How Reporters From Across The U.S. Cover The Climate Emergency
Across the world, journalists are stationed from Antarctica to the Amazon covering how climate change is impacting people’s lives.
At KQED in California, Molly Peterson has covered disasters like the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history that killed 85 people last year, the Woolsey Fire, which scorched 70,000 acres and killed three people in 2018, and the deadly mudslides in Montecito that killed 23 people the same year.
“When you have a forest fire in California, there are a lot of factors that go into what makes a fire worse,” she says. “Climate change is part of that. It's not the whole picture.”
She’s also covered California’s climate change initiatives like carbon-free cars by 2045 and the state’s efforts to regulate high temperatures in warehouses.
Over in Louisville, Kentucky, a city beside the Ohio River, energy and environment reporter for WFPL Ryan Van Velzer is concerned with the looming threat of a great flood hitting the area. The city has one of the largest flood protection systems in the country, he says, but the outdated floodwall was built between the 1940s and 1950s.
“Just last year, we had somebody die here in the city due to flash flooding,” he says. “And that's something that is only going to get worse.”
Further south in Miami, Telemundo’s Vanessa Hauc is covering rapidly melting glaciers in the Andes in Ecuador. Next week, her team is heading to Bolivia to report on the devastation left by the fires in the Amazon.
“It was just heartbreaking to see the devastation of the Amazon, such an important place on our planet,” says Huac, who serves as the director of the planet Earth investigative unit for Telemundo. “So it's been nonstop with the impacts of climate change.”
What’s it like being a climate change reporter right now in the U.S.?
Peterson, Van Velzer and Hauc join Here & Now’s Robin Young for a conversation about their work on climate change and how the beat has evolved.
On climate change disproportionately impacting people of color
Huac: “I mean, minorities are disproportionately affected by climate change and Latinos [are] among them. Half of our community lives in the 25 most polluted cities in the country. Latino children are 40% more likely to die from asthma than any other racial group … This is impacting directly our community so for me it is very, very important to give them the tools and information that they need in order to face the changes that are coming.”
On covering coal
Van Velzer: “Coal is tangentially related to climate change in that it is a big contributor to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We've seen the decline of coal over the last few years ... because of natural gas, but that's something that we have to deal with here. We have a governor's race going on right now that there's going to be an election in November. And earlier this year during the primary, particularly the Democratic primary, this was a major issue. You saw the three candidates each had their own plan for how to deal with the environment and particularly create a just economic transition for these communities that are depressed because of declining coal revenues.”
On reporting the intersection of climate change and other issues
Peterson: “As we see climate change intersect with labor, with housing, with economic issues, with health care, we cover it that way. What I see is there’s a different way that people in different positions economically who have different kinds of health care pick up these issues and interact with them.
“I put sensors with people who experience high heat in their homes, at work, and I covered it in schools. The people I talked to, particularly who work in warehouses where it can be above 95 degrees for a month out of the year and if we don't do anything about climate change, if we stay on the path we're on, it could be four months of the year that we see that kind of heat by the end of the century. And people in that position, when I give them sensors and I tell them what their heat index was, they kind of argue with me about the sensors. They say, ‘Well, yeah. That was a pretty hot day but it was even hotter.’ And they also say, ‘These sensors aren't for us, they're for you.’ In other words, there is this sense of covering haves and have-nots when it comes to climate change and people who are positioned to be ready for climate change and people who aren't. And I think that's not necessarily something that journalism always does particularly well anyway, so it's like we're amplifying the difficulties of journalism in climate coverage.”
On how the movement surrounding climate change has evolved
Van Velzer: “I have seen a sea change, just in the last year or so, in which the coverage has changed dramatically. But not just from journalists, I mean on-the-ground movements like Extinction Rebellion and The Sunrise Movement have so-far permeated culture that those movements are here in Kentucky. We have a youth movement with The Sunrise Movement going to Mitch McConnell's offices and demanding he brings the Green New Deal to the floor. We have Extinction Rebellion here planning a Climate Strike on September 20th.”
On people’s response to her reporting
Hauc: “I have been covering climate change for the past 17 years … There was a debate about if it was happening or not. But right now, there is consensus and I mean 97% of the scientific community agrees that this is happening and is due to human activity. So what I do when I report on this, we just focus on the science. There is no debate anymore. We need to start working on solutions, on mitigation and adaptation. And for Telemundo, we take it very very seriously.
“Earlier this year, we decided to change the way that we talk about climate change. We are now talking about a climate emergency and I feel that it's wonderful to see that we have more journalists on this beat. We have been seeing in the past couple of years how different networks are creating units specializing in climate change. For me personally, I see that there is much more coverage about the issue.”
This story originally appeared on NPR and WBUR's Here and Now. It is republished here as part of Illinois Newsroom's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story
This segment aired on September 17, 2019.