Journalism and the environment

02. What is environmental journalism? /

Climate change and the threats to life on our planet are hot topics. Around 25 percent of the world’s population will be exposed to ecological threats by 2050. This is the finding of the Ecological Threat Register Report released last month. Climate change, risks of natural disasters, food insecurity, water scarcity … there are many risks associated with population growth, water stress, food insecurity, droughts, floods, cyclones, rising temperatures and sea levels that we can analyse and report.

As we are not trained to grasp the full complexity of these topics, it is important to assimilate these realities. This enables us to look with fresh eyes at the world and the way particular problems are identified in order to provide answers.

For many years environmental journalism was considered a less important area than war reporting, political reporting or business journalism. In the hierarchy of news, environmental coverage traditionally came after political news, security-related issues and business news. Sometimes there was none at all. It is not surprising now to see a front page devoted to environmental disasters.

Journalists specialising in these issues were long seen as activists or quite simply as individuals with an idealised view of the world. Moreover, their revelations often go against the dominant economic system and the pursuit of profit. Asking about economic development and its extraction of the world’s resources, its emissions of pollutants, of carbon dioxide as well as its health effects, is often frowned upon.

As you can see, for a long time, specialising in this area was not an easy task. Not to mention the threats to journalists who look too deeply into some topics. In the last ten years, 20 journalists have been killed for investigating environmental issues. Ten of them died in the past five years. And nine of these were murdered in Colombia, Mexico, the Philippines, Myanmar and India according to the ONG Reporters Without Borders.

What are the main topics that make journalists targets? There’s deforestation, illegal mining, land grabbing and the environmental impact of industrial activities. Today the emergency is such that there is an even greater need to inform people about these issues. But that does not make it any easier.

Yet it has become absolutely essential for understanding the world today and informing people properly in the current complex context. Even if this means simplifying some terms to make them accessible to as many people as possible. We cannot talk about climate issues, for instance, without mentioning the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Or CO2 emissions, to describe the release into Earth’s atmosphere of the main greenhouse gas, responsible for global warming.

It may even be necessary to place environmental issues at the heart of the agenda, to present news stories through the lens of an ecological worldview. This effectively challenges the functioning of the media and its economic models while raising fundamental questions.

How can we continue to simply talk about wealth generation when we know environmental degradation generates growth?

How can we analyse social tension without first looking at the living conditions and environment of the people concerned? Can multinationals continue to exploit with impunity resources like water and timber?

In fact, the environment involves a host of societal issues that need to be addressed today.

Environmental journalism is more necessary than ever even if green journalism is in danger.

A CFI project in partnership with France Médias Monde

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