Telling the Climate Justice Story Well

Climate coverage has long overlooked the fact that people of color, indigenous people, the poor and other disadvantaged groups bear the brunt of most climate disasters.

Hannah McNeish / UN Environment

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**To journalists: This Thursday, June 11 at 5pm Eastern Time, CCNow will hold our next “Talking Shop” webinar, focused on the intersection of racial justice and the climate crisis. To learn more about the event and RSVP, click here.** 

For journalists, a complete and accurate telling of the climate story has to feature the people most affected by it as well as all of the people working to solve it. For too long, too much climate coverage has overlooked the fact that people of color, indigenous people, the poor and other disadvantaged groups bear the brunt of most climate disasters. At the same time, these people’s experiences and needs are often not included when governments, businesses, think tanks, and other elites discuss climate solutions, which only further entrenches the underlying inequities. The irony is that disadvantaged people are often at the forefront of climate innovation. Foregrounding issues of racial and economic justice is therefore the only way to get the story right.

Now is the time to connect the dots for our audiences between issues of justice and the climate crisis and its solutions. Audiences need help understanding climate change as more than a science or weather story — and the “climate justice” angle  leaves no shortage of opportunities for us to do that.

At Covering Climate Now, we’ve put together this reporting guide to help you and your colleagues think about how to make climate justice framing central to your overall climate coverage. And our Sharing Library has been updated with some of the pieces CCNow partners sent in response to our call for climate justice stories, including:

  • InsideClimate News describes how environmental groups, which have long struggled with diversity in their ranks, have reached an inflection point and are finally prioritizing social justice and racial equity. “It’s not enough simply to list diversity as one of our values,” one activist says. “Like climate change, there is no simple fix for racism—but we will not shy away from doing our part in this vital work.”
  • Grist reports on a new study showing that indigenous climate activists around the world face an outsized risk of criminalization, violence, and even death as a consequence of their work. “We can think of this as compounded injustice, highlighting the extreme risks vulnerable communities opposing social and environmental violence against them face when they stand up for their rights,” one researcher says. Also from Grist: How TV news ignores the devastating and disproportionate impact of hurricanes on communities of color. And how parts of the green movement are coming to grips with their racist past.
  • The Rising has two op-eds that break down the climate and social justice connection in clear terms. “When it comes to environmental justice, we just aren’t talking about social equity enough,” writes Emily Dao in one. “From unleashing toxic pollutants in neighborhoods populated by people of color to building oil pipelines on indigenous lands, environmental racism has a long and disturbing history,” writes Ari Kelo in the other, detailing how Covid-19 has laid bare environmental injustices in this country.
  • When polluting oil and gas wells are drilled near residences, it is often in communities of color. The Guardian reports on a new study showing how this affects health outcomes beginning at birth. Based on the records of 3 million births in California, the study found that pregnant women living close to active wells were much more likely to have babies with low birth weights and a higher risk of developmental issues.
  • Each of these stories is available for republication. All stories in the library pertaining to climate justice have been highlighted in yellow, including some very strong evergreen content from Columbia Journalism ReviewHuffPostYes! Magazine, and more. We will continue to update the library in this way as more stories come in from the group over the coming days.

    And here’s your weekly sampling of the latest in climate news, from across the Covering Climate Now collaboration.

  • Amidst a rebranding campaign, BP is “advertising the hell out of” a commitment to “net zero” emissions by 2050. The company promises publicly to be part of a green future, but its private statements are another matter. In a searing expose, based on documents leaked to Drilled News, Amy Westervelt paints a dubious picture. “We’re probably going to be in oil and gas for decades to come,” BP’s new CEO tells employees in a leaked video, “because how else is that $8 billion dividend going to get serviced?” This story is available for republication* by CCNow partners.
  • New Hampshire Public Radio and InsideClimate News collaborated on a timely deep dive into the landmark Supreme Court decision that forced the US government to take action on climate change by defining greenhouse gas as a pollutant. With the Trump administration seeking to roll back environmental regulations and a team of states and activists suing to stop it, could that decision soon be reversed? This story is available for republication* by CCNow partners. For an abridged, 2,000 word version of the story, click here. For public radio partners: A version of this story edited for a broadcast clock can be made available upon request. Contact outsidein@nhpr.org.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic has potentially pushed the fossil fuel industry into a state of “terminal decline,” according to a new study, Reuters reports. “We are witnessing the decline and fall of the fossil fuel system,” says a co-author of the study.
  • As economies around the world begin reopening, Bloomberg Green has devoted the first issue of its new print edition to highlighting how the Covid-19 economic pause is an opportunity for governments worldwide to “launch a clean energy future.” The special breaks down where stimulus spending might be put to best use in a variety of economic sectors, including energy, agriculture, housing, and more. But will leaders heed this opportunity? “If policy­makers can be conscious of the potential to solve two problems with one set of actions,” one expert says, “then there’s a reasonable chance that they will.”
  • Monday was World Oceans Day, and CBS News took a look at a new study showing that deep ocean water is warming at a faster pace than expected, as oceans continue to absorb excess carbon from the atmosphere, changing their chemistry in the process. That’s bad news for marine life, which in some cases will be forced to migrate, and indeed bad for humans, who depend on healthy oceans for rainfall, climate stabilization and so much more.
  • And one more story from the climate justice beat: Cities spend lavishly on lawsuits over police brutality. And yet, often, that’s the same money that might otherwise go towards climate resilience projects, CityLab reports, to the benefit of the same communities the police target with violence.

*When republishing any of the stories identified above as available, CCNow outlets must include the following tagline: “This story originally appeared in [insert name of original news outlet, with a link to the outlet’s homepage] and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.” Our complete Sharing Library, including further guidelines for content sharing, can be found here. Please note the special instructions for Guardian and HuffPost stories.