Local Media Are Important To Surviving The Climate Crisis

EDITORIAL COLLECTIVE – Every day a slow-moving freight train passes through my neighbourhood. Inbound, its three diesel engines are surprisingly quiet. Its fifteen or so hopper cars are empty. The train clatters slowly through a corridor of trees about five houses away from my home. Sometimes I hardly pay attention to it. Later in the day, outbound, with its cars heavily laden, the train rumbles loudly, the ground shakes, things on shelves in my house vibrate.

I’ve become accustomed to this daily phenomenon of huge machinery moving so closely to my home and also to a nearby small park. I and many others walk its tracks regularly as a shortcut to frequented places. One time, I saw a mother pushing a stroller at one of the train’s nearby level crossings. The train driver leaned out the window, waved, smiled and rang the train’s bell to the delight of the child in the stroller. This locomotive is like weather – part of every day.

This is not an editorial about the danger of trains in cities. But huge machinery moving through dense population − even very, very slowly − requires regulation, safe and strong infrastructure, and the vigilance of those through whom it moves. When those three factors are working well together, we take the train for granted: just another characteristic that defines a neighbourhood and serves the economy. Like the smell of baking from Quaker Oats when the wind blows easterly.

By now, in this magazine devoted to the climate crisis as experienced locally, you are likely ahead of me on where this train of thought, excuse me, analogy, is going.

Like the daily train, the climate crisis fades into the media background. But now is just the time to foreground the local story of what climate change means to us here in Peterborough and the Kawarthas.

Data collected by Media Matters shows media coverage of the most serious crisis facing the world actually declined by 25% in 2023. Remaining coverage is a miniscule 1% of total broadcasting time. Hardly a blink devoted to what is likely humanity’s final challenge.

We humans and local media don’t do well with really long time frames. For instance, the one billion years that a constantly expanding Sun will take to superheat Earth to the temperature of Venus is way too long for us to think about! But the next 100 years isn’t. If you are a parent today, in a comparatively brief 75 years from now, your grandchildren will still be alive − and coping with temperatures beyond human endurance. Not heated to the temperature of Venus (464⁰C) but now reliably predicted to be able to reach the killer 45⁰C+ experienced recently in India and some southern parts of Europe.

So what to do here and now?

How can an issue as enormous as climate collapse and the loss of human presence on Earth be a local focus of action? More specifically, what role can local media (print, online and broadcasting) play in communicating the reality of climate breakdown in specifically local terms and contexts?

The Kawartha Lakes are a chain of interconnected lakes in south-central Ontario, forming the Trent River’s upper watershed. These lakes range in size from 2 to 83 km2. Most of the lakes are located in the city of Kawartha Lakes and Peterborough County.

  • The Canadian Encyclopedia

First thing is to not let climate change be thought of like that local train– a familiar, non-threatening presence, passing through our communities, a bit noisy at times with the odd loud noises (derecho) and other unusual weather, like the train ringing its bell or sounding its loud horn at someone on the tracks who simply steps off to the side and gives a friendly wave as the train passes. I’ve seen it.

Local media traditionally and rightly focus on their surrounding communities. Historically, as in the Second World War, print newspapers were the key, and often only, source of information about and local responses to that worldwide crisis. Today, especially among youth, the climate crisis is today’s equivalent of that War. But it is hardly the top story locally, at the level where we all live and directly experience it.

Nor does it have the collective sense of community, the all-in-this-together solidarity and camaraderie of WW 2. People’s responses to heat waves, drought, flooding and unprecedented storms consist of turning up the air conditioning or getting out the wet vac. In that global crisis, people took the pulse daily if not hourly on how the conflict was progressing. And WW2 had faces: real people to love, hate, and fear for. I am guessing that they had a much keener sense of agency, too. That what they did on a daily basis was effective and meaningful to survival, like running to bomb shelters, planting “victory gardens” when food was being rationed and buying War Bonds.

Only local media, informed by writers and reporters who live and work here, can convey the daily, immediate nature of how the climate crisis is and will manifest in our local, particular circumstances. Sure, we still need the context of the 1000-foot viewpoint from which to understand local manifestations of climate change. But even more, we need to understand and prepare for what it looks like and what to do here, on the ground of daily living. How our kids will have to dress for the predicted heat. What local crops farmers are able to bring to weekly markets. Who will or can run for municipal council when so many citizens are coping with surviving food shortages, droughts, flooding from storms. When our public utilities struggle to keep our drinking water pure. Will there even be provincial governments let alone a local Medical Officer of Health once again begging the Province for the return of waste water surveillance due to new diseases? Will there even be a provincial government in the face of the extraordinary measures only a national authority or government can muster for the disasters that will come through our communities like runaway trains?

We need local climate change coverage and locally-informed editorials, especially from elsewhere-headquartered community newspapers (online and otherwise) like the Peterborough Examiner, the Lakefield Herald, and Lindsay’s The Standard. The online Peterborough Currents is an example of the kind of independent, community-centred journalism times of climate crisis will need. Locally-situated media are particularly valuable with their “on the spot,” presence to local happenings. Their reporters may swim in Rogers Cove or the Lakefield Beach. Or have a storm-destroyed cottage on a Kawartha lake.

There is a maxim among journalists and novelists: “Write about what you know.” So….
What does a media business, headquartered elsewhere, with an eye on big markets and bottom lines know about how local area citizens are experiencing and handling the worsening climate? How can they play any role in the community-building that will get us through it?

Their first-hand knowledge of their community gives credibility, immediacy and accountability to their reporting and opinion pieces. They live here. They are participants, not just witnesses and note-takers from the sidelines. They know the local train and will care if it goes off track, investigate if it goes too fast for safety or suddenly stops in a neighbourhood, as it did in mine recently.

When the global climate crisis hits us like a speeding freight train, they will be quickly there to report, question, call local authorities to account, rally citizens and helpers.

Our local scribes and photojournalists are to be supported. Treasured.

Local Media Are Important To Surviving The Climate Crisis. © 2024 by Editorial Collective in The Greenzine is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

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