Velshi, will interview 12 presidential candidates — one hour each — at Georgetown University, including Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson.

"I've probably been preparing for three months, which means all of my extra time, all of my reading all the time is climate stuff," Velshi said. "I think I went from being a very well-informed climate journalist to being  — I'm certainly not an expert, but I've consulted with almost everybody who is."

Both Velshi and Hayes said they've covered climate change and natural disasters on their respective MSNBC shows for years, a topic they said rates well with viewers.

"It's been a focus of ours, but it has definitely ramped up," Hayes said. "Not a week goes by without some sort of jaw-dropping climate disaster. I think there's thirst for information about the climate. There's a tuned-in-ness and an attentional force in the audience right now, and probably the strongest we've ever seen it. So we want to keep feeding it."

Speaking broadly about MSNBC's focus on climate change coverage, Hayes said, "I think there's a big commitment on it."

In that vein, NBC News recently created a dedicated climate unit and on Sunday kicked off a weeklong series focused on climate issues.

The hosts said that the global impact and complexity of climate change can be challenging to convey to viewers. "I think there is a tendency still to see it as an issue, like other issues, as opposed to — in the most literal sense possible — the entirety of the world that we inhabit," Hayes said. "The scale and the scope of it is just a difficult thing to get your arms around conceptually."  ("For the average person, it's a lot of work to get smart on climate change," Velshi added.)

Velshi said he's gone from doing climate segments weekly to doing them on a daily basis. "The challenge is my producers finding ways to put it in that do not seem like a big departure from the important news of the day but makes it feel like the big news of the day," he said.

But, with natural disasters and historic weather events on the rise, Velshi said that finding news pegs is "just not hard these days."

Climate advocacy groups have pressed the Democratic National Committee to host a candidate debate focused solely on climate change, to no avail.

But Velshi argued that this week's forum will be even better. "I'm going to get an hour with every candidate. I think it's better than a debate," he said. "I like this format better. We don't need gotcha moments here. We don't need knock-out punches. We need real answers to important and difficult questions."