All of us are aware that climate change is happening, but what steps can we take to truly help prevent and reverse its damage?
This is the question visiting professor Robert Hackett of Simon Fraser University in Canada came to help students answer when he came to USF on Wednesday February 19.
In his discussion on the role of Journalism in Global Crisis, Hackett gave an innovative and thought-provoking lecture to a room full of media studies students and professors, and his ideas about the role of media in a global climate crisis reach far beyond journalism.
“Imagine a large boat — the biggest in the world — is going full speed into an iceberg,” said Hackett. “Everyone can see it happening and there aren’t enough lifeboats to save everyone. The ship’s captains decided to power full speed ahead without the consent of the passengers.”
This Titanic metaphor is how Hackett began to explain the current state of our climate crisis to the audience. The reality, he says, is that we are all on that ship moving in full force into the iceberg — or into environmental destruction — with not enough people aware of what they can do to slow it down.
“If the captain isn’t listening, then maybe we need alternative public spheres,” he said.
Hackett argues that a more climate focused journalism will create better areas of discussion among the public, as both the media and public can come together to get the attention of world governments, call for action, and declare a state of emergency on our climate.
“We need to ask ourselves, what kind of restrictions [do] governments [and] democracies need to put into place now to protect future generations,” said Hackett, pointing to Ecuador as an example, which became the first country in the world to give nature legal and enforceable rights in 2008, as seen in Article 71-74 of the Constitution of Ecuador.
According to Hackett, this question needs to be in the forefront of the media: “Journalism is about how to make democracy work and informing the public about the nature of the situation and motivating public engagement,” he said.
Hackett supports the idea of “crisis discipline” journalism, which he describes as the responsibility of journalists and the media to focus on urgent matters to collectively gain the attention of the public and government.
This frame of journalism goes beyond informing the public, with the goal of producing more problem-solution oriented news to outline the steps we can all take to help reduce climate damage: “Focusing on ethical obligations will help society respond to environmental signals and make the decision process transparent.”
Hackett also discussed current remedies that he believes are not doing our climate any favors or miracles: “We need to question ‘green marketing.’ We cannot consume our way out of this problem,” he said, referring to the idea behind “technological utopianism,” the thought that technology will simply find a way to fix global warming, as another hopeful factor that is hurting the path toward climate justice.
Hackett also suggested the media abandon old ways of representing problems: “We need to avoid comparisons; saying environmental issues in China are worse than in the U.S. isn’t going to solve anything.”
Media and Gender Studies Professor Barker-Plummer found Hackett’s ideas relevant and informative. “If we take seriously the environmental crisis, he is right that we need a new, more engaged journalism to really inform and activate people around it,” she said.
Junior media studies major Brittney Montag appreciated Hackett’s international perspective. “It was interesting to hear from a professor from, not only another school, but another country,” Montag said, “He definitely got me thinking about where the journalism field may be headed,” she continued.
The information is out there about the effects of climate change, what Hackett is saying is that we need more access to solutions. So what are the first steps? For journalists, Hackett suggested using resources available like www.seg.org (Society for Environmental Journalists) to learn more about the environment and www.tycee.ca to learn more about solution-oriented journalism. He believes that it is in the hands of the media to communicate this issue to the public in the most efficient and informative way possible, who in turn can create alternate public spheres to discuss and start local movements to combat climate change. “The media needs to suggest urgency, ways to help the situation, and offer solutions.”