The importance of balance in climate journalism

Adam Heywood, Founder and Creative Director of environmental magazine Bloom in Doom, highlights the importance of positive narratives in tackling the climate crisis.

Mountain

Illustration by @nathalied_art

Adam Heywood

I’m going to start a hopeful article off with a couple of negative, quite frankly, terrifying headlines you may have come across recently: ‘Heatwaves at both of Earth’s poles alarms climate scientists’ declares the Guardian. ‘IPCC report warns of ‘irreversible’ impacts of global warming’ – BBC News blares.   

Scared? You should be. 

To be honest, it would be easier for me to just finish this article here. I could leave you stewing in a sense of eco-anxiety and not offer any sense of an ultimatum or solution. In a way, pessimism (perhaps acceptance) is always the easiest way out. 

Climate coverage in the mainstream media has, for the most part, a lot to answer for. It is often overwhelmingly negative and often explores topics that seem too big and too complicated for one person to possibly make a feasible difference. A ‘hyperobject’, if you will. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. “One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise,” said F.Scott Fitzgerald. I happen to wholeheartedly agree. 

My worse lull of eco-anxiety came about because of the relentlessly negative environmental news coverage. Out of this, I was lucky enough to have a supportive network of people around to help me establish Bloom in Doom – an online and print publication exploring positive/solution-based climate stories. 

Like any established institution, large media platforms will not change overnight, but as readers, we can make change come to us. We are caught in the rut of a self-destructive habit by consuming these stories that are in the same format over and over again. Most of the time, we don’t even realise we are doing it. It is a habit that is very hard to break but simply supplementing your daily dose of news with a couple of more hopeful stories will lead to a refreshing sense of empowerment and a renewal of hope for the planet. 

I am not here to suggest positive storytelling is the right way to report on the climate crisis, simply that is a way that remains underestimated. The clue is in the title, like in all things, moderation and balance are key. To truly bloom, we need the doom. For us to be galvanised we need purposeful energy – we’re all atom-smashers in the making. 

Stories like the incredible women behind Kenya’s Mangrove restoration, the man who built 60,000 homes for Swifts or the Indigenous groups working to protect 80per cent of the Amazon in Peru and Ecuador give us the hope we need to carry on the fight. They allow us to amplify the voices of those that so often go unheard. 

The power of storytelling within the human race remains unequalled. Although, when it comes to stories of climate change I know it sometimes feels like we are always on the losing side. Equally, the narrative of the victorious underdog has captivated audiences for thousands of years. The seemingly impossible challenge creates the catalyst for tales of resilience and (hope) which exist for generations. Who is David without Goliath? Just another egotistical white man with an overcompensating sword. What is Romeo and Juliet without the family feud? It’s basically Love Actually. 

Even in climate change stories, the ‘little guys’ can come out on top. Such as the time when the grassroots activist group Stop Cambo came up against Shell and won. This, excitingly, is a narrative we are starting to read more of if we look in the right places. Positive climate journalism exists outside the realm of the ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ mentality which dominates our mainstream media outlets. 

As a storytelling device, it usually allows itself to focus on those taking climate action within their local communities. The world is now inside our phones yet it remains a dauntingly big place. Positive environmental stories can help to break down these ‘hyperobjects’ I mentioned earlier. By reading about these incredible individuals and organisations taking tangible steps to improve their small patch of the world you are giving them visibility. In turn, this can help inspire people like you and me or Rob next door, maybe leading to a replication of a project within your local context. 

If you are reading this it’s not because you have been forced to. I am hoping it is because the title and subject matter around the role of positive journalism caught your eye. In the short term, simply changing your reading habits when it comes to reading climate news (or any news) to include a more eclectic mix of messages is something worth celebrating. Just as the amazing stories you will read about are worth shouting about too. I would call this armchair activism, back of the bus activism or looking-at-your-phone-on-a-boring-work-zoom-call-oh-no-do-you-think-it-was-obvious activism. 

The concept of the underdog remains a pivotal part of the fight for climate justice but is always reassuring to know that just 3.5 per cent of a country’s population has never failed to bring about radical change once they are mobilised. 3.5 per cent to topple an entrenched dictatorship, 3.5 per cent to end our reliance on fossil fuels? Perhaps. Positive climate journalism is the mouthpiece of real change but we must remain in tune with the plights we all face. Charles Dickens had never been so right when he wrote “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.

I would suggest trying the 5:1 ratio to begin with – reading five ‘typical’ news stories, but ending your reading with one positive one. Platforms I recommend for positive environmental journalism include: Emergence Magazine, Atmos, Positive News, Mongabay, HubBub, Intersectional Environmentalist, Bloom in Doom Magazine.