Why climate journalism matters

Elif Cansu Ilhan and Meri Baghdasaryan

What is the climate journalism?

In the light of the ongoing climate crisis and the rise of climate strikes all over the globe, the contribution of journalists to informing public discourse should not be overlooked. Climate journalism fulfills a unique role in covering one of – if not the most – pressing issues of our time. It includes coverage of the latest environmental predictions and scientific data, as well as reporting from climate summits and conventions, thereby contributing to the public debate on climate crisis. Thus, climate journalists, serving as public watch dogs, join forces with environmental scientists and activists on raising awareness, advocating for solutions, and finding ways of overcoming the climate crisis.

Why do we need climate journalism?

It is imperative to fight the growing climate crisis with a multi-angle approach. Limiting global temperature rise at 1.5°C is the first step that will enable humanity to protect the climate favourable to life as it is and secure the continuity of our ecosystems. Fulfilling this goal requires the collective work of governments, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), the wider public, business, industry, and governments. To make this collective work a reality, however, it is very important to impart scientific discoveries to all these parties and deliver them accurately, responsibly, and in an easily understandable form. As a relatively new branch of science, the terminology used by climate science is open to misunderstandings. To overcome these misunderstandings and avoid the unintentional spread of misinformation or outright intentional disinformation created to mislead on purpose, it is essential to have journalists siding with the well-being of our current habitat. One important example of what can happen in the absence of committed, high-quality climate journalism is the example of ExxonMobile. One of the biggest oil companies in the world, ExxonMobile discovered the relationship between fossil fuels and climate change nearly half a century ago, yet they hid this information, deceived the public, and robbed humanity of a generation’s worth of time to reverse climate change for the continuity of cash flow and short-term profit.

Who can be a climate journalist? 

With the advancement of digital technologies and emergence of citizen journalism, climate journalism benefits from the contributions of not only environmental journalists, but also climate activists and environmental organisations as well as concerned citizens of Earth. This means that the high calling of climate journalism can currently be implemented by a variety of actors. It is important to note, however, that all climate journalists should undertake the duties and responsibilities that underpin journalistic ethics, such as accuracy, transparency, independence, respect for rule of law and human rights, and so on in order to be deemed trustworthy and effective. Additionally, as journalists reporting on scientific topics and matters of activism that constitute public topics, they should have the proper knowledge of the relevant terminology, scientific facts, an awareness of the diplomatic efforts surrounding the climate crisis, and a keen understanding of how determinantal a conflict of interest is to high-quality and trustworthy journalism.

Things to keep in mind while engaging in climate reporting

Climate journalism covers uncomfortable subjects related to climate crisis, from ecological collapse to the threat of rising sea levels – topics that often alarms readers and depicts a sad and depressing future. Hence, it is important to know your audience and frame your message accordingly, as well as use both rational and emotional appeals along with understandable language in order to enable all readers to relate to the cause. Helping to make the public eager to act against this crisis, as opposed to fomenting hopelessness and despair, is also vital to empowering individuals with accurate knowledge of scientific facts, the short history of this crisis, the parties that have the responsibility to act, their range of power, and of course, what they can do as individuals to contribute while recognising the need for larger climate activism to hold the largest polluters to account.  

It is also the responsibility of climate journalists to know that climate journalism is a rights-based form of journalism.The climate crisis affects the most vulnerable first as well as the hardest. The ones most affected by this crisis are the ones who contribute the least to it, whereas the ones who have the most capacity to avoid the catastrophic results of the crisis are the ones who are most contributing to it in the first place. This also means, however, that the latter group are the ones with the most capacity to also fight against this crisis. Therefore, good and responsible storytelling is key to presenting the topic in a way that makes the public both aware and empowered  to act.

Climate journalism: The way forward 

We currently live in an era of information wars where accessing credible information and critical coverage of topics of public interest is of crucial importance. Having united journalists, scientists, and activists, climate journalism carries the duty to communicate the verified, impartial, and accurate messages of public importance with regards to climate change and the climate crisis. Thus, climate journalism plays a vital role in shaping the public discourse on the climate crisis in a responsible manner, enabling the people to act and shape the green and sustainable future that they want for themselves, their children, and the future of life. 

Yale Climate Connections Climate Communications Climate Tracker Society for Environmental Journalists  Climate Home News The Ecologist Carbon Brief Climate Action Traiter Climate Analytics World Resources Institute National Resources Defense Council Anthropocene Magazine