SEJ 2022 Focus on environmental Justice

Christine Heinrichs
News Feed
Monday, May 16, 2022

A Roseate Spoonbill flew over our heads as our group of about 20 assembled in the parking lot of the High Island Bird Sanctuary in Texas. We caught our breath. Welcome to SEJ 2022, the Society of Environmental Journalists annual conference.

A Roseate Spoonbill flew over our heads as our group of about 20 assembled in the parking lot of the High Island Bird Sanctuary in Texas. We caught our  breath. Welcome to SEJ 2022, the Society of Environmental Journalists annual conference.

The birding tour was one of nine all-day tours to kick off the annual conference. Birds, Conservation, Diversity and Inclusion brought several of the conference’s themes together. Other tours explored sustainable fishing; the implications of climate change solutions for Houston, the Oil and Gas Capital; wildfire; clean energy; flood protection; environmental racism in Houston’s Ship Channel; corporate stonewalling to climate threats; and changes to highway construction to consider environmental justice. 

Just under 600 journalists, experts in these subjects and generalists filling in their background, gathered in Houston March 30-April 3 for the conference. SEJ worked with the Uproot Project, a free network for journalists of color who cover the environment. Uproot is a professional organization to support career advancement among journalists of color. SEJ awarded 26 Diversity Fellowships to attend the conference. 

In my 20th year of SEJ membership, I greeted old friends, those who had led the organization in earlier years. Experienced conference attendees were matched with first-timers. Mine were three young women, full of energy and ideas. 

That vibrant energy powered the conference. SEJ’s work to broaden its ranks with minority journalists is succeeding. More black and brown faces mixed at meals and inspired discussions during sessions. 

Rice University sponsored the conference. Houston prides itself on being the Energy Capital of the World. Thanks to its location at low elevation on the Gulf of Mexico, it floods frequently. Sea level rise puts its oil, gas and petrochemical plants at risk, along with those of neighboring Louisiana. Flooding and chemical contamination disproportionately affect communities of color.

THE WORK OF REPORTING

The focus was on helping reporters do their job of standing in for the public and providing information that their audiences, in their personal lives as well as their political lives, need. News affects how the public navigates climate crises, from the immediate of fire and flood, to the policy side of breaking through industry-packed political functions. 

Sessions included digital tools to deal with hacking, doxing and working with data to track toxic contamination, oil and gas extraction, mining and mapping environmental justice. 

ENERGY TRANSITION

Clean renewable energy is key to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing the climate crisis. Sessions explored various strategies forward, such as hydrogen as a green fuel. Sammy Roth, energy reporter for the LA Times, raised questions about hydrogen production products such as nitrogen oxides, which contribute to smog; as yet unknown costs; pipeline requirements; and the danger of explosion. He called it “a combination of hope and skepticism.” 

Natural gas, promoted as a clean alternative to coal, is another fossil fuel. Industry lobbying has opposed laws requiring new construction to be all-electric, which can be produced from renewable sources. Advocating for substituting one fossil fuel for another prolongs the transition to clean fuel.

Carbon capture, use and sequestration sounds like a solution, but as Sara Sneath reported for Southerly, that path is fraught with pitfalls. No carbon capture plant has met its goals, and many emitted more greenhouse gas (GHG) than they captured. Preventing the production of GHG is a more direct route to reducing GHG.

OCEAN ISSUES

Oceans got attention in an all-day workshop, plenary discussion and related sessions. Oceans have absorbed substantial carbon, but at the cost of acidic changes that affect the animals and plants for which they are habitat.

Plastic pollution contaminates water and beaches. According to The Nurdle Patrol, policy and business practices, and stopping plastic production at the source can reduce this aspect of ocean trash.

Sea level rise is already causing regular flooding in coastal areas. the National Oceanic Administration (NOAA)’s sea level rise viewer shows Gulf Coast petrochemical facilities can expect to be inundated.

“Failure to plan is planning to fail,” one participant said.

Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud, executive director for Bayou City Waterkeeper, made the case for the Personhood of Water, as a way to advocate for the environment. Corporations have legal standing in court. “It sounds a little radical, but it might be what we need right now,” she said.

RELIGION AND CLIMATE CRISIS

Participants examined the spiritual side of their work in sessions on religion. Katherine Hayhoe, who has appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, is a climate change scientist serving as chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy. She speaks from a Christian perspective.She quoted examples of Bible scripture to support stewardship of God’s Earth and caring for the poor. 

WHAT'S OBJECTIVE

Journalists overflowed the session on When the Truth is Not Neutral: The Myth of Absolute Objectivity in Reporting. The panel was led by Emily Holden, founder and editor in chief of Floodlight, and included LA Times’ Sammy Roth and Sara Shipley Hiles, associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism. Roth devoted one of his Boiling Point newsletters to discussion of the issue

Traditional journalism required early climate change coverage to include “both sides” in news stories, even though editors and reporters understood that climate change was questioned only by a fringe group of scientists. Their efforts were later unmasked, as paid work for fossil fuel companies, in Merchants of Doubt. Journalism’s struggle to call Donald Trump’s false and misleading pronouncements “lies” indicates the continuing issues for reporters.

While environmental reporters separated themselves from the advocacy of 20th-century environmentalists, using objectivity as a shield served the power structure and obscured the real stories. No one questions that political reporters favor democracy or that education reporters favor good education. It’s not controversial to be in favor of a clean environment. 

“Advocating nothing is advocating for the status quo,” Holden said. 

Framing environmental transition stories as Jobs vs. Environment is inaccurate. The workforce is not the industry. Renewable energy creates new jobs, and fossil fuel jobs are declining. Policy makers are in position to address the transition.

Holden recommended reporters read their own stories with an eye to asking, Did I miss the message? The historic journalistic View from Nowhere objectivity is being re-evaluated, to a View from Somewhere.

How reporters cover the news, what stories editors select, the words and images we choose to tell the stories, continue to evolve. One of the guidelines I like to use is, How would I tell a friend what happened? Sessions like this one, bringing thoughtful journalists together for frank, if uncomfortable, exchanges, strengthen all of our work. 

TOURING AND PARTYING

Saturday afternoon mini-tours invited everyone out of the conference center, to see Prairie Chickens, paddle kayaks around Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve, bike the bayous, take a pontoon boat on Buffalo Bayou, or take a walking tour around Houston or the Rice campus.  

Rice put on a party Saturday night, with art events and live music for dancing.

BREAKFAST AND BOOKS

The Houston Arboretum set up tables for breakfast under the trees. Historian Douglas Brinkley discussed the political background of his new book, out in November, Silent Spring Revolution. It’s the third in his environmental politics trilogy, from Theodore Roosevelt, through Franklin Roosevelt, to this volume, covering World War II to 1973. It explores the legacies of Rachel Carson, JFK and LBJ in the “great environmental awakening.”

A panel of Rice professors who have written books followed. Two have experienced Houston’s flooding, and wrote about how that affected them and their neighborhoods. Dan Cohan, who teaches civil engineering, found that his entire curriculum needed revision after he studied climate change.

RECORDINGS AVAILABLE

Most sessions were recorded and will be made available to the public through SEJ. Some are already available, thanks to Bernardo Motta.

Read the full story here.
Photos courtesy of
Christine Heinrichs
Christine Heinrichs

Christine Heinrichs writes from her home on California’s Central Coast. She keeps a backyard flock of about a dozen hens. She follows coastal issues, writing a regular column on the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery for the San Luis Obispo Tribune. Her narrative on the Central Coast condor flock will appear in Ten Spurs 2021 edition.

Her book, How to Raise Chickens, was first published in 2007, just as the local food movement was starting to focus attention on the industrial food system. Backyard chickens became the mascot of local food. The third edition of How to Raise Chickens was published in January 2019. The Backyard Field Guide to Chickens was published in 2016. Look for them in Tractor Supply stores and online.

She has a B.S. in Journalism from the University of Oregon and belongs to several professional journalism and poultry organizations.

Young Farmers Are Growing Food for Climate Action and Racial Justice

A version of this article originally appeared in the October issue of the Deep Dish, our monthly newsletter for members. Become a member today to receive the next issue. Edwards woke up most days terrified of what her future would look like as the climate crisis intensified. She also learned about the devastating rates of […] The post Young Farmers Are Growing Food for Climate Action and Racial Justice appeared first on Civil Eats.

A version of this article originally appeared in the October issue of the Deep Dish, our monthly newsletter for members. Become a member today to receive the next issue. As a teenager, Iriel Edwards couldn’t wait to get out of rural Louisiana. But while studying entomology at Cornell University in New York, her path began to change, curving unexpectedly back toward home. Edwards woke up most days terrified of what her future would look like as the climate crisis intensified. She also learned about the devastating rates of Black land loss and food insecurity in the rural South. She worked in a greenhouse on a project that investigated rice varieties brought from West Africa by enslaved people. Then one day in the library, she discovered Leah Penniman’s book, Farming While Black. “I had never even visualized that possibility for me before then,” she said. Now, she adds, “farming feels like a practical, tangible thing that somebody can do to make change here and now.” Edwards, 24, works for Jubilee Justice, where she manages a 5-acre farm in Alexandria, Louisiana, on land that was once a plantation. There, her team of Black farmers just wrapped up its third trial season of growing rice using a climate-friendly system called the System of Rice Intensification, or SRI. The organization’s mill will come online before the end of the year, enabling them to begin selling the grain. At the same time, she has started to grow vegetables on her own plot of land with a partner who grows mushrooms. “Farming feels like a practical, tangible thing that somebody can do to make change here and now.” According to the results of the National Young Farmers Coalition’s 2022 survey, many of Edwards’ peers share her motivations. Of the 4,300-plus farmers under age 40 who responded, 83 percent said that environmental conservation was one of their primary motivations for farming; meanwhile, 29 percent of all farmers, 54 percent of BIPOC farmers, and 74 percent of Black farmers surveyed ranked anti-racism work among their primary motivations. The survey also shows that little has improved for young farmers in the last five years, as a significant percentage of respondents reported facing the same challenges to success they identified back in 2017. They’re still struggling to access capital and to manage high healthcare, housing, and production costs. Student debt is still an issue but doesn’t rank as highly as before, likely because most people have paused their payments during the pandemic. And if President Biden’s plan for partial debt relief is implemented soon, many farmers are likely to benefit, said Carolina Mueller, the rancher and coalition manager who worked closely on the survey. However, the challenge once again topping the list is finding and affording land—and over the past five years, it has likely gotten worse, Mueller said. Early in the pandemic, wealthy buyers flooded rural areas, driving land values up. At the same time, foreign investors, billionaires, and corporations have also been buying up farmland at high rates. “It’s overwhelming how much of a challenge accessing land is for young farmers,” she said. “Young farmers are politically and socially driven . . . they want to solve the world’s issues and they have the energy to do it. [The government should] support people who are ready to do that work.” Edwards says land is fortunately still affordable in Central Louisiana. Even so, she is now one of 100 land advocacy fellows spread out all over the country advocating for local and national policies that will guarantee equitable access to land for the next generation of farmers. And she has witnessed the impact of Black land loss in her work with Jubilee Justice: In working with Black farmers, she has been made aware that, “there are not very many of us.” Like close to three-quarters of the farmers surveyed, Edwards has also witnessed the impacts of climate change as she plants and harvests. As older farmers age out and farming gets more difficult due to weather extremes, she said, supporting young farmers will become even more critical. “Young farmers are politically and socially driven, they’re environmentally conscious, they want to engage with their community, they want to solve the world’s issues—and they have the energy to do it,” Edwards said. “Instead of allowing for barriers to persist . . . [the government should] support people who are ready to do that work.” The post Young Farmers Are Growing Food for Climate Action and Racial Justice appeared first on Civil Eats.

Communities and Working with Nature the Key to Mitigating Climate Change in Africa

Farmer Ndaula Liwela, from Machita settlement in Namibia’s Zambezi province, points to the scattered flowers of a baobab tree lying on the dry ground close to her homestead. “The fruit this year will be small and few,” she says, even though the iconic tree is known for its ability to store water and thrive in […] The post Communities and Working with Nature the Key to Mitigating Climate Change in Africa appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

Farmer Ndaula Liwela, from Machita settlement in Namibia’s Zambezi province, points to the scattered flowers of a baobab tree lying on the dry ground close to her homestead. “The fruit this year will be small and few,” she says, even though the iconic tree is known for its ability to store water and thrive in dry conditions. It’s several weeks after she would normally have planted her crops, “but we stopped ploughing when we saw the clouds were not even starting to build”. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP27 took place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from 6 to 18 November 2022, where ‘the African COP’ hoped to mobilize the funds and actions needed for a climate-resilient Africa, but this means very little to Liwela, whose immediate concern is around how to feed her family in the face of an increasingly uncertain future. Image credit: Nikhil Advani, WWF-US Her home in Namibia’s northernmost province lies within the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA), the five-country transboundary park formed to protect biodiversity while supporting people who live in the landscape. It is not far from the Zambezi River, but is water-scarce. Each year, Liwela supplements her livelihood by harvesting baobab and other wild fruits, but this year, even this wild pantry looks likely to let her down. Many parts of Africa are increasingly affected by the dry season growing hotter and rainy seasons arriving later. Extreme events such as drought are increasing in frequency and severity. “Liwela’s story is not unique. Over the last year, we have interviewed farmers, fishers, grass harvesters, and many others who rely on natural resources in this region. They have noted the impacts of changing weather patterns on their ability to sustain themselves. This leaves them vulnerable, not just to climate change impacts, but also to other shocks, like the COVID-19 pandemic,” says WWF Namibia’s Sigrid Nyambe. She has been working with communities in this region to gather data on climate change impacts on communities as part of WWF’s Climate Crowd program. This information informs pilot projects to help rural communities adapt to the changes they are experiencing while reducing pressure on biodiversity. The latest IPCC Working Group II report on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability shows that many climate risks are bigger than previously anticipated, particularly for vulnerable African countries. Many nations have included nature-based solutions as part of their national climate change adaptation plans, but need financial and technical support for action at a grassroots level. Image credit: Nikhil Advani, WWF US Addressing the Forum on Finance for Nature-Based Solutions organised by the UNFCCC’s Standing Committee of Finance, UN Climate Change Deputy Executive Secretary Ovais Sarmad said: “We face a double crisis of climate change and nature. The two are inextricably linked. The mutual, intertwined destruction grows worse by the day. If nature and climate change are linked, it only stands to reason that nature-based solutions lie at the heart of addressing both.” Yet, according to Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, in a recent article for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “only about 133 billion dollars are channeled into nature-based solutions, and investments must triple by 2030 to meet the climate, the nature, and land-neutrality targets.” “In the last few years, we’ve seen two crises climate change and a global pandemic – intersect. Both impact the most vulnerable communities the hardest and affect how people interact with their natural resources,” says WWF director of climate, communities, and wildlife Nikhil Advani. For example, in Namibia, climate change and the pandemic both increased the unsustainable use of natural resources, says Advani, who also runs the African Nature-Based Tourism Platform. This project was launched in 2021 to connect funders to communities involved in nature-based tourism across 11 countries in eastern and southern Africa, helping to identify the hardest-hit communities and enterprises and their most pressing needs. Over half of Namibians interviewed in 2021-2022 for the Climate Crowd project reported direct impacts on local wildlife, including high mortality rates and wildlife migration to other areas where water and food are more abundant. Fifty-eight percent of respondents reported that crops had failed or produced very little in recent years, and 62% noted declines in livestock health. About three-quarters of respondents said that the wild fruits harvested seasonally are also declining. And as natural resources become increasingly difficult to find, more people and their livestock come into conflict with wildlife. “The data we’ve collected shows that we need to focus more on adaptation efforts that protect the people who are most vulnerable,” he said. Within KAZA, there are examples and opportunities for resilience-building through initiatives that are also climate adaptation strategies. These practical, nature-compatible pilot projects being implemented through Climate Crowd often draw on solutions shaped by a community’s own traditional, indigenous and local knowledge and practices. Beekeeping is an environmentally friendly and potentially lucrative complementary industry helping communities cope with unpredictable crop yields. Youth in these communities are frequently unemployed and lack access to income-generating activities as rain-fed agriculture declines. In Namibia, one such project involves training youths from Muyako, Omega 3, and Luitcikxom villages in Bwabwata National Park in beekeeping. David Mushavanga, a local bee farmer with over 16 years of experience, will implement the project in partnership with WWF Climate Crowd and the Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Tourism. Other projects being implemented in Namibia will focus on increasing water security through rainwater harvesting and solar powered boreholes, climate-smart agriculture, installing clean cookstoves, and other alternative livelihoods such as craft making. Image credit: Nikhil Advani, WWF US “Climate Crowd is a bottom-up, community-driven initiative. It’s important to support projects the community feels a sense of ownership over. These projects can help them build resilience to multiple shocks and stressors. Environmental emergencies such as climate change could cause social and economic damages far larger than those caused by COVID-19,” says Advani. Through Climate Crowd and the African Nature-Based Tourism Platform, WWF works with community-based natural resource management organizations in several other eastern and southern African countries to provide funding and technical support for solutions that protect natural ecosystems and benefit people while building resilience to future shocks and stressors. For example in Malawi, a recently funded project led by African Nature-Based Tourism Platform partner KAWICCODA, supports the scaling up of conservation-friendly alternative livelihood activities within the five-kilometre belt around Kasungu National Park. “Both the climate crisis and pandemics threaten the wellbeing of people and nature, which is why we urgently need to pilot projects that make people and nature more resilient. We can learn from these grassroots-led initiatives. And then we can scale them,” says Advani. ____________________ About Climate Crowd WWF’s Climate Crowd works with partners in more than 30 countries to collect data on how vulnerable communities are affected by changes in weather and climate and how they cope with them. The data is analysed and presented back to the communities, who then work alongside WWF and partners to develop and implement on-the-ground solutions. WWF also shares the data online for researchers, educators, and conservation and development practitioners. Explore the data at wwfclimatecrowd.org. About the African Nature-Based Tourism Platform To capture the complete picture of the impacts and to help Africa’s tourism sector recover and become more resilient, WWF and a host of global, national, and regional partners created the African Nature-Based Tourism Platform. Established in 2021 with $1.9 million from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Platform is gathering data on the impacts on communities and SMEs from the COVID-19 crisis, facilitating learning and knowledge exchange, identifying funding opportunities, and developing funding proposals with communities and SMEs. The post Communities and Working with Nature the Key to Mitigating Climate Change in Africa appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

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