Earlier, mountain communities had been hit by receding glaciers and [glacial lake outburst floods] and coastal communities by sea level rise and severe tropical storms but these are poor and remote settlements and their voices were just not heard in Islamabad. The floods changed [things] by affecting the entire country — now most people are aware that something very wrong is happening to the climate and they are worried… So, yes for us in Pakistan, living on the frontline, climate change stories are still very important and there are no issues with the terminology.
Charles Kereau of the Solomon Islands adds that in the most vulnerable countries, “the term[s] ‘climate’ and ‘climate change’ ring bells in the minds of the audience as something urgent needing urgent solutions because they see the effects on a daily basis.”
Bending to the headwinds of popular opinion certainly doesn’t mean avoiding climate coverage. Even in areas where interest in the issue seems to be waning, journalists still have a responsibility to track climate science and the impacts of climate change, to the extent we can know them. In some cases, that will probably mean taking the word “climate” out of headlines, but still keeping it in the story.
This is what Simire is doing in Nigeria in order to hook readers into stories they might otherwise ignore. He also recommends that once into the story, reporters look for substitutes for technical terms. For instance, “the word ‘response’ comes as a tidy, more reader-friendly substitute to the somewhat technical and over-used ‘adaptation’ and ‘mitigation’.”
In a post at his Dot Earth blog, Revkin suggested that in order to avoid using hot-button terms like “climate change,” journalists “will devote more time and effort to diving deeper on energy policy, habits and innovations — whether unraveling counterproductive subsidies, pointing out the lack of money for path-breaking research, or revealing examples of social and financial innovations percolating around the world.”
In Indonesia, Veby Mega Indah, who writes for AlertNet and IPS along with local publications, says she and her Indonesian colleagues don’t necessarily mention climate change in stories about extreme weather events because it’s hard to know whether they are being caused by phenomena like La Niña or the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Usually, they stick to terms like “weather anomaly.” But these days, they focus even more on the subject of forestry and climate change, and the REDD+ projects (another jargon-y term for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) that are taking off there.
“To the extent that people show their interests by searching on Google, the word ‘climate’ peaked when Obama vow[ed] to act on climate change in late 2009 but otherwise the trends does not look all that hot,” says Po Garden, the Earth Journalism Network’s Thailand-based project director, who carried out his own survey of search terms. “[T]he highest search volume is in Tagalog and the top search volumes are from Australia, Philippines, and New Zealand.”
Athar Parvaiz Bhat from Kashmir sums things up, saying, “the preference or avoidance of the term ‘climate’ is quite variable when we compare the countries and the regions. For example, its use is likely to jar on the nerves of the audience/editors in the industrial west, but would seem satisfying if not soothing to those from the vulnerable countries like [the] Maldives, Bangladesh, Pakistan, [and] small island states.”
Indeed, where people stand on an issue or phrase seems to depend heavily on where they sit.