McDonnell Scholar Blog: Taking the Heat

Thermometer and scorched earth

On Oct. 14, during the 7thMcDonnell International Scholars Academy symposium workshop “Taking the Heat: Using Journalism for Educational Engagement on Climate,” a group of experienced journalists and scholars highlighted journalism’s function in educating the public on climate change, and presented us the future of journalism as offering more solutions to this urgent global problem.

This workshop has its context. One week earlier, on Oct. 8, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report, which warns the global public of a series of severe impacts on human society if we fail to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius. This landmark report was continuously addressed by scholars throughout the symposium, and with this workshop journalists and scholars offered thoughts on how to respond to this urgent issue from journalism’s perspective.

Climate change, especially at this stage, has become the biggest challenge facing the global community, and thus an important topic for reporters to address. However, as reflected by the speakers, reports on this urgent issue oftentimes fail to engage the broadest possible public in the world.

Nan Hu_headshot

Nan Hu, McDonnell Scholar from The Graduate School: Chinese and Comparative Literature (PhD)

This workshop thus aimed to provide thoughts and tools to “bring the climate issue alive.” To Rick Dunham, co-director of the Global Business Journalism program at Tsinghua University, tackling climate change through journalism means first of all, “avoiding the politics trap.”  It is ridiculous for journalists to keep attacking Trump and arguing global warming exists without dealing with the issue. What they should do now, argued by Dunham, is turn to the practical issues in global warming, break them down, and offer more solutions to the public.

Other speakers agreed on the importance of solutions in the representations of climate issues in journalism. Introducing the theory of solutions journalism, Doug Harbrecht, visiting professor at Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication, calls for a kind of journalism that “aims to show how people are making things better.” To him, journalism should offer strong evidence that shows how a solution is working, and also honestly cover “any caveats or limitations associated with evidence of a solution.” Only in this way can journalism bring useful information to the readers and fulfill its responsibility for public service.

With its emphasis on solutions, this workshop joined hands with other talks and discussions of this symposium, which aim to solve the global problems. It invited me to think about literature’s role in this war against global warming: literature has long been representing various environmental issues to the readers. But other than showing what is wrong with our world, how can literature offer more direct solutions to these encroaching problems?