The climate crisis. It’s the elephant in the room. It’s also a scientific reality that the leader of the most powerful nation in history denies. But with each passing day, climate change stares us all starkly in the face.
Let’s pause for a moment and recap some of the most alarming climate science findings and environmental events of 2018:
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that if carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions are not halted, all of civilization will see permanent and irreversible damage as early as 2030, when the global temperature increase will hit 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial-era temperatures.
Therefore, said the IPCC, the 2 degree global temperature rise limit agreed upon in 2015 at the United Nations’ climate negotiations in Paris will still mean increased water shortages for 50 percent more of the world’s population, even more crop failure, more ice-free summers in the Arctic which would exacerbate global sea level rise , and more frequent extreme weather events such as wildfires and hurricanes.
Meanwhile, California – the most populous state in the U.S. – saw lethal and record-sized wildfires. More acres of land burned in the Golden State in 2018 than in the previous decade combined. A fire in the northern part of the state – the Camp Fire, as it came to be known – killed 86 people and destroyed over 18,800 buildings. The fires were exacerbated the state’s lack of rain: massive portions of the state are in the midst of a long-term drought, which has led to water shortages and implementation of water rationing policies.
As California burned, the Arctic melted. Arctic melting contributes to rising sea levels, which in turn could mean coastal cities, like New York City, Miami, San Diego and Los Angeles could eventually go underwater, perhaps as soon as by 2100.
As a case in point, sea level could rise over one foot by 2045 in Miami if climate change continues uninhibited, meaning a whole one-fifth of the city would go underwater at high tide. Another data point on exhibit: some two-thirds of Southern California beaches could become “completely lost due to rising sea level” at the hands of climate impacts, the California Coastal Commission has concluded. The coastal-based Wall Street in New York City, too, could face a ravaging from the increasingly high tide.
The World Bank, no enclave of radical or progressive thought, issued a report in March 2018 titled “Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration.” The report claimed that by 2050, global water shortages, crop failures and rising sea levels could displace some 143 million people. That’s about half the population of the United States.
What do these stark realities mean for a journalist on the climate beat seeking out the “real news”? Climate journalists are a rare breed – the vast majority of newsrooms across the country and the world do not have full-time climate beat reporters – and a diverse one, full of people with different ideologies and motivations.
For me, based on years of experience covering the issue, a climate reporter must have a commitment to an ecological ethos, always examining how various parts of the ecosystem, market supply chains and the dominant economic system itself interconnect with one another and impact the climate.
At its most basic level, that means having at least some familiarity with the science behind climate change. The scientific understanding of the climate crisis frequently changes, so it also means keeping up with climatologists, ecologists, water experts and others who can break down how human activity continues to change the chemistry of the planet in fundamental and likely irreversible ways.
Doing “real news,” however, necessitates going above and beyond those basics, even if the mainstream media – particularly broadcast media – doesn’t. It’s an easy thing to say but a hard thing to pull off.
It means investigating and reporting on the interlocking directorate of the institutions, governmental agencies, political leaders, corporate executives and power elites. That includes the federal agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, plus their state-level equivalents. It also includes keeping tabs on Congress and state legislatures, keeping up with corporate regulatory filings and trade associations, as well as lobbying filings and tracking government-industry revolving door connections. Those venues, often left uncovered or undercovered by the dominant media apparatus, determine where and how important decisions impacting regular people and the planet as a whole manifest themselves.
On top of that, dedicated climate coverage keeps all of these topics on the front burner, rather than relegating them to rare one-off pieces or high-profile interviews. We should treat climate coverage with the seriousness and consistency that corporate media gives palace intrigue within the White House and Congress.
Traditionally, climate coverage has been separate from the economy, energy, agriculture, labor and other beats, but any seasoned climate reporter knows that they all intersect—and that currently, the status quo policy and regulatory regimes in each of those spheres are driving civilization off of the climate cliff. Potential doomsday scenarios cannot be avoided on what some, sardonically or seriously, call the “apocalypse beat.” It must not be concealed so as to raise false hope.
But mostly, real climate journalism is about asking the right, and sometimes vexing, questions.
How has Wall Street, oil and gas trading, coal market speculation and other forms of financialization led us to where we are in the climate quagmire? How does it tie back to foreign policy and geopolitics? What could be done differently in agriculture and who has benefited from that status quo? How? Why? Should nuclear energy play a role, and if not, why are some environmental groups pushing for it? Are any forms of geoengineering viable, and if so, what risks do they entail from an ecological or environmental justice perspective? Who will be harmed first and hardest by climate events? What forms of renewable energy are green and which are not so clean? What are real solutions to the climate crisis, and what are false ones? And what are various political figures in various levels of government doing about it? These questions are merely the tip of a rapidly melting iceberg.
The best reporting knows no partisan loyalties. Original, hard-hitting reporting, interesting well-reported segments and interviews can prove that the issue of climate change does not play second fiddle to other social problems.
Help us show that that’s true. Help us make real news.