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The Missing Link in Environmental News Stories


The mass media could do a much better job of covering environmental issues, but they won’t.
Photo of women cleaning up plastic on the beach by Amanda Jackson

by Davis Burroughs

6 months ago


Photo courtesy of @amandajaxnphoto

The mass media could do a much better job of covering environmental issues, but they won’t.

Daily news outlets, many of which are well-intentioned, fact-based, and thoroughly vetted, leave something to be desired when it comes to framing environmental issues. They love to talk about the problems, but the solutions? Not so much.

The old newspaper adage, “if it bleeds, it leads,” is very real.

Every day it seems there is a new story about Congress’ inaction on climate change, or on the dismantling of yet another environmental regulation, or on the failure of governmental institutions to listen to the cries of their constituents who are raising alarms about land, air and water quality.

The constant bombardment of bad news leaves readers numb to the issues. Why would anyone want to get involved in the environmental movement when all they see is a failure on all fronts?

Take a look at some of this week's top stories on climate change:

Climate change leaves birds hungry as chicks hatch too late to eat caterpillars
from The Independent by Josh Gabbatiss

Dear leaders: You've failed your children on climate change
from CNN by Jamie Margolin

One of the most worrisome predictions about climate change may be coming true
from the Washington Post by Chris Mooney

Climate Change Is Already Depressing the Price of Flood-Prone Real Estate
from Fortune by David Morris

E.P.A. Chief’s $43,000 Phone Booth Broke the Law, Congressional Auditors Say
from the New York Times by John Schwartz 

Earth Day 2018: Pollution From Plastic Is Drastic
from Bloomberg BNA by Marissa Horn

Mystery disease spreads, threatens coral reefs in the Lower Florida Keys
from the Miami Herald by Jenny Staletovich

Commonwealth leaders express 'grave concern' about climate change impacts
from Climate Home News

Climate change will make California's drought-flood cycle more volatile, study finds
from the Los Angeles Times by Bettina Boxall 

In 'This is Climate Change,' you can't look away from the destruction
from Engadget by Devindra Hardawar

Climate change intensifies droughts in Europe
from Science Daily

All I can say after reading that list is, “well, shit.” There is nothing there that is attractive, inspiring, or hopeful. If you’re only looking at the headlines, it’s understandable why you might feel like everything sucks. And if there’s no hope, then we might as well treat the planet like a rental car and pray it doesn’t come back to fuck us before we die.

So here's one ray of sunshine for our readers (thanks, Ireland):

Trump proves unlikely asset in fight against climate change
from the Irish Times by Eoin-Burke Kennedy

Look, I’m not a news conspiracy theorist. I know that most journalists work their asses off to report the news according to the facts. I know because I was one. And the good news is a little bit tougher to sell to editors because it doesn’t tend to get as many clicks. Fewer clicks means less profit, and with many news outlets struggling to stay afloat in a tougher, more competitive digital market — and also trying to survive in an era of “fake news” — the story about the start-up that figured out a way to clean the oceans and make skateboards at the same time is not likely to make the front page of the New York Times. It’s not like there’s some mass-coordinated effort to fill our newsfeeds with despair.

The reporter’s job is to report the news as it happens and to describe it for what it is, not to promote an agenda.

And when it comes to breaking news, they’ve got a lot of crap to sift through every day. I mean really, I remember when I was an energy and environment reporter for Morning Consult, I didn’t exactly have a choice of whether to report the good news or the bad news. It was more a choice of what lousy news do I want to write about today.  It is not the reporter's job to insert their voice into those stories or to tell readers what they can do about the problems. Reporters are not activists (nor should they be).

Further, a lot of the good news about climate change and the environment isn’t exactly breaking the news. It’s a subject that tends to move slower than our information-overload-obsessed minds prefer.

Here’s a recent story from NPR that re-stroked my curiosity about this complex:

Michigan OKs Nestlé Water Extraction, Despite 80K+ Public Comments Against It
from NPR by Bill Chappell

It doesn’t get much more helpless than that. Eighty thousand pro-environment comments against a decision to allow a Nestle water extraction project to move forward versus 75 in favor. It was a record number of public comments, but the agency still voted to let Nestle have its way.

As with the articles mentioned above, the missing link in that NPR story is what should we do about it. If submitting a million comments doesn’t work (the agency, in this case, doesn’t even have the liberty to approve or reject projects based on public opinion, but only on the legality of the request) then what will? Is there a better strategy? How can we, as concerned citizens, take action to prevent big corporations from taking over water rights? How can we mobilize people to take action politically, in their personal lives, and in their businesses?

So next up for me on The Regeneration Magazine blog, I’ll attempt to re-write that story from a solutions-based paradigm. It will be fact-based. It will be solutions-based. It will contain primary source information. And yes, it will present an argument and a bias (thankfully I have the liberty to do that here).

Stay tuned.

 

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