Climate solutions journalism is a balancing act: stories of the world burning up aren’t news anymore, without the proper context and oftentimes, solutions.
Climate affects every aspect of the news — politics, justice, reproductive rights and food. There’s a climate connection in everything, as we are all connected to our environment in some way. Without these everyday stories, eco-anxiety, or distress relating to the climate and ecological crises, continues to brew.
In a December 2021 study in The Lancet, young people, aged 16-25 around the world, agreed that the “future is frightening.” More than 50 percent of respondents said they are “sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless and guilty” about climate change. Forty-five percent said they worry that climate change is “negatively affecting their daily lives and functioning.” Fifty-nine percent described themselves as extremely worried, while 84 percent said they were at least moderately worried.
Sometimes, the problem is the story; journalism that describes what is happening is important. However, that doesn’t mean that every piece of climate journalism needs to be disaster-based.
“There’s a time and place to talk about the problem, to talk about the disaster, to talk about how we got into this,” Katherine Bagley, the executive editor of Grist, said. “Then there’s a time and place to talk about the solutions. Those don’t always have to be in the same story, but we’re at a point where we can learn how to get ourselves out of [the climate crisis].”
The initial story gives background to the problem and emphasizes the urgency of the climate crisis. Later on, there can be follow-up reporting to look critically at the solutions. Some of the shift to climate solutions journalism can be attributed to the growth of climate reporting in legacy newsrooms.
For example, the New York Times founded a Climate Desk in 2017, increasing its climate change coverage and reporting efforts. The Guardian also led climate change reporting with its 2015 podcast and campaign, “The Biggest Story in the World.”
Newsrooms and efforts like Currently, a weather service platform, and The Uproot Project, a network for journalists of color who cover environmental issues, have been emerging within the last few years as well.
“Ideally, climate would be part of every desk and every newspaper in some way,” Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist and founder of Currently, said. “Every story is a climate story.”
However, there’s a gap between what scientists and academics are saying about climate change and what people are actually grasping and processing. Therefore, solutions frame the problems and make them seem less inevitable and unmanageable. There must be a balance between the urgency of climate change as well as safety, joy and hope. Stories of disaster have to exist alongside those of climate activism and collective action.
“If you are just rehashing the program over and over you’re unconsciously building more likelihood for the disaster mindset to proliferate,” Holthaus said. “It’s our duty, as climate journalists, to build provisions and give voice to provisions of alternative futures that aren’t just a dystopia.”
Zaria Howell, Currently’s managing editor, said that using community members as “expert sources,” — along with academics and scientists — is a step towards building trust with surrounding communities experiencing the brunt of the climate crisis and strengthening journalism’s advocacy.
Abbie Veitch, Currently’s editor-in-chief, said that mutual aid and climate resilience are important community-centered solutions to cover as well.
“There is no silver bullet solution to climate change,” Veitch said. “I think more about what people are doing on the ground to keep each other safe and build strong communities. The stronger a community is, the more climate resilient they are. There’s almost always a community on the ground who’s already working on solutions, even if they don’t call it a climate solution.”
Similarly, Grist finds local partners to collaborate with on stories and republish their work in local papers and publications so that it reaches beyond their existing audience.
But sometimes, there is no solution, as there are systematic problems and oppression exacerbating — and causing — the climate crisis and climate disasters. Follow-up stories need to demonstrate the effectiveness of any solutions put in place as well.
“It’s an injustice to folks who are experiencing the worst of climate change for reporters to just tell their story and then walk away,” Holthaus said.
Additionally, not every solution works in every community. To properly pervade helplessness, solutions need to be curated for all types of communities. For example, putting diverse voices who have a deep understanding of the communities that they’re covering at the forefront of climate and environmental reporting avoids disaster-baiting conversation.
Howell urges climate reporters to think about climate change’s intersections with race, gender, and identity as well.
“There needs to be an added level of criticality,” they said. “If you’re covering climate, but not talking about class, racism, colonialism, then you’re not talking about weather, are you?”
These newsroom leaders also hold space for joy, as they use solutions journalism to combat both their own and their readers’ climate anxiety.
“You have to stop and smell the roses. Literally,” Howell said. “If you get burnt out and lose steam or become disillusioned with the movement entirely, we just lost another soldier. Appreciate the environment and try to remember that you too are a finite resource.”
Grist puts out different newsletters, like The Beacon, that share a piece of uplifting climate news each day.
Veitch turns to radical imagination.
“There is so much joy in experiencing weather, even when it’s changing,” she said. “There’s joy in building mutual aid and helping each other through this. Where could we be in the future if we’re imagining solutions together?”