Communicating Climate Stories

Friday, May 10, 2024

Executive Director for Energy and Industrials, Deloitte

David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment, Council on Foreign Relations

Independent Journalist and Webcaster


Public Policy Fellow, Wilson Center; Chair, Future Council, Society of Environmental Journalists

This event was part of the 2024 CFR Local Journalists Workshop, made possible through the generous support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.


PARKER: (In progress)—“Communicating Climate Stories.” I’m Meaghan Parker. I’m a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center—which is also a think tank focused on international affairs, but our food is not as good. (Laughs.) So I’m very pleased to be here in this lovely room. And thank you so much to Irina and to her team at the Council for giving us this opportunity to talk today.

Prior to joining the Center, I spent five years as the executive director of the Society of Environmental Journalists, which is North America’s largest membership association for journalists covering climate, energy, environment. So and we have a couple of members here in the room. It’s really exciting to see some SEJers in the wild. And if you’re not a member, I do encourage you to join. If you’re interested in covering these topics, tremendous resources. It certainly changed my career.

But I’m super, super excited to hear from our three experts today. They all have many decades of experience in this field. And we’re really in for a treat, hearing their advice. So without further ado, I’m going to start with Alice. Alice Hill is the David M. Rubenstein senior fellow for energy and environment here at the Council, where her work focuses on risks, consequences, and responses associated with climate change. And she also served in President Obama’s National Security Council, where she worked on climate resilience. So, Alice, tell us a little bit about what you’re working on today. And, related to that, what is the biggest story out there in the climate change field, from your perspective? And what’s not getting covered enough?

HILL: Well, thanks so much. It’s really an honor and a pleasure to be able to join you. I’m sorry that it’s virtual. But I’m really pleased to have a chance to talk about this very important issue, including how do we increase coverage on this topic that will be a part of all of our lives and the lives of future generations.

What I’m working on now is continuing to focus on adaptation. That’s been my primary entree into this work. Previously, I was a judge. And then I got a call. I was invited to join the Obama administration. I became senior counselor to Secretary Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security. And I was given an assignment that nobody else wanted. “Oh, give it to her. She’s the new person.” So I was tasked with creating the first-ever climate adaptation plan for the Department of Homeland Security, which is, of course, this huge, sprawling agency that has Coast Guard, FEMA, TSA, Secret Service—really, a panoply of agencies including responsibility for a borders.

And I had in that work the aha moment that climate change will affect virtually everything. So I continue to focus on, how do we prepare for the impacts of climate change? And unfortunately, the story there is that we are desperately ill-prepared for what we’re already experiencing and what’s ahead. And I do think that’s a big story. Within that story, there is an unfolding series of events that will affect almost every state—or, at least many, many Americans. And that is the convulsion that’s occurring with regard to property insurance, the availability and affordability of property insurance.

With the hottest year ever last year—we just had eleven months of the hottest year—eleven successive months. The last ten decades—last decade of seeing the hottest years in history—in recorded history. We are seeing bigger floods, bigger wildfires, higher winds. And our infrastructure, our buildings, are not built to withstand that. They’re all—virtually all built to withstand what’s occurred in the past. And they’re in places that are destined to burn and destined to flood. And they’re built in a way that’s pretty shoddy. Many Americans assume that we have a national building code. We do not. In fact, our building codes don’t yet reflect future risk. And two-thirds of counties don’t even adopt the modern building code. And if you live in Texas, it’s likely you don’t have a building code, except in certain locations like Houston that was very hard hit by flooding.

So as a result, property insurers who write their policies on an annualized basis are saying, we can’t insure for these risks. So California has seen a pull out of major insurers, with the wildfire risks. And then in our gulf states, we have seen lots of the big insurers say: We can’t do this anymore. Eighty percent of Americans saw their property insurance go up by double digits last year. And some of them saw thirty percent increases. This is the crack that’s beginning to reveal some of the costs of climate change. Of course, there are costs everywhere—in health, in repair to infrastructure, in education. You name it. Everything is hit by climate change. That was my aha moment. But we are seeing this very visible. And it’s affecting people’s pocketbooks, their ability to manage their lives. And it will affect the ability to secure a federally insured mortgage, which is what most people get.

So this is going to roil—and it has begun to roil the real estate markets. I think it’s a story that has relevance in many, many locations. Even if your state hasn’t been hard hit yet, it will be. And last, final point is there are backup plans in most—in thirty-six of our states to cover when private insurers leave. But those backup plans are becoming unstable. They’re growing too big, too fat. And the question is, if those fail, who has to pay? It will probably be other people within the state, even those who aren’t carrying the big risks of living along our coasts or in wildfire-prone areas.

PARKER: Thank you. That’s a—that’s a great, concrete story tip that can be easily localized. Thank you so much.

Turning to Kate Hardin, who’s the executive director of Deloitte’s Research Center for Energy and Industrials, where she leads research on the impact of the energy transition on the energy and industrial manufacturing sectors. And she spent twenty-five years in the energy industry. So, Kate, tell us a little bit about Deloitte’s work on this. And same question to you, what’s the biggest story that you see and the one that needs more attention?

HARDIN: Well, thank you so much. And I will say, by way of context setting, that previous to joining Deloitte I was a global energy analyst for twenty-five years, spending a lot of time in Russia, and Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkey—a lot of different places, really working on many of the big energy projects, carrying energy out of that part of the world to Europe, and Asia. And so those dynamics are still very much with us these days, but in a very different way.

So I got into energy because I was interested initially in foreign affairs, and it very quickly one can see that energy is absolutely a global issue with global markets. But also very local, if you look at your own local power system, or your own, you know, provider of your utility services, right? And so I think that this is a perfect topic for the conversation this morning. Which is, how do we take these local issues and relate them back to what’s happening internationally, and vice versa?

So building actually, Alice, on what you just said—that was a very nice segue to the topic that I would pick as one that to be covered extensively—really is looking at the transition that’s underway right now of our infrastructure. And that’s our energy infrastructure. That’s our roads, bridges, ports that support our critical supply chains. We’ve actually seen in the past few years three different pieces of legislation passed that have engendered real investment and real focus on these issues. And part of the reason I bring that up right now is because you could ask the question, why now? Why are we doing this infrastructure transformation?

Part of the reason is exactly what we just talked about, which is the extreme weather events that have caused blackouts or have caused problems with our infrastructure. How do we make the investments that expand our power grid, or that, you know, basically deal with a lot of the infrastructure that could be threatened by flooding, right? So it’s—why now is partly because of the climate discussion. But it’s also about the disruption that we’ve seen in terms of international supply chains and the idea that we should strengthen our own supply chains in the U.S. and begin to bring to the U.S. some of the industries that we really rely on as we think about a lower-emissions future and new technologies in the energy sector and elsewhere.

So that is kind of the what and the why. And why is this local I think is the last piece I would bring up. Which is to say that there is tremendous job creation happening in certain parts of the sectors that have been affected by this. We just published a paper really looking at manufacturing, and the fact that we’re seeing not enough applications coming in to the manufacturing companies that are looking for workforce. But that also we’re seeing a real focus on retaining and attracting employees, particularly employees who are interested in the new technologies whether that’s digital technologies or alternative energy technology. So there’s a lot happening in local communities around training, around understanding how these new technologies can be deployed, and around some of the creation of manufacturing that’s happening throughout Georgia, South Carolina, to—you know, kind of across the board, a lot of these funds are flowing in with new construction projects and new manufacturing. And so this is also very much a local issue, even though it is national policy that’s happening across the board. So that would be my quick—my quick intro.

PARKER: Thank you, Kate. You know, highlighting the workforce issues is true, not only in energy and infrastructure, of course, but in all of the other aspects of this transition—accounting, and finance, and everything else. There’s really a lack of folks that are trained in these areas. So it’s an important one for local journalists too.

Now turning to Andy Revkin, who’s an independent journalist and webcaster who spent forty years reporting on environmental challenges and choices, mostly for the New York Times. And he first began covering climate in 1988, probably before some of you were born. (Laughter.) So, Andy. (Laughs.)

REVKIN: It’s great to be back here at the Council. I was at another one of these sessions, so I think it’s fantastic that this organization is trying to facilitate having people with a local focus latch on to and understand global issues, and how they matter. and how to how to storify that—what a horrible word that is.

My big transition in covering climate has been, and related issues, has been personally to move away from the idea of the story being the product. I became—at the Times, along with my regular reporting, I created a blog in 2007 ran for nine years—2,810 posts, 100,000 comments, nearly all of which I moderated. And that taught me not—it had two things. It served the purpose of building a more—a multidimensional relationship with my audience, many of whom knew a lot more than I do about things—whether they’re a sociologist, or citizen in some part of the country hadn’t been to.

And to me, it was a better representation of the fractal nature of these big problems. Climate change is—all the sustainability bundle, if you try to wedge that into a frontpage story in the New York Times, or in the nightly news, or whatever, you’re really distorting things. Just that initial scrunch, which is all about definitiveness. You’re competing with, you know, something out of Gaza, or something out of the White House, or something—or a disaster that just happened, or a jolt to the stock market. And the only way environmental story can compete with that is to get artificially scrunched. And to me, it’s—the opposite is what we need right now.

So that’s one thing, shifting from a storytelling—thinking about a good story as the thing that isn’t necessarily what’s in your head when you’re thinking about these big issues. Those are needed too. Great narratives are out there. Great people working hard. Nathanael Johnson, who was a Grist writer on climate, is now an electrician. That is a great story. I had him on my show, my webcast, to talk about it. So the stories matter, but conversations matter more, especially for the issues like Alice was just talking about. And local, regional risk is about trust. You heard in the previous session about trust. How do the media sustain or build trust in an immediate environment like the one we’re in? Through sustained engagement. That’s a big part of it. And it’s not necessarily putting out a tweet or whatever. It’s listening. There are great models for that.

Ultimately, though, the shift in the climate story that I think is most important is from it being what I was writing about in 1988 on the cover of Discover Magazine, you know, big picture of the boiling Earth, you know, with, like, flames and stuff. It’s paralytic, and global, and slow moving, and full of inertia and complexity—all of which are real. They’re real components of the story. And it actually took reporting on other kinds of disasters—earthquakes, tsunamis. I’ve done a ton of other disaster reporting—wildfire, tornado. And I started talking to disaster risk reduction people. Alice knows them all too, and you do too at Deloitte. And what they focus on is climate risk.

So the real big story, for me, is to shift the focus from what’s up there—CO2 is changing every aspect of the climate, as Mike Mann at Penn and others say. You know, anything—all of our weather is climate—is changing because of climate change. But that’s actually not very satisfying, because that means that even sunny days there’s some component—that CO2 has changed that sunny day as well. What is the story—is climate risk? And risk is a formula—I emailed around—I don’t know if you’ve got it, but you can get it. You can talk to a disaster researcher. Risk is hazard—meaning of flood, fire, all the things we think about, a pathogen. So a hazard, times exposure—how many people, how much stuff. That’s what the insurance companies care about, is the stuff. And vulnerability. How much that stuff or those people are vulnerable or not.

And if you focus too much on, oh, how much is CO2 changing the hazard—meaning the wind, fire—you’re missing the key components, exposure and vulnerability. Florida—if you look at a map of hurricane tracks in Florida for the last 200 years, at least the first half with no relationship to CO2, it’s just covered with all these lines of various colors denoting the intensity of the storm. And what has happened to Florida, we have 800 people still living there every day. Every day 800 people are moving to this hazard zone. And there are wonderful things we can talk about going forward about tools and people to talk to, like John Davidson said, there are scholars out there who are mapping this stuff. They can—just google for the “expanding bullseye” or look at that as a hashtag that I use all the time, “expanding bullseye”—and you’ll see a methodology to convey the exposure and vulnerability components of these stories. So the story of your time—it was there too even before—is about climate risk. And that reveals this huge landscape of opportunity for newsrooms.

PARKER: Thank you, Andy. That’s great. And you mentioned tools. Just another plug for SEJ’s toolbox is a great resource for looking at—finding some of these databases and some of these sources that can help you cover the risk in your area.

Speaking of the weather, though, for a moment, earlier this week, Pew released a report on the state of local news in America. And they—part of that report included a survey of audiences, local audiences, of what they turned to local news to find out about. And weather was at the top, beating all the other options by a large margin. They did not, however, ask about climate, environment, or energy as separate topics. So there’s a there’s an opportunity there, but also, you know, some risk. And so I wanted to ask Andy a little bit about this, about how, when you’re looking at local weather events, you know, how do you connect that to climate change?

RIVKIN: Well, I’ll go back to what I said at the beginning. If you start with a framing about risk—and what you’re talking about is that component of that formula, hazard. Remember, it’s hazard, exposure, vulnerability. Hazards in a changing climate are—some of them are really hard. Tornadoes, there’s really no confidence in any way about what’s happening with tornadoes. In fact, the highest—the highest—EF5s, there haven’t been any last decade. Even with these recent tornado outbreaks, there have been. Yeah, fours—they’re all over the map, literally. They’re powerful, rare systems that—so you—so you can’t immediately say every time there’s a tornado—there’s a tendency of some in the media to say, some aspect of that is climate. Same thing for hail, same things for many other hazards.

As I said, in Florida rapid intensification of hurricanes. There’s early stage science, which—we’re journalists, right? We like the new stuff. We tend to migrate to those aspects of climate science that are new, and novel, and kind of salient. But that’s all in those—early science is implicitly uncertain and contested. And I can point you right now to hurricane scientists who would argue—not because they’re deniers or believers—about what’s happening with hurricanes in a changing climate. So often—but you’ll see, if you look at the coverage after a storm hits Florida, you’ll see these sort of—they’re almost like these, like, obligatory pieces now. What is the role of climate change in hurricanes? I think those are a waste of time, because what communities care about is climate risk.

And you can step back and indicate some things about hurricanes, but when you do that, too, you have to—remember, hurricanes are rare. So to get statistical strength about some pattern on hurricanes, you have to use a very long timescale—centuries. And there wasn’t a meteorological service before 1850. There are ways to look at hurricane patterns in Florida. And you can start by digging into the mud behind beaches. And I wrote about that—great story is to write about long timescale climate history. Who’s studying patterns of hurricanes on those bases? And they’re all around. Joanne Muller in Florida, I had her on my webcast to talk about that. And the problem is, you go back in time and you realize—be very careful when you use the word “unprecedented,” or when you start to put the climate change component into the foreground on a lot of these meteorological hazards. Because either we don’t know, or the system is too complicated.

So it can be—actually, it can be a distraction to be climate-centric. But that doesn’t mean that there’s not a climate—I mean, climate change centric, meaning CO2 centric. It’s a climate story, for sure. But it’s a climate risk story. And then you don’t have to get into that whole dynamic of worrying about how to convey global warming in that context. This is just me talking, by the way. (Laughter.) Don’t take my word for it.

PARKER: There are some groups that do provide some rapid attribution studies. Climate Central is a good resource for some of those, as well as the global one, Weather-something—

RIVKIN: World Weather Attribution.

PARKER: There you go. Thank you so much.

RIVKIN: Yeah. WWA, yeah.

PARKER: Yeah. So they can be helpful in finding the right way to do that.

Alice, I wanted to ask you to dig a little bit more into, you know, your thoughts on how local reporters can make climate risk and resilience resonate with their local audiences. You talked about insurance and building codes. But in terms of conveying, communicating that, what’s your advice and tips?

HILL: Well, I agree with Andy. I do think the climate risk is unfolding. We’re seeing it materialize now. And I think that is a good hook. I do—I differ a little bit with him. Recent polling from Monmouth that just came out shows that only 34 percent of Americans understand that climate change is human caused. That’s a fundamental understanding if we are, long-term, going to address this problem. And if we don’t address it, we will have unbearable heating—really, catastrophic heating.

And fortunately, all climate scientists agree that it’s human caused. So I think it’s important to note the climate connection. And Climate Central, as you said, Meaghan, has really upped the game on this attribution science. When I started in this business, I had to be very careful. You cannot say any particular event was worsened by climate change. We can only say it’s consistent with the trend. Well, that’s not true anymore. And Climate Central produces almost immediate results for some impacts. And for tropical storms in the Atlantic you can go on their website, and you will see it’s an upward trend because of climate change. So you can be very confident—and it’s an NGO that has meteorologists, widely respected, very good source of information.

So I think, for a journalist, you can send the message that it is worsened by climate change, if you can find the attribution study for whatever you’re talking about. The other thing, I think, is that sometimes—and you see this a lot in headlines—journalists, media have adopted this rather arcane language, in my opinion, that is used in the U.N. process. So there’s been some fascinating polling by Potential Energy Coalition, run by another NGO, run by John Marshall, who was a marketer. And he did a survey of 55,000 people around the world, and found what resonated in terms of selling the story of climate change.

And he recommends a loss aversion frame, which is what the social scientists will tell you is humans value loss more than they value gains. So if you’re talking about clean energy, jobs, that may not resonate as well as the fact that you’re going to suffer a lot of harm by these extreme events, the pollution, kids can’t get to school, that kind of thing. And then think about vocabulary. If you use “decarbonization,” there’s a lot of people who are not going to know what that is, carbon footprint, greenhouse gas emissions. It’s really—simplify. It’s pollution. That’s what it is. It’s making heat go up. We’re heating up. We’re overheating. We’re having the hottest years on record, whatever. And we’re breaking records all the time.

So this framing that comes from the negotiations and the scientists can be very confusing to the audience. And the polling by Potential Energy Coalition is twenty-three countries—countries with 90 percent the cause of the pollution that blankets our globe, that causes the heating, I think 80 percent of the GDP were represented in this survey. And they found that less than half people across the globe even understood what 1.5 degrees meant when they asked, what was the goal—or, they asked them what was the goal of the Paris Agreement? And nobody—the majority of people in every location couldn’t name 1.5 degrees. And they were way off in their estimates about how much heating we could have. So I think it behooves all of us to try to simplify this so that we can communicate through stories what is occurring as a result of climate change. But to adopt that language is very confusing and, according to their polling, does not resonate.

PARKER: Thank you so much, Alice. It’s a good reminder to speak to your audience about climate science and what’s happening. Energy, similarly, is a very complicated topic that most people don’t have a good education or training in. I think our secondary school system is not doing a good job at all in preparing us to understand energy and how—even just basically how it works, other than sticking—you know, plugging your phone into the wall. So, Kate, I wondered if you had some tips for the audience about how to, you know, break this very big and complicated topic down for their audiences.

HARDIN: I think it’s a great question. And to the extent that more people understand the basics of what happens in the energy sector, it probably does help the discussion that we’re having about all of these factors. But I also want to bring the larger comments that you guys have made back to kind of the local level, and say that we’re seeing progress towards diversifying our generation mix in power, right? We’re seeing—we’re seeing incremental movement across the country towards reducing emissions. Many, many municipalities, states have their own targets for reducing their emissions by certain years. Many of you may be familiar with what your local community is doing in terms of how they made a target, what are they doing to meet it, right?

And I think it does come down, though, to kind of project by project, because what we’re trying to do here is bring, like I mentioned, the transformation of our infrastructure many of the ways that we provide energy to consumers across the board to bear fairly quickly. It’s a bit of an urgent problem. But so much of it is happening in uncertainty. If you’re producing a new recycled product, how much might a consumer pay for that? We don’t really have a track record on that, because it’s a new recycled product, right? If you’re actually producing a new way to produce renewable natural gas, how much does that cost? Well, you can bring in some of the incentives at a state level or federal level to help defray those costs, but it’s not clear that there’s a big market for renewable natural gas you might immediately be selling into. So there was a process of finding the off taker and understanding how to make that contract so that you can finance that deal.

So there is a real local component to the progress that’s being made. And we actually just wrote a piece on renewable natural gas, which was interesting to point out that potential for renewable natural gas is significant. And many landfills across many communities across the country are already producing landfill gas, which with some additional investment you can turn into something you could put into a gas pipeline or put into a vehicle that would burn natural gas. But, again, it’s very much connecting the dots, right? If you have the landfill that’s producing this, and you have the municipal bus fleet or school bus fleet, you know, how do you make those connections and begin to make that economically feasible? And the more projects we have, potentially, the more progress we make.

And so I think just being aware at the local level of are there targets, are their commitments, are there one-off projects that would be helpful to shine a light on and make the community aware that this is an innovative thing going on, maybe eventually having some emissions reductions potential, and might also be taking wastes and turning it into a lower-emissions energy source that might be of use to someone else in the community. And then you also end up with you’re producing your own natural gas and you’re using it locally, then maybe when you’re looking at extreme weather events that gives you a little bit of a measure of control over what you’re sourcing and from where. Because I think anyone who’s lived through a blackout, you know, that’s not something that you want to do on a regular basis, right? (Laughter.) So I think—so that kind of local perspective, while it’s probably not the headline grabber, nevertheless is such an important part of the progress that’s being made across the country on these issues.

PARKER: Well, there have been some audience surveys that say that audiences are looking for these solutions, stories that have these, you know, positive effect(s) on the climate crisis. And as—thank you, Kate, for some great suggestions of where to look for those kinds of stories.

So we’re here at the Council on Foreign Relations. So we have to ask, how do you make, you know, local connections to what is—as you said, energy is a global issue, climate is a global phenomenon. How do you make those connections from where local reporters are sitting to this larger international context? And keeping in mind, of course, the lack of resources that that bedevils most of local news industry these days. Andy, I’m going to start with you.

REVKIN: Well, I would bridge that question with the last one. The other big shift in the climate story in recent years is it’s now a story of abundance on the resource side at the local level. The infrastructure law that was bipartisan, like a trillion dollars, big chunk of that is energy-related infrastructure. The inflation Reduction Act has billions and billions—to use—to quote, Carl Sagan, you know, billions is a big word. And there’s lots of billions for everything from heat pumps, to shifting your communities, night lighting, to LEDs, to all these things. I interviewed Jigar Shah, who was—he just was one of the Time magazine 100 people. He’s a solar entrepreneur. Is now running the Energy Department’s billions and billions of dollars loan project. And he said—it’s like a one minute clip on my blog—on my webcast. He says: Look, you know, we have all this stuff now. But we can’t force you to take it up.

So every community you’re in, he says, you know, there’s 19,500 communities in America. So what we need is a change maker, a local person who spends a few hours a week saying—going to the town council meeting and saying—or whoever makes the decision on school bus replacement when your buses get old—someone in your town, wherever you live, can be the person who says at the town council meeting: Hey, there’s loans that can help us transition our buses to electric or natural gas, which is way better than diesel. Here’s where we can do that. And so it’s implicitly a community-up opportunity now. And it’s not a top down, we need a climate bill story now. And at least—depending on what happens in November. There are parts of that Inflation Reduction Act that can go away. So it is a political story, too. But it’s a story of abundance and opportunity.

So what’s your responsibility in your local newsroom to be the, you know, ask me a question part of the climate and energy story? The Washington Post has columnist now who’s—I can’t remember his name—who’s sort of the climate, what to do person. So finding that, as I said earlier, with my Dot Earth blogging, finding that bidirectional relationship with your audience is just a critical opportunity right now.

HARDIN: And just to kind of build on that, I mean, your point is, right. Communities and companies and industries need to go apply for these grants and loans. You know, so it is not—it’s there. The framework is there. But there is that level of action to actually go and take advantage of that. And there are training funds available. You know, there’s just—there is quite a lot available.

RIVKIN: And you remind me that it’s a justice story as well. The Biden administration pledged—they have this google for Justice40. It’s a commitment of the federal government that everything they do will involve racial and, you know, inequity components. Also for indigenous communities. That’s really hard to do. And there’s a bias in all of our structures—from FEMA—Alice knows this too well—toward communities that have the consultants and the lawyers who can apply for the money. The Hamptons are rebuilding their beaches with federal money while there are poor communities who often don’t know how to get that money. So that—it is a justice story, too. I’ve written about that a lot.

PARKER: So I think, talking about these solutions, and, Kate, you mentioned to me earlier, you know, about some of this is demonstrating U.S. leadership compared to other places.

HARDIN: Well, I mean, that is an interesting aspect of this. I spend a lot of time working with international clients. I’ve been global energy conferences on a regular basis. And it was striking going around that circuit in 2023 after this slate of infrastructure had been passed—the bipartisan infrastructure law, right, the Inflation Reduction Act. with help from—you know. And suddenly the U.S. was being watched by our international partners and others as kind of a leader in terms of how we have created these new policies. But in particular, people were really referring to it as more as carrots not so much sticks, right? Like these are incentives to come invest in the U.S. to create new jobs.

You know, we’ve seen over 300 new projects announced. We’ve seen, you know, billions of private and public investment. We’ve seen, you know, just manufacturing construction is up now three times since 2020. So tremendous response to this. And it’s, as I was saying too, interesting to sit there as an American and these global conferences and hear people lauding some of the stuff that’s been done here, which, you know, is always a good thing to hear. So I think sometimes within the U.S. folks who are not part of these industries don’t recognize that there is this view now of the U.S. taking leadership and part of these areas, which has been interesting to watch.

PARKER: Alice, you know, same question to you. How can you make that local to global connection? Especially given your background and working on domestic U.S. and now here at the Council. How do you make those connections for an audience?

HILL: Yes. Before I get to that, I do want to comment on some possible stories with regard to the legislation we’ve seen. Now, these stories are not going to be as positive as been referenced. We recently had the EPA inspector general issue a report. The EPA had given out about $1.2 billion for waste or water infrastructure. But think of wastewater, you know, we’ve had so much rainfall at once that wastewater overflow, the plants overflow, and they shut down. So EPA has been giving out money under a revolving fund. But their inspector general just said, hey, wait a minute, you haven’t been requiring that these things be invested resiliently. This includes money from the infrastructure bill. And that’s a big problem, because that means that they probably won’t succeed.

Similarly, the GAO just came out, if you have a nuclear plant in your area and you want to have an extension on that plant—which is a common way to increase green energy—the GAO, which is the Government Accountability Office, the watchdog for the federal government, just came out with a study saying the Nuclear Regulatory Commission isn’t paying enough attention to climate risk. And that’s a little scary to think of climate risk when you match it up with nuclear power plant. That is a Fukushima. So there are stories there about how we are not preparing our infrastructure for the risks we already know, much less those ahead. And there’s a lot to dive down into within a particular local jurisdiction.

As for the international, I think one hook that could be useful, if you are in a state that’s beginning to have litigation over actions on climate change. Michigan just announced that it’s exploring suing the fossil fuel companies for damage from climate change. We have states and counties doing that all over the United States. Now you might be in a state that’s doing that. Very interesting to follow. The international angle is that there’s also an explosion of litigation internationally to apply pressure to fossil fuel companies and governments to do better when it comes to climate change. And one of the really remarkable ones that will have an effect across Europe, but maybe—I don’t know if it would—I’m a former judge. I’m not sure it would translate to the United States.

But it was a much older women in Switzerland, who said: Hey, we are at greater risk of heat. And our government is not doing enough to protect us from heat. Heat is one of the most certain impacts of climate change. They sued in the European Court of Human Rights. And they won. So now in the EU, we will see similar litigation. So tying that to a story in your town. In California and San Diego, they had those huge atmospheric rivers that come across California dumping all the rain, which are fueled by climate change. And just yesterday in San Diego, the city is being sued by homeowners because they said the city didn’t do enough to prepare our water infrastructure. And we flooded, our homes flooded, and now somebody’s going to have to pay. The city says, we don’t have enough money to do this. We can’t—we don’t have enough money to do the kind of infrastructure. They don’t cite climate change, but that is a climate-related case. So I think there’s litigation that you can pull from internationally, the drive there, and as well as locally.

I think our election is a big issue here. If we have—we have pretty much as stark as it can be, and the two parties in their views on climate change and what will happen. And what that means internationally is significant. We saw with—if we have a President Trump return, we saw already that he would pull out of the Paris agreements. And that would have ramifications for our allies overseas, particularly Europe, in terms of how they view the United States, and then how we’re viewed as whether we will continue on with action. So that national election here, it will have ramifications worldwide.

And then finally, I think you could draw parallels to what’s happening here to what’s happening in the rest of the world. Of course, we are 25 percent of world GDP here in the United States. But we don’t have enough money, honestly, available readily, as San Diego said, to fix these problems. And then there’s certainly parallels in the rest of the world. Money will be the big challenge going forward, not only from the transition to clean energy, but also the kinds of damages that we will see. And the estimates of those—latest estimate was $38 trillion of damage by 2050 worldwide from climate impacts. So that will be something to match. And can we learn from each other as to what we’re doing? A point here would be Cincinnati has decided that it wants to be a town that receives migrants who are—or, people who are displaced by climate change. Bangladesh is running a very similar effort. So there are parallels that we can draw with efforts happening internationally to inform how we can better address climate change here.

PARKER: Thank you, Alice. And that’s a good reminder. You know, a lot of these companies, of course, are multinationals. And they may have a headquarters or a site in your town, and, you know, you can see how what they’re doing in your town compares to their operations around the world, as well as to their intersections with the various regulations and litigations going on. Well, I could ask many questions, but now it is time to hear your questions. Please wait for the mic. Give me your name, your affiliation. And, please, questions. No speeches. Right here. If you can get through, sorry. (Laughs.) Sorry, back in one—table back. Sorry.

Q: Hi. Thank you so much. My name is Rachel. I’m a reporter with Seven Days, which is an alt weekly in Burlington, Vermont.

And my question has to do with—so we had catastrophic flooding last summer in Vermont. And I did a lot of disaster reporting in the immediate aftermath. And now a year later, it’s challenging to frame the important stories that need to happen about infrastructure shifts in Vermont as we continue to face more flooding in the future. And those conversations were happening immediately following the flood. How do you continue to pursue a climate disaster story a year later? And how would you recommend framing that for our readers?

HARDIN: Well, I can make a quick—having spent a bit of time in Vermont. There’s always a process to this, right? What is under discussion at the city council in Montpelier? You know, what’s happening in terms of the actual—you know, I saw a lot of the online stuff about the various food pantries and others that were underwater, and all the recovery efforts by the community that restore all of that, right? And so it may be a story in the moment, but what’s actually happening in terms of local discussions, and local investments, and urban planning, and your point about zoning, and, you know, all of this continues to go on. So there may be an angle there to cover as well. But let me turn it over to other panelists to weigh in more.

PARKER: Andy, do you—

RIVKIN: Yeah, I wrote about—Vermont is, like other places, where the historical data really are important. We look at the flooding that happened there and think, oh my God, this is insane. November 1927 was the flood of record in Vermont. The lieutenant governor was killed, along with tens of thousands of cows. And at that—at that time—there was a study that I wrote about in the New York Times in 2002, and Nature, the journal Nature, where they dug all across the Northeast into lake beds, like I said about Florida earlier, there’s records of epic storms that are laid down in lake beds in mud. And they found very soberingly that Vermont, through the past half of the Holocene, 5,000 years there’s a record of extreme scouring floods, just like what you experienced a year ago.

So any—and climate change is changing the system. But if anyone thinks that if we succeed on climate change we’ve reduced Vermont’s tendency, pattern of having extreme scouring floods—such that there are layers of gravel in the bottoms of the lakes, you know, about every—and there’s a rising frequency of those on long timescale. Then we’re mis-portraying the story. And the story ends up being about climate risk and vulnerability. And history is a really important component of this. If you don’t look back in history for rare events, then we can have all these headlines—and just now, like, yesterday or two days ago, I’m sure Alice knows about this, Vermont—there’s a bill that’s poised to be passed there to sue for some increment—a measurable increment of damage from those floods.

That completely ignores that paper from 2002, which—I just queried the authors yesterday. It still holds up. No one has undercut that work. So the idea that you can say, oh, well, 50 percent of that is because of Exxon is not in the science. And, you know, what are we supposed to do as reporters? This is not about selling a narrative. It’s about building communities that are safer and making sure that they have the full scope of information.

PARKER: Alice, I wanted to hear what your thoughts are.

HILL: Well, I think Vermont is indicative of what is probably happening in many localities. So, of course, in 2011, it’s hit with terrible rains. I think it wiped out—extreme precipitation, five hundred miles of roads, really damaging. And Vermont vowed to build back better. It actually sued FEMA to try to get FEMA to allow it to build back better. But these most recent floodings, as I’ve learned, have revealed that in building back better, Vermont did not imagine how big these events could get. And that is the challenge in building the infrastructure going forward, is that we simply don’t have the information to say how can we build back better. One of the easy places for communities to build back better that face extreme precipitation is just to make their drainage culverts larger. An Army Corps of Engineers told me that for every dollar you spend on widening your culverts, you save about $100 in damages. So you want to build bigger culverts,

Vermont chose to build back some culverts. But in the latest rains that they had, this extreme precipitation, the flooding that they had, the culverts weren’t large enough, that were built in 2011. And that, I think, is the kind of story. Who’s informing these choices? How are we making these choices to make sure that we are actually making investments that last? Because I think if we lift up the rock, and you get the science from University of Vermont, there are probably climatologist who are looking at what’s happening in Vermont, and then match it up to what is being decided at the city or state level, there’s, I think, likely you’ll discover a delta. And bringing that attention to the attention—because the cost-benefit analysis is so favorable to investing in greater resilience up front, rather than trying to recover from the damage. And I found it interesting, Maine has a similar story. They’ve had this similar—they have a resilience strategy, heavy rains, turns out even the governor had to say, you know, our resilience strategy just didn’t match up to what we’re seeing.

RIVKIN: And that’s true. Virtually everywhere in this room, I’m sure. And by the way, this is true for other kinds of disasters too. There’s a tendency—everyone has told me for decades, a dollar spent now averts $10 you have to spend after the disaster. This is for quakes, for everything. And there is a fundamental challenge we have as a species in our structures, our governance, is all basically a reflection of who we are as communities, as people. And we really are a near-term species. And that is a fundamental challenge of the twenty-first century, is how do we go forward these timelines of concern? And it’s still an open challenge. It’s a local story as well as a global story, because it’s about brains just as much—as much about CO2 reduction. It’s about not just investing for now. It’s a challenge.

HARDIN: But also, I want to—if I could just follow up on that. I loved your point, Alice, about the information. And I think as part of this panel, we’ve all gotten together some recommendations on sources of publicly available information that are going out to this group. But to your point, if we have that record, that historical record, or we know where to go for that publicly available information on flooding records, or on buildings zones, or, you know, all these things, it does help, right? And often it’s harder in the local environment to have access to all the data, to have the time to have access to all the data, to understand where it is. But I do think your point about having access to that is really important. So I just wanted to amplify that.

PARKER: And it’s a great accountability story. You know, what did they promise and then what happened, right? So it’s great. Right here in the front.

Q: I had a question for Alice. I wanted to go back to your first comment about home insurance and insurance. And just to kind of get your sense of what you think the outlook is for commercial home insurance. I know historically with flooding we reached a point where we decided that we had to nationalize that, because it was no longer profitable or available to homeowners. Do you see a similar situation where we actually have to contemplate a nationalization of home insurance? Is that politically possible? And, you know, I guess basically, will it no longer be profitable for these companies to insure homes at a certain point?

HILL: Well, I’ll start with a framing here. In 2015, the head of AXA, which is one of the largest reinsurers in the world, said that a 4-degree world—4 degrees Celsius world was not insurable. What’s happening is that I think the latest records last year we ran at 1.58 degrees Celsius in global average temperatures. It’s starting out in some places, it’s not insurable, even at that much lower increase above preindustrial levels. So, yes, I met with a reinsurer in 2016, head of a Bermuda reinsurer. And he said, climate change, we’re not going to be able to cover it if it gets as bad as we’re looking. And that means the federal government will have to step in.

And that’s exactly what happened with flood. So in the 1960s, there were a series of bad floods. And insurers said, you know, we don’t really like this flood risk. Eventually, federal government stepped in, created the National Flood Insurance Program. Now, it did not put in at the time, and probably the political compromise at the time, the kind of protections to make sure that the rates charged under that National Flood Insurance Program actually reflect the true risk. Of course, insurers price risk. And the reason why prices are going up is because the risk is increasing. So but the pricing for the National Flood Insurance Program hasn’t historically reflected risk. FEMA is trying—that oversees that program—is trying to correct that. Lots of political pushback on charging actuarially sound rates, rates that truly reflect the risk.

I’ve heard for years this meme, oh, it’s the insurance companies are that are going to solve this. And I will say, I’m speaking in my individual capacity. I do sit on the boards of the domestic subsidiaries of Munich Reinsurance, but I’m speaking solely in my personal capacity here. Insurers run—or, are for-profit businesses. And they write contracts on an annualized basis. You get a contract for your home or your commercial building for a year. And so then they readjust as they learn more. And as we’ve heard from Andy, it’s a lot about the historical record. Some states, like California, required insurers only to look back at the past twenty years in setting rates. There’s a lot of regulation to protect consumers from pricing adjustments.

And California insurers said, hey, that’s hurting us. In 2017, we wiped out a quarter century of profits, the insurers did, as a result of the fires in California. And so what you’re seeing is insurers saying, we don’t like that wildfire risk. We’re going to leave. Or in Florida, in the Gulf states, we don’t like that wind risk. And they don’t want to write. And then you have these backup plans, they’re often called fair plans, that are just ballooning. And also in Florida, for example, as you see the big insurers leave, and those big insurers can spread their risk across the United States. So if they get hard hit hard in Florida, they can hopefully have been profitable elsewhere to kind of make it even out. And they also buy reinsurance. But reinsurance has become very expensive because the risks are going up, and the reinsurers don’t want to cover these risks. And the reinsurers, by the way, have been very open about how serious climate risk is.

And then so you have more fly by night operations entering into the Gulf states, in Louisiana. And those may not have the spread of geographic risk or the asset side that most of these big insurers have, that can help them cover a really bad year. So you’re going to see more failures. And then these state-funded backup plans are going to come in place. And eventually, I believe, as I was told by this CEO of a reinsurer, there’ll be tremendous pressure on the federal government to step in.

We have seen some countries—France has a national catastrophic program. Britain’s trying to get a flood program. It’s kind of all over the map. But who’s going to pay? And the problem we have is that more people, as Andy has said, are moving into areas at risk. We have 40 percent of our population living in a coastal county right now. I mean, huge number of assets there. And similarly, we’ve seen a huge number of people moving into areas that are wildfire prone. So we’ve invested a lot in those areas. People have their homes. And they’re going to want insurance.

PARKER: Thank you.

HARDIN: Can I ask Andy a quick follow-up question?

PARKER: Mmm hmm.

HARDIN: So, Andy, you and I were talking this morning about the fact that it’s the physical risk, and it’s the physical infrastructure, but also the social infrastructure in terms of when that disaster hits there are certain research you were quoting this morning that indicate that if a community is more united and more aware of the risk and able to take care of the more vulnerable members, they actually survive that better. And I just thought that might be a useful point to make here.

RIVKIN: Yeah, it really is. This is something that relates to other aspects of the climate story. We, meaning journalists and insurance companies, and—we tend to focus on things that are measurable, meaning carbon, or how many people live in place. It’s very—it’s much harder to have a number for vulnerability, and for the opposite. And so we tend to ignore that. And this social infrastructure in a community is a key part of constraining losses when something bad is poised to happen. The classic example is heat. Like we were talking a lot about heat. Eric Klinenberg—K-L-I-N-E-N-B-E-R-G—did a great book about the 1995-ish great Chicago heat wave. Communities with more coherence, more social infrastructure, who knew where the old person with no air conditioner lived, had lower mortality rates than communities that didn’t know who’s down the block.

And, as Christie Ebi, E-B-I, at University of Washington has told me, like, at least five times in webcasts I’ve done, nobody needs to die in a heatwave, period. And that’s what she studies. She’s, like, the world’s leading person on that. And that only happens if communities have cooling centers, if people in an apartment building know where the vulnerable person is, if you know where your uncle is. The great French disaster, the heat disaster, 2003 I think it was, a lot of those were grandparents whose families were on vacance, you know? And they were left behind in Paris. And, yeah, they died. So that social component is a really important story. And it’s a good narrative story as well. It’s just harder to—it doesn’t get into these metrics as easily. So I think that it is an important point.

PARKER: And to your earlier point, it’s a justice story as well. Who can afford insurance? Who lives in the most vulnerable areas, where the floods, you know, are constantly coming, versus other places? So this—

RIVKIN: Yeah. And, by the way, this gets to the importance of lateral thinking as a reporter. You know, you’re in a community looking at other communities around the world, around the country, around state that have similar biogeographical contexts, but are doing something different. Like daylighting. Daylighting—Yonkers, New York—the Saw Mill River used to run through the city, under the city, in a big iron conduit. And they ripped it open so that when there’s an extreme rain now, it doesn’t—you don’t have a culvert issue. You have what looks like a greenway in the middle of the town. And, yeah, it floods, but it avoids flooding elsewhere. That was Yonkers. They’ve learned from Seoul, South Korea. I did a story for the Times on that in 2009. So finding those—looking around is another way to get a good story.

PARKER: Mmm hmm. At the back tables here, Let’s take the two questions at the same time.

Q: Hi. Aaron Sanchez-Guerra, WUNC, North Carolina.

Regarding hazard, regarding heat waves, and regarding vulnerability. I cover agricultural labor, particularly migrant farm workers in rural North Carolina. And during last year’s heatwave we actually had a farm worker who died shortly after arriving from Mexico, due to heat exhaustion. And it’s not the first time this happens. And I’m just citing that example specifically to sort of set up the context. But I am interested in learning more about how workers, and not just farm laborers but also, say, airport workers who are out on the tarmacs in the heat, how much they are at the mercy of state OSHA regulations? Because North Carolina lacks a heat standard, which states like California have, and which protect workers. And I’m very—I’m a little bit newer to the climate side and the climate-political side. I would like to broadly ask if you could speak to how—if you could speak to heat standards, protections for residents and workers during heat waves that states can provide or that they don’t provide, and they should? You know, how much is—how much of it is politics? How much of it is fear of regulation? I’m curious to hear what you have to say.

PARKER: OK. Great. Can you pass it to the colleague next to you?

Q: Hello. I’m Gustavo Solis. I work for the NPR station in San Diego covering border and immigration issues.

So, Alice, I’d be curious to know, as someone who worked with DHS on their climate action plan, just what do you think of the federal government’s approach to looking at migration from a climate issue? And, Andy, I’d just be curious, as a reporter, just how would you approach kind of covering that intersection of climate and global migration right now?

PARKER: Let’s start with the heat standards. Alice, do you have some sources for those?

HILL: Yes. Well, it would—my understanding is it falls to the states. Right now I do not believe—I think the Labor Department has proposed a heat standard, but otherwise it’s in the states. Florida has rejected one, Governor DeSantis, and Governor Abbott in Texas has rejected a heat standard, as I recall. You may be interested just today or yesterday CDC came out with recommendations that practitioners be on the alert for heat. You know, of course, there’s problems with the kidneys, problems with a lot of things when you have too much heat, and people do die. So it appears that it’s become politicized. That’s unfortunate because we know that heat is one of the most certain—and in more humid states, it becomes much more dangerous more quickly. There’s this wet-bulb temperature. If you’re not familiar with it, I recommend you do become familiar. Essentially, it’s too hot and humid for your body to sweat enough to be able to expel the heat in your body, and basically you can’t be outdoors that long. So very concerning we haven’t made, in my opinion, as much progress.

And just an interesting factoid. In the economic modeling on climate change, the initial modeling assumed that there really wouldn’t be a problem with outdoor labor because they assumed everybody could work inside. I mean, that’s how unsophisticated our understanding has been, and that’s been built in, I think, into the mantra that it’s too expensive to try to address climate change and the green transition. We’re just not looking at the costs, like, to outdoor laborers, that they are really facing very serious conditions, or people who don’t have air conditioning who can’t get to a heating—a cooling center. Just we’re going to see more health problems.

On the immigration, this is—when I was at DHS I was learning about climate change, and we saw the first surge of kids from the Northern Triangle and Central America. And those kids were mostly teenage boys, and we were trying to understand why. At that time, we actually introduced a survey at the border to try to figure out if climate change was one of the causes, because we knew that coffee rust was occurring, and for agriculturally dependent economies their crops were suffering, and they’d also had flooding; maybe that was driving. What we learned in that survey is it’s unlikely, at least those migrants that we polled, would identify climate change as a cause. There’s just not enough understanding of climate change.

But based on my work, two things. Migration is one of the first consequences of climate change and is very evident across the world. If you look at the Syrian refugees, supposedly from the civil war, but underlying that was a 1,200-year drought that caused a lot of young men to be thrown out of agricultural work. They centered in cities, and then there was a lot of civil unrest. So we are seeing that pattern, and we’re seeing huge numbers of people on the move as they suffer the consequences of climate change, whether it’s a slow-moving event like a drought or an acute event like a flood.

And that is going—we’re not going to see flows, in my opinion, significantly decrease. We are just going to see more and more pressure, particularly on the developed world, from those who have had the least to do with climate change but are suffering more because they have the least infrastructure to protect them and the least means. They’re going to want to enter our countries. So this is a problem that will be growing and, obviously, deserves attention. But it’s just difficult to pinpoint that climate change is the cause.

Climate change, as has widely been stated, is a threat multiplier. It’s a crisis multiplier. So it just makes things worse. It’s like maybe the camels, you know, what—the straw that breaks the camel’s back; a bad agricultural season worsened by climate change causes someone to make that very difficult decision to move.

REVKIN: And there’s a good possible local story in tracking trajectories of people. Mostly, this is a—migration is about pull as well as push, and the pull is economic opportunity and freedom. And there’s all these disruptive elements in communities in the Global South. Mostly, they’re seeing push. But the pull in America is such that these zones that we have of hazard are still pulling people in. I wrote about a paper two years ago—three years ago had a webcast on—this is global. People are moving into zones of flooding faster than zones of flooding are changing from global warming. That’s true in China. It’s true in America. And it’s because of economics that much of that is happening. But tracking these trajectories of individuals can be a story: You know, where did that person come from? Why are they there? It is—as Alice was saying, it’s way too murky to get down to what component of that person moving was because of climate change as distinct from climate risk. Remember, risk is—risk doesn’t care if the Syrian drought was from long-term global warming or from internal variability. And it’s there, but that’s kind of a distraction from the ultimate reason people move.

On heat, I do recommend looking around. There’s been some great coverage. Jeff Goodell’s book just came out recently on heat. Grist did a multi-part—like, a fifty-part series on heat, including on regulation issues. Probably in other parts of the country—Washington Post, Shannon Osaka and others did. So make sure you look for other people’s reporting, and that could give you ideas for sources, too. And there—the SEJ and the Earth Journalism Network internationally are both good resources for sifting that stuff.

PARKER: Yeah. One story I heard about, there was—it took heat and looked at the effect on playgrounds. So you can bring it back to children; it could be too hot to go out, you know, and use the playground equipment, it’s too hot to touch. So there’s all sorts of different communities and how they’re affected by heat.

Let’s see, one more question right here in the front.

Q: My name’s Geoffrey Plant. I cover environment, climate, water issues, land management at the Taos News in Taos, New Mexico.

A couple years ago we had a very large, catastrophic wildfire in northern New Mexico, and in reporting on this monthslong story our photographer and I were constantly running up against access issues to the disaster area. Unlike California, we don’t in New Mexico and most states don’t have a law that allows media to access disaster areas, with some restrictions. And my question is—which, by the way, made it very difficult to report on what was actually going on inside the wildfire area, where some folks didn’t evacuate, there was no cellphone service or electricity, communication. At any rate, my question is, is there an effort at the national level to create a media disaster access law? And what can we as journalists do to advocate for more access to disaster areas?

PARKER: I’m not aware of any effort like that, but it’s a great idea for SEJ’s Freedom of Information Task Force. So if you have any sort of press freedom incident related to covering the environment, the SEJ task force can be an advocate and help investigate or press for access.

Andy, are you aware of anything?

REVKIN: That feels pretty local. I can’t imagine there will ever be a federal—maybe on some First Amendment—that’s all about your relationship with local law enforcement to a certain extent.

Q: It was the federal government, really.

REVKIN: Was this on federal land, or?

Q: Yeah.

REVKIN: Oh, if it’s on federal land, then that’s—

Q: (Off mic)—federal land, state land.


Q: The local law enforcement—(off mic)—

REVKIN: Yeah, if it’s federal land, that’s different. That’s an interesting question.


REVKIN: Maybe that is a good—that’s a good question.

PARKER: Yeah. And we’ve—I think the task force has dealt with situations like that in Florida, but not for parks, parkland, but not disasters. They do, of course, have some, you know, interests in, you know, keeping people safe, which I assume is the excuse for keeping out the press.

Q: Yeah.

PARKER: Yeah. So the question is how do you, you know, overcome that. That’s a—I’ll definitely put you in touch with the—with that. And the Freedom of the Press Foundation also has a press tracker. So if you have, again, any incidents, they cover any topic or beat but they do also disaggregate by environment.

I think we could squeeze in one more quick one if somebody has a really short one. Right here, yes, in the middle. Oh, I’m sorry, you may have the microphone. Sorry. (Laughs.) OK. Real short and short answers. Sorry.

Q: Hi. I’m Stephen Caruso with Spotlight PA.

And my question is, you know, what are some clichés that you see in climate stories? And I ask not to learn what you think is, you know, maybe corny or, you know, just kind of hackneyed, but more, you know, I’m curious what things you find not useful for readers or things that kind of muddle readers understanding climate change.

PARKER: Great question.

REVKIN: Oh boy. We could do a whole nother session on that. (Laughter.) I could—

PARKER: Quick answers. (Laughs.)

REVKIN: Revkin@gmail, OK? (Laughter.)

There are many. You know, the Guardian newspaper now has a stylebook where they discourage their reporters from even using the term “global warming” or “climate change.” They say it has to be “climate breakdown” or “climate emergency.” I think that’s idiotic. It’s kind of like—(laughter)—it’s like in that movie, the Rock comedy where the guy has his amplifier built that goes to eleven. It doesn’t really serve anyone’s purpose. My Sustain What enterprise, my blog and everything, is framed around careful use of words and asking questions. So when you say climate emergency, like, if you have a local—if you live in a town where they’re passing a climate emergency statute, as has happened, who is in the state of emergency? Ask questions. What are the remedies for the emergency? What are we actually going to do about that? And that’s a good way to get around jargon. I think climate change has become jargon.

The IPCC—big, giant science enterprise—and the Framework Convention on Climate Change, they have two different definitions for the term climate change. One, the framework—the treaty, their definition of climate change is only greenhouse gas-driven climate change. And the IPCC, when they say climate change, they mean climate change by whatever means—you know, human or natural. So if—so every term is, essentially, fraught. And Global Press, which is an international journalism network in Washington, they have a stylebook that’s—their—female journalists in developing countries around the world, their stylebook addresses this because every reporter there has to kind of think about a word like “refugee.” Refugee is another one, by the way. It has a strict definition in international, you know, discourse if you throw that around. But their stylebook—and I have a webcast about this—gets at how to develop the mindset as a journalist and you think about words. “Unprecedented” is a big one because environmental activists throw it around and we just tend to lap them up as well.

So it’s more a mindset about every word than thinking about some particular terms, and I think that’s what I would encourage. And I’m happy to, you know, do more. That’s what I do, so I’m here to follow up.

PARKER: Kate, is there a cliché that bothers you or terms you would avoid?

HARDIN: Well, I can’t point to one in particular, but I will say that I often appreciate having a datapoint that is really, you know, fact-checked and is helpful, right? So to the extent that you could bring a concrete example that is from a reliable source that helps illuminate the problem, I find that very helpful.

PARKER: Great. Great advice. Alice?

HILL: In disaster reporting, I see frequently a quote: I’ve lived here for X amount of years and I’ve never experienced anything like it. (Laughter.) OK. That’s the definition of climate change. And so that raises a suggestion that it’s not going to get worse. It is going to get worse. And to just throw that in there, I mean, I don’t know, I think we’re missing the point here. If you are going to have a climate hook here, you have the attribution it was worsened and then the science tells us it it’s going to get worse. So it’s not so relevant that this is the worst thing anybody has experienced in their lifetime. And that’s what—

REVKIN: And by the way—

HILL: —(inaudible)—working on climate change so hard because the human brain is not gauged for catastrophic risk that it has not experienced or a loved one hasn’t experienced. And that’s why I think we are having so much trouble making progress here—one of the reasons.


PARKER: Well, let’s say—I’m going to say I have been here two times and this is one of the best—(laughter)—of those two times/panels. So please join me in thanking this amazing panel. (Applause.) And as Andy mentioned, we all have some resources and links we can share with you about all these topics, and please feel free to come up and ask for more. And you are now to go directly to your lunch breakouts which are in your agendas. So thank you all again. And thank you guys.

REVKIN: Thank you.

HARDIN: Thanks, Meaghan.

PARKER: Thank you.


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