Island Voices: Where have all the climate-crisis reporters gone?

Most reasonable residents of this rock hurtling through space know that climate change is without a doubt the worst crisis that has ever faced humankind. You would think every major Canadian news outlet would have at least one reporter, if not a team, diligently reporting, analyzing, commenting on and editorializing on what is undoubtedly the most consequential story ever.

But there are only a handful on the environment beat. It’s comparable to having no Canadian war correspondents covering the Second World War.

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But it wasn’t always that way. In 1988, when the first global climate conference to be widely reported on was held in Toronto, all major news media had specialized science and environment reporters. The CBC had Eve Savory, the Globe and Mail had Michael Keating and David Israelson covered the environment beat for the Toronto Star. It was the golden age of responsible, informed environmental journalism.

Since then, advertising revenues have plummeted as social media gained in popularity and became, for some people, their sole news source.

In the course of researching my latest book, There Is No Planet B: Promise and Peril on Our Warming World, I read many comprehensive, well-researched pieces on the climate-change issue written by well-informed journalists from Europe and the U.S. But there was only one Canadian journalist, Raveena Aulakh of the Toronto Star, producing work of the same quality.

While there are some excellent smaller publications in Canada that take reporting on the environment and the politics of it seriously — the Tyee, the National Observer, the Halifax Examiner, to name a few — the media giants that have lobbied for federal funding to save their businesses have done little in the way of real public-interest reporting on the environment to demonstrate they deserve our support.

The subject of climate change is highly political, complex and rife with conspiracy theories and fake news. It needs rigorous, objective reporting by experienced journalists. In the U.S., 24 universities offer specialized journalism degrees in environmental writing and reporting. But, incredibly, no journalism school in Canada offers a similar course. Like many others, my alma mater, University of King’s College, offers only a basic course on science and the media.

But even if those specialized journalism courses were available in Canada, would their graduates get hired? We have teams of reporters covering business, sports, fashion and lifestyles, but precious few covering the environment. Yet climate change is already having an effect on every one of these areas.

The insurance industry is reeling from billions of dollars in claims from extreme weather events such as forest fires, floods and ice storms. The 2022 FIFA World Cup will be the first to be held in winter, not summer, because summer temperatures are rising higher than average due to climate change. Lack of snow in recent years has hurt ski resorts all over the world. The 2014 Winter Games in Sochi depended on snow that was 80 per cent manmade because there wasn’t enough of the real stuff.

Devastating wildfires consume whole towns with astonishing speed. These massive fires create their own thunderstorms — technically known as pyro cumulonimbus clouds — that tower over the conflagration, shooting black smoke and carbon into the lower stratosphere, spewing noxious gases and sparking more fires up to 20 kilometres away.

When the army was called out in 2003 to fight the wildfires in the Okanagan, my unit deployed and I watched in shock in the blast furnace heat as trees literally exploded, a phenomenon known as candling. But the latest wildfires are generating a vortex of super-heated, high-speed winds that spawn a terrifying natural event that resembles something from Dante’s Inferno: immense spires of whirling flames called fire devils that bake the forest floor up to a metre deep.

Why wouldn’t any news editor or TV producer with a nose for news want to devote as much time and resources to climate change and the environment as they do to the latest movie or Twitter trends? The climate crisis story is one of global proportions and has all the trappings of a John le Carré epic thriller: international political pissing contests, armed conflict, natural disasters, trillions of dollars at stake and billions of lives hanging in the balance.

It is astounding to me (and a tad depressing, I confess) that Canadian journalists are missing out on the story of several lifetimes.

Trevor Greene is a Canadian Forces veteran of Afghanistan, a journalist and a bestselling author.

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