Yes it’s true. Journalists can also get confused. It is particularly true for journalists covering climate change. Environmental journalists worldwide are grappling to convince their editors to run climate change stories.
The issue was also raised last week in Nepal when climate journalists from seven SAARC member countries met for a climate change workshop.
The indifference of the editors cannot be seen in isolation because it also reflects the general perception of readers’ interest on perhaps the biggest story of this century. In journalistic jargon, there is an overall fatigue about the issue. There are several reasons for it.
First, climate change reportage has generally taken an alarmist tone. Climate change is indeed alarming. It can destroy the world. And here lies the biggest challenge for journalists to cover it more objectively and balance it with scientific facts. It is just not enough to always approach the issue with the red siren bells ringing.
Second, climate change is a complex issue. Its Science is much more composite for an ordinary mind to fathom at face value. It needs to be demystified in terms that normal people can relate to.
Third reason is perhaps the complacency that the impact of climate change will not reach its peak in this generation. There are more pressing and immediate issues to deal with in our daily lives. In the nuances of newsroom priorities, these immediate issues thus command more urgency.
It is also because climate change has now become a political bargaining chip dividing the rich and the poor countries. While there is a global consensus to save the world from the impacts of climate change, a consensus on modalities to combat it is much wanting. Climate change has united the world in a noble endeavor but divided countries in finding an amicable solution. It appears that this difference is there to remain for a very long time.
For all these reasons and many more, climate change stories will continue to be page 19 stories, if they are published at all. It would take drastic incidents to leapfrog the stories onto the cover page of newspapers because Maldives cannot have a cabinet meeting under the ocean and Nepal cannot do it at the Everest mountain base on a daily basis. Thus, climate change stories do appear to be destined for page 19 and with it the general perception of the people on the issue sealed in the second half of the priority list.
The only solution for climate journalists to make a difference is to be innovative.
Renowned journalist and the editor of Nepali Times, Kunda Dixit, called for retrospection. He advised the regional climate journalists not to cry wolf and to avoid media hysteria while covering climate change. He highlighted that the media is not geared for slow emergencies like climate change and that the public service role is eroding in this rich man’s world. The magic formula to cover climate issues, he said, was not to mention the word “climate change.”
The director of the Third Pole Project and a well known former journalist from India, Joydeep Gupta, teased journalists by saying that climate change is not just an environment story. With global environmental services worth US$ 33 trillion and global carbon trade worth more than US$ 50 billion in 2008, climate change issues could be portrayed as economic, energy, technology, and political stories as well.
Back home, a young media fraternity has not been able to devote itself to intense coverage of climate change issues. Business Bhutan is the only newspaper that has dedicated a page to cover environmental issues. Local journalists cover climate issues as and when reports are realized or when renowned environmentalists visit the country.
But we cannot deny the fact that the impact of climate change are increasingly becoming evident. The Himalayan glaciers are receding creating several glacial lakes. There are 2,674 glacial lakes in Bhutan and 24 have been identified as potentially dangerous and susceptible to bursting. The last memory of the glacial flood was in 1994 when a small lake burst and created havoc downstream taking 20 human lives and destroying farmlands and houses. In light of such looming threats of glacial floods, Bhutan is building an economy with hydropower as its main economic driver. No comprehensive study has been done to study the impact of glacial floods on hydropower projects.
Other impacts include receding tree lines, tropical crops growing at much higher altitudes, tropical diseases like malaria and dengue appearing in altitudes of more than 2,000 meters, erratic rainfall and weather patterns and many more. But these impacts have not been highlighted enough in the media.
Moreover, Bhutan has committed to maintain forest cover of at least 60% and to remain carbon neutral for all times to come but these commitments have not received international recognition. Therefore much more needs to be done and journalists have a big role to play.