Friday, 18 October 2019

Reporting the Climate Crisis


For all the negative commentary on our work, many Caribbean journalists have been looking at the question of climate change long before it became fashionable to wave banners on the street, to have colourful demonstrations proclaiming its advent, and before the issue earned serious mention in our parliaments.

Predating the efforts of the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM) which was established in 2001, was the work of the Caribbean Environmental Reporters Network (CERN) which, since 1993, had been focusing on broad environmental management issues and attempting to zero-in on some of the regional challenges the onset of changed climate conditions was capable of creating.

Then, in 2004, the ACM was invited to participate in the work of Caricom’s Mainstreaming Adaptation to Climate Change (MACC) Project to help produce a Climate Change Handbook for Caribbean Journalists. It was published in 2005.

My enthusiasm for the exercise, as a member of the editorial team, flowed seamlessly from the journalistic work I had been a part of, via CERN, to critically examine the potential sectoral impacts of climate change. We looked at agriculture, tourism, public infrastructure and insurance, among other areas of concern.

By the way, the T&T industry official I called for comment on the insurance angle was unclear what the hell I was talking about – even as Lloyds of London had already established a special programme to examine the future of risk assessment and implications for reinsurance rates. This is not to embarrass anybody or any institution, but to state a dry fact.

Last week, in Guyana, an ACM team assembled for part two in a series of journalistic consultations for production of a publication that considerably advances the narrative of the 2005 text and acknowledges a role in promoting better understanding of what I have proposed we describe as the current “climate crisis.” The first consultation was hosted in Antigua.

Our early work had attracted the attention of our colleagues in the South Pacific via the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) with which the ACM had signed a memorandum to collaborate on an issue we recognised as being of grave, common concern.

Today, Pacific journalists are present at the Conference of the Parties (COP) sessions of the United Nations Climate Change Conference and are among some of the issue’s most competent reporters.

There has been broad recognition of the fact that while the media industry stands, like every other commercial sector, to be affected by our changing circumstances, media practitioners have a very special role to play when it comes to truth-telling about climate change.

This means that greater attention needs to be paid not only to the sloganeering of politicians and the actions of “activists” but to an understanding of the climate science that has, so far, and largely got the story right.

Proceeding along this path has run very much against a Caribbean culture that relies heavily on intuition, a notion of selectively divine beneficence, and the view that, however weighted by fact and data, there are multiple sides to some stories that require equal hearing.

There is a raging debate in some circles on this point because, after all, shouldn’t all ideas contend? Well, there was a time when the flatness of the planet was being seriously debated (I have no time for modern-day flat-earth loonies) and there are conspiracy theories about things like the lunar landing and the causes of some diseases, that are just as easily dismissible.

This, of course, is a newspaper column and not a chapter in a science journal. So you need to go look up the available science on climate change, or read what is happening to those countries near and far that are experiencing the impacts of more frequent and more intense weather episodes, rising sea levels and threats to freshwater supplies.

I had asked in my introduction to the 2005 volume: “Why do journalists need this handbook?” and I answered myself by concluding that climate change had become “one of the most compelling stories of the 21st Century.”

In this season of the budget debate and upcoming local government elections, this is not an irrelevant assertion. I am following the budget debate and the election campaign to hear what our leaders have to say about this. I believe you should follow suit

First Published in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian on October 16, 2019

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