We launched the Climate Reporting Guide for South Africa
And this newsletter.
On 16 September, we formally launched the Fossil Free SA Climate Reporting Guide for South Africa online, with around 35 people in attendance.
The event was reported in GroundUp/Daily Maverick.
Our thanks again to all our panelists: leading science writer Leonie Joubert, Luleka Dlamini of the Climate Lab at UCT’s ACDI, and Thando Lukuko, network coordinator of the SACAN climate NGO coalition, for their generous participation, and to Glen Tyler of 350 Africa who so ably chaired the meeting.
Thando Lukuko (watch on YouTube) offered a civil society perspective on climate reporting in SA, emphasising that the media should be aiming to bring often marginalised human narratives to readers’, viewers’ and listeners attention.
Luleka Dlamini (watch on YouTube) of the UCT Climate Lab addressed the emerging methane crisis. Like carbon dioxide, methane is a potent greenhouse/warming gas that human beings are adding to the atmosphere in increasing quantities.
Leonie Joubert (watch on YouTube) spoke about the role of narrative journalism in climate reporting, and poignantly outlined the plight of the bellwether species, the African penguin – currently on track for extinction within 15 years. These are not just penguins, their perilous status is a warning light pointing to threatened ecosystems that we cannot afford to ignore.
Jo-Anne Smetherham of Fossil Free SA, my co-writer of the guide, explained the contributions of scientists from UCT and Wits, and of our civil society peers, to reviewing the guide, which will be iterative – we welcome feedback, and look forward to continually improving the Guide.
The context: a climate emergency
As we described during the event, this is a genuine emergency: that has been made clear by these two recent, terribly under-reported stories:
The Conversation: Methane emissions reach new highs
Our politicians should be getting emergency briefings on this science from our climate scientists. To have a chance of averting the worst climate damage, we need the world to cut carbon pollution by 50% in the next decade; failure to do so will bring terrible costs for humanity.
Questions asked by our guests, and our answers
These have been somewhat edited for clarity and brevity.
Q. Climate change stories are often so debilitating, so how do we make communication land, so that people feel empowered to take action and to address the situation?
A1. Climate change is just one manifestation of a set of human systems that are causing us problems in many different realms. There is a link between the poverty and inequality that and the corruption that is the major preoccupation of our media and South Africa, and climate change, and that link is the nature of our economic and social systems. If we can start to unpack that if we can start to see that it fixing the climate problem we can also start to address these other problems that have been with us for so long. We’ve become too accustomed to the many problems that come with, with the use of fossil fuels, not just climate change, but also air pollution, land and water degradation, and all these other issues, and when we seriously address the climate issue we’re going to create many opportunities for strengthening our society in ways that we didn’t expect.
A2. There’s a big emerging new beat called solutions journalism. There’s a very strong sort of psychological foundation for why solutions journalism is important. To be effective in communicating around this difficult, and terrifying topic, it’s very clear that you need a balance between saying how bad it is, but then giving people a sense of agency within their lives and their community. Solutions journalism is not about Pollyanna thinking, silver lining thinking; it’s about asking, within the context of this story and this audience and this community, what is the solution to this problem, and reporting that. That gives people an ability to find and think about their own solutions and pointing to what works can allow them to feel that they can actually do something, even though the crisis is so dire.
Q. What role can the guide play in connecting average people in getting their stories into the media?
A. We often hear about about citizen journalism and citizens and science, and it’s essential to create this bigger weave. The challenge is to find ways to draw in storytellers because not everyone has learned the actual skills to find ways to enable and facilitate people to become storytellers. We as journalists need to become activists within our newsrooms, whether as freelancers or in a newsroom, to lobby and motivate editors to make the story touch every single beat, and create platforms to allow the citizen journalists to tell that story.
Q. Leonie mentioned that journalists are not holding accountable those responsible for the climate crisis. How can journalists actually do this in an effective way?
A. In energy reporting, we always need remind people that BP and Shell and Sasol and Exxaro etc, are not just selling energy – but also creating enormous economic destruction that now outweighs the benefits of their energy. Also, the section of the guide entitled The Deeper Stories attempts to unpacks the deeper underlying causes of the climate crisis. That section of the guide, hopefully, gives you a way of unpacking accountability for this crisis. Often we overestimate the role that technology has to to play in resolving this crisis... Technology of course is absolutely essential. We need to change the fundamental energy technology that is driving our world and need to make move to have a sustainable forms of energy. But the reason why we’re not implementing that technology at the speed that we need at the moment is because of a lack of democracy in many instances. The real technology that we need to solve this crisis is is human technology, social technology. We need informed, empowered active citizens who are lobbying for the changes that we need in our energy system and in other parts of the economy to really push for these these changes at the speed that we need.
Q. ‘How do journalists and readers tell the difference between real climate crisis stories vs greenwashing stories?’
A. More information and understanding is vital. We need understanding that institutions are complex and can often, in fact, usually, are doing ‘good’ things and bad things simultaneously – and we have to unpack and identify and discouraged the bad things, and identify and encourage the ‘good’. Fossil fuel companies greenwash by greatly exaggerating in their marketing the relatively small proportion of their activities that are benign, and ignoring the immense destruction that still dominates their business models. This ploy is easy to understand and to explain to people.
Q. What can South African citizens concerned about actually climate change do?
A1. An ideal answer should be to try to vote for politicians who are concerned about the issues, but we know that’s hard in our flawed and unaccountable democracy. The next answer is to speak to people of influence in your sphere, and ask them to show leadership. Push your church or company or school or university to take leadership on the climate emergency in whatever ways suit that domain. Political leadership on climate exists to some degree, but is deeply ambiguous, contradictory and compromised. There is a terrible dearth of visible social leadership on climate issues in SA: We just don’t yet have CEOs and celebs and thought leaders standing up and sounding the alarm on this crisis, and we really need that.
A2. Solutions journalism is also ESSENTIAL for leaving people with a sense of agency, in spite of how terrifying the situation is. We need to push the message about needing SYSTEM level change, i.e., we have to move beyond the message that a few well-meaning people will fix the problem by recycling or driving less. We need government to regulate business so that they can’t keep dumping their massive pollution into the common space of our atmosphere.’
Feedback on the event and the guide
‘Thanks for this inspiring event.’ – Karen Watkins, Cape Community Newspapers
‘Thanks for this presentation and all the work that went into creating the guide.’ – Liani Maasdorp, UCT
‘Huge congratulations. This is a really important addition to the science communications space, well done.’ – Leonie Joubert, science writer
‘So appreciate this session and look forward to reading the guide. Thanks for sharing this work. Inspired and urgent.’ – Miki Redelinghuys, Plexus Films
‘Very useful insights on storytelling, thank you.’ – Lameez Omarjee, News24
‘Very useful resource, thank you, we will introduce our #PowerTracker mentees to it 👏’ – Fiona Macleod, Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism
‘Thank you so much👏👏this was very informative and helpful. Especially for myself as a citizen journalist. I’ve learned a lot and I can’t wait to read and go through the presentations.’ – Keamogetswe Thomas
Thanks for reading Climate Beat SA! Subscribe to receive future updates.