Ecocentric

Climate: Student Reporters Take on Climate Change and Security

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Coincidences abound—just after posting an item on Representative Gabrielle Giffords’s focus on climate change and renewable energy as a national security issues, I run across a new multimedia project from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism that explores: climate change and national security. Called “Global Warning,” the website is the product of three months of investigations by student reporters at one of the best journalism schools in the U.S., with stories exploring the climate risks to energy infrastructure, the spread of disease in a warmer world, military clashes in a melting Arctic. Some of the pieces will also appear in the Washington Post and in McClatchy newspaper, but all of them will be found online on a website that includes sophisticated graphics, climate change timelines and even a global warming strategy game. As Josh Meyer, the director for education and outreach of the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative, said in a statement:

Reporting from the Arctic Circle, Bangladesh, Peru, Washington D.C. and elsewhere, the Medill students deliver a well-reported and well-told examination of an issue that, while largely neglected by the government and the media, is fast becoming one of the most serious national security concerns.

Meyer is certainly right that the climate story—and the climate security story especially—has been increasingly neglected. As the Daily Climate noted in a piece last week, climate coverage fell off the map last year in the wake of the failed Copenhagen summit:

Byline counts tend to be an imprecise measurement, but even anecdotally it’s easy to see fewer climate-related stories on the front pages of newspapers and the covers of magazines—including TIME. As Andrew Revkin noted over at Dot Earth, some of this may be do to a broadening of coverage—instead of just focusing on climate science, reporters might cover alternative power, or energy poverty in the developing world. But there’s no doubting that climate isn’t the hot ticket it once was. Environmental coverage tends to boom and bust, rising in the wake of disasters or major conferences, than dropping off as readers tire of the (understandably grim) news of the planet’s problems—and we’re in a bust right now.

But just because audiences and editors have tired of climate coverage doesn’t mean the problem has gone away—as even the Onion knows. Warming continues—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 2010 was tied with 1998 as the hottest year on record—and climate change may even have a hand in the weird weather that’s afflicted parts of the world this winter. And as the Global Warning series shows, climate change will likely have a major impact on U.S.—and global security—one the military and the CIA are just now beginning to address. The head of the CIA’s Center on Climate Change and National Security told Charles Mead and Annie Snider of Medill that the summer’s terrible floods in Pakistan might just be the beginning:

It has the exact same symptoms you would see for future climate change events, and we’re expecting to see more of them… We wanted to know: What are the conditions that lead to a situation like the Pakistan flooding? What are the important things for water flows, food security, [displaced people], radicalization, disease?

The good news is that the national security establishment—after years of being held back by climate skeptics in the White House—is beginning to come to grips with the challenges of a warmer world. But we’ll need an engaged media—and public—watching how that response plays out over the years and decades to come. In a world of shrinking media resources and shorter attention spans, that won’t be easy—but Medill’s Global Warning project shows how it can be done. Keep checking out the website in the weeks to come for new stories and graphics, and follow them on Twitter @globalwarn.

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