Environment Journalism: Can you see the Sword of Damocles?

Posted on January 27, 2010 in Environment, Society

Mohit Kumar Jolly:

The Himalayas are melting, polar bears are dying, 2 of every 5 people don’t have access to clean drinking water, the earth’s temperature is increasing, we are losing the untapped information and potential of plant species, Pacific’s water level has risen… Is this what we are going to hand over to our future generations? Please…no! When you all make policies sitting in air conditioned rooms, please think of a child suffering in greenhouse heat and species craving to survive.” This statement was not made by some environmentalist, but by a 13- year old Indian girl at the UN summit on Climate Change, 2009.

What is she talking about? She points to the Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads, to which we have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear. Yes, this sword is of environmental endangerment — the sword that makes the world stand on the brink of an energy crisis that deepens with each watt of electric energy consumed and with each mile that a car runs, the sword that has made many species extinct, the sword that gives the message that the future of the planet shall be decided by today’s environmental policies.

Does that sound grave? If not, it better sound grave to you, before the planet is reduced to a graveyard.

You may react, “OK! I agree that something needs to be done, but what can I do? I am too little to neutralize the effects of activities of citizens all around the globe who are worsening the situation.” Here comes the role of environment journalism — the need to inform people that it is soon going to be too late to mend, if they cling to this argument of theirs.

What is environment journalism? It is the collection, verification, production, distribution and exhibition of information regarding current events, trends, issues and people that effect the environment in one way or the other. It is an interdisciplinary field spanning over environment science and engineering, environment psychology and sociology, environmental politics, and journalism or mass communication. Now this sounds too complicated! How can one be the master of all these fields?

How many of you have heard of Late Mr. Anil Agarwal? He is the founder of Center for Science and Environment (CSE), an Indian NGO focused on creating public awareness about environment and sustainable development related issues. He is known as a pioneer in environment journalism. So, what background did he have before he founded CSE? He graduated in mechanical engineering from IIT Kanpur in 1970 and that was the only degree he had throughout his life. This is nothing but an emulation of ‘Where there is a will, there is a way’. It was his long term vision of environmental awareness by virtue of which, he could make the world realize that problems related to environment and development are inherently related, and need effective, clear and immediate solutions.

So, who can be an environment journalist or activist? Can I be one? Remember, journalism has many forms other than print. Look at Bedi Brothers (Bedi Films Pvt. Ltd.) — the only Indians to receive 2 Oscar nominations at BAFTA, and 3 times Green Oscar winner. They are pioneers in storytelling through documentaries based on wildlife conversation and environment, and it’s the third generation of their family now which has been running the show since 1970.

Let me get a name across to you, that has been synonymous with climate change and environmental policy these days- Dr. R. K. Pachauri, the present Chairman of IPCC -International Panel on Climate Change. (For those who are not aware, IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change”.) This doctorate in Industrial Engineering and Economics from North Carolina State University took on as the Director- General of a small funding agency based in New Delhi in 1982 and grew it as a major research agency under his leadership — TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute). May be his quote emphasizes the need of this plea for being aware and awake about environment issues — “I have done nothing outstanding. I have done only what I felt was very important”.

Still not convinced?

Any one of you ever heard the term ‘green building’? No, it’s not a green-colored building but a building that is energy efficient. Although it looks very fashionable, but please tell how efficient is efficient, and how is this efficiency measured? TERI recently launched guidelines for a GRIHA building rating system, that takes into consideration various parameters related to building and maximum energy conversation in the same. Please search for more details if interested.

Why did CBSE recently include courses on environment education as a part of its curriculum? Why are scientists all across the world establishing environment science and engineering as a dedicated research field? What I am trying to emphasize is that it is high time we wake up from an indifferent slumber towards our surroundings and environment, and hear the monition bell ringing above us and our society. Journalism is the way to make the society aware about this.

Where can you read more about environment journalism? Go through some previous issues of Down to Earth (DTE) — India’s only science and environment magazine. Try to understand the political reasons behind the failure of the recently concluded COP 15 (Copenhagen) Conference on climate change. Look out for courses/degree in environment journalism. Join some related NGO for internship etc, etc. You will never find a dearth of opportunities or challenges, but always the dearth of talent in this field.

Remember what is said about journalism — “Journalism can never be silent- that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault.” Use it to make your neighborhood and the society aware about such issues, and save Homo sapiens’ extinction.

Mohit Kumar Jolly is a final year undergraduate student at IIT Kanpur and a correspondent at Youth Ki Awaaz. He is interested in science journalism and communication.