Earth Day: Why journalism is important to abate climate change

The media can give the crisis more attention


Collegian File Photo

By Adriana Rozas, Collegian Staff

Climate change is one of the most serious problems we face in modern times, as it affects our lives as well as makes our future uncertain. Over the past few years, several individuals, organizations and politicians have worked to promote sustainability and raise climate change awareness. However, these efforts easily fly under the radar. Currently, there is a lack of awareness concerning the severity of the situation and purpose of these efforts. Moreover, environmentalists and activists are currently fighting a rampant trend of denying facts which is causing an air of confusion around the country surrounding topics that pertain to science. With the spread of misinformation being normalized, it is hard for the public to properly discern what to believe.

So that begs the question: Why is journalism important to climate change? Why should the media cover stories about climate change?

In a time where the world’s most powerful people are conveniently calling climate change a lie, the progress activists and scientists have made toward abating climate change is being reversed. Policies are being rolled back by this administration. Individuals are ceasing to consider their impact on the environment. The mindset of “It’s our world, we’ll use it all up if we want to” is spreading because climate change is attacked so often by influential people. Now more than ever, it is important that journalists highlight more stories on this crisis.

The field of science can often be a confusing and dry one for many. So, expecting the general public to look up climate science research, read and then analyze countless papers to understand the highly technical content is unrealistic. Investigating and analyzing data is the job of the scientist; communicating these findings through the media for the general public to comprehend is up to the journalist. If the media is going to give attention to everything the president says or every celebrity cheating scandal, then it can certainly dedicate more of its efforts to reporting on climate change. One article every once in a while is not enough. A few minutes of airtime are not enough. In order to inform the public, journalists need to sit down with climate scientists and have a real discussion about current developments and setbacks as they do with the political world. They also need to talk to lawmakers and discuss their views and plans on mitigating climate change. They need to interview advocates and hear their suggestions. They need to report on innovative alternatives to reduce carbon footprints.

There are endless scientific investigations that have reported evidence supporting climate change. Daily, we see examples of the side effects of climate change, such as extreme weather phenomena and rising global temperatures, yet aren’t given information as to why they are occurring. These issues don’t get enough air time during the news and rarely get a spot on the front page of newspapers, even though lives are being affected. Last year, lives were lost during the latest extreme weather phenomena in the Midwest during the Polar Vortex, but the headlines were mostly announcing the death toll. Rarely did we see any media outlets cover why this vortex was occurring or explain the science behind it. In 2017, Hurricane Maria was all over the news days after the storm — but most news outlets were covering the conflict between President Trump and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. Will the general public really understand the consequences of climate change if the science behind those consequences isn’t reported?

Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote for The Washington Post, “We try to cover what is important, but that’s not always easy — especially when much of the media privileges stories with the biggest shock factor.” This rings true, especially in recent times, where the political landscape is extremely divided and climate change has become a partisan issue. However, its effects are not partisan. The consequences of this environmental emergency will affect public health, the economy, businesses and our lifestyles, among many other aspects. If the public doesn’t understand this, then there is no hope in abating climate change.

This is where journalists should step in. It is important for journalists to cover all news pertaining to the environment because it can contribute to creating consciousness on this topic in times where there is a lot of doubt being sewn in regard to climate science. If the public has easy access to news on climate change’s imminent and future consequences, citizens will quickly realize the importance of living sustainably and be incentivized to reduce their carbon footprint. It could make the public rally and protest for action from lawmakers and could result in profound changes that would be seen across industries and lifestyles.

There is certainly an abundance of misinformation and a lack of information on the topic of climate change. Some likely only know the Earth is getting warmer, but do not understand that events like Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria in 2017 are going to become more frequent. Others might know it’s important to recycle, but may not know that a large amount of the plastic waste we produce is ending up in the oceans and affecting vital species. Some might have noticed that winters are getting harsher, but have no idea that they will also be getting longer.

The accessibility of information is essential to manage any crisis no matter the subject matter, so it is only natural to need journalists to actually report the information. Climate scientists, climate change advocates and environmentally-conscious politicians are all necessary to fight climate change, but let us not underestimate the role a journalist can play in this same fight. In times like these, information truly is power.

Adriana Rozas can be contacted at [email protected]