While freelancing over the last year, I have pitched articles on climate change to various media outlets. I have come to realize that the media is not moving fast enough to educate the public on the climate emergency. From pitching to editing to publication, it takes time to get a story out the door and into the world, particularly if it is an investigative piece that pulls in many voices. An investigative piece may take months to gather data, fact check, conduct interviews, and review evidence is time consuming. Editors are tasked with ensuring a story is accurate, yet this can create lengthy delays.
News also moves at a swift pace, onto the next big story too quickly. Climate change should remain a feature of mainstream media as a constant reminder that we must do all that we can to stop it. Local journalism initiatives should advocate for a mandate to place climate change as a top priority. The word ‘news’ itself is an acronym standing for ‘notable events, weather and sports.’ This obligation to talk about the weather is a great opportunity to explain how climate change is changing weather patterns whenever the meteorologist tells us if there will be sun or rain. Each newsroom should have a dedicated climate writer if they don’t have one already.
Media outlets also receive big money for industry advertisements. Giving room for two sides of the story is important as any journalist knows, yet sometimes the two sides are unevenly matched. Often government or industry is called upon to provide comment when it comes to the implications of industry and its impact on climate change, while the communities suffering from the impacts of pollution are ignored. Their voices are not as large, and their lived experience is viewed as lesser due to a lack of scientific evidence. The government is fluent in providing lip service on climate change, with spokespeople who are able to speak broadly on subjects. This gives the appearance of having taken significant action when in reality the issues have not been resolved.
For example, take an Elder who is telling a story of a belief in Indigenous law. He may be scoffed at by those who think his beliefs are mere superstitions that lack concrete evidence, but traditional knowledge is vital to Indigenous systems and has been working far longer than Western science. Yet in the eyes of the law, traditional knowledge is ignored in favour of scientific evidence. It is the classic giant versus mouse scenario, but sometimes the tiniest voices can have the largest impact. We must not doubt our significance. In Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, the authors explain we have been living in times of distrust, where we don’t believe anything we read or hear in the news.
When I receive a response from the government it is often difficult to decipher because the information, especially numbers, can be manipulated and I do not want to misconstrue the data. It has been a learning curve for me to understand the technical aspects of green energy from kilowatts to the amount of diesel consumption per household in the North. Climate change is often presented in scientific language that is hard to make sense of for those reading the news. It takes a skilled journalist to take the data and make it legible and accessible to the average reader.
I prefer to write from my lived experience through op-eds, column writing, and blogs. The latest two stories I am working on focus on making the switch to green energy in the North. I have two stories running simultaneously on this topic, one for a reputable media outlet in Canada and one in New York. While trying to determine the barriers to making the switch to green energy in the North, I came up against quite a lot of cryptic responses from the government about what Indigenous-controlled green energy projects are underway, and who is operating them. I found it interesting that it was hard to gather this information from a government that is supposed to be transparent. At one point I considered filing a Freedom of Information request to get the information needed to finalize my story. The amount of work that goes into writing an article that the average person might not even read is disheartening. Climate writing needs to be appealing to a wide audience, invoke emotion, and be paired with visuals that enhance understanding.
It is time we demand the decision makers make themselves and their intentions known when it comes to the fate of our planet. As a public servant you have a responsibility to ensure that the decisions you make actually serve the public.
The media is the best tool we have to talk about climate change in the age of globalization because it can create change by educating the public on issues that matter. Academics can cite it, and educators can reference it in their classrooms. Articles in the media can lead to public demand for change in legislation. It is imperative that we do more in Canada to make climate change a constant item in the news, and not just a passing trend.