Journalists at the forefront of climate change

Eliyahu Gasson | Staff Writer

March 23, 2023

*Note: The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) will publish a monthly column in The Duke’s opinions section.

Last month, a train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed near East Palestine, Ohio. The derailed train cars spilled around 100,000 gallons of the chemicals they were carrying into the land, air and water.

Concerned about a possible explosion Norfolk Southern — the rail company in charge of the train — ignited the flammable chemicals generating an ominous plume of black smoke.

Two days after the accident, the residents of East Palestine and its surrounding communities were given evacuation orders. They were allowed to return to their homes three days later on Feb. 8.

During the press event at which Ohio Governor Mike DeWine gave residents the go-ahead to return, NewsNation reporter Evan Lambert was pushed to the ground, handcuffed and arrested. He was charged with resisting arrest and criminal trespassing. The charges were later dropped.

Environmental journalism is a crucial element of the modern world. In recent years, this field has become increasingly important as human activity continues to catalyze climate change and its effects on the environment become more apparent. These journalists play an essential role in informing the public about environmental issues and holding corporations and governments accountable.

However, environmental journalists face many challenges in doing their work. One of the biggest obstacles is the influence of corporations and political interests prioritizing their profits over the well-being of the environment and the people relying on it. These entities use their political power and resources to suppress information and push their agenda.

This is especially true when it comes to climate change, where powerful industries have spent millions of dollars on disinformation campaigns to cast doubt on the science behind global warming.

At the same time, environmental journalism requires access to funding and resources to carry out in-depth investigations and analysis. However, these resources are often in short supply, leaving journalists with limited options for pursuing stories that require extensive research and travel.

Environmental journalists also face harassment, intimidation and even violence from those who oppose their work. This is especially true in countries where press freedom is limited and environmental reporting is seen as a threat to those in power. In many cases, journalists have been targeted by corporations, government officials and even criminal organizations for their reporting on environmental issues. This puts journalists at risk and undermines their ability to do their work and provide the public with the information they need.

Take for example the case of Daphne Carina Galizia, a Maltese investigative journalist who was known for her reporting on corruption, organized crime and environmental issues in Malta.

In 2017, Galizia was killed by a car bomb near her home in Malta. Before her death, she had been investigating links between Maltese politicians and the Panama Papers scandal, as well as environmental issues such as the illegal dumping of hazardous waste and the impact of tourism development on the island’s fragile ecosystem.

Although the investigation into her death is ongoing, it is widely believed that her reporting on these issues played a role in her assassination. Her death was widely condemned by the international community, and her legacy continues to inspire journalists around the world to pursue investigative reporting on issues related to the environment.

Then there is the case of Jagendra Singh, a journalist in India who was killed in 2015.

Singh had been reporting on alleged corruption and illegal activities involving a local politician named Ram Murti Verma. Singh had written multiple Facebook posts and published articles in a Hindi-language newspaper alleging that Verma was involved in illegal mining, land grabs and other illegal activities. Singh had also accused Verma of attempting to have him killed in the past.

It is believed that Singh’s reporting on Verma led to his killing. Singh was allegedly set on fire by a group of men who were reportedly associated with Verma. Before his death, Singh had named Verma and some of his associates in a dying declaration to the police. However, Verma denied the allegations and claimed that Singh had committed suicide.

Despite such challenges, environmental journalism is more critical now than ever before. As we continue to face the consequences of human activity on our planet, we must have a robust and independent press that is willing to hold those in power accountable for their actions. By raising awareness about environmental issues, environmental journalists are shaping public opinion and driving meaningful change.

Environmental journalists also help to connect individuals and communities with the resources and tools they need to take action on environmental issues. By providing information on ways to reduce waste, conserve energy and advocate for policies that protect the environment, environmental journalists empower readers to make a positive impact in their own lives and communities.

Environmental journalism is a vital component of modern society. It serves as a watchdog for the environment, exposing issues that may otherwise go unnoticed and holding those responsible accountable for their actions. Although they face significant challenges, their work is essential in creating a more sustainable future for our planet and its inhabitants. It is up to all of us to support and advocate for environmental journalism, recognizing its critical role in shaping our world for the better.

Since the derailment in East Palestine, Norfolk Southern released a “six-point plan” to improve safety on their rails. The company said it also plans on installing additional safety measures including 200 hot metal bearing detectors with the first installed near East Palestine.