Photo by: Nieman Foundation

Covering Climate Change Workshop

11/14/2019 | Cambridge, MA

On November 14–16, 2019, we hosted an intensive training workshop for journalists on covering climate change and related issues with the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. Our Directors Gina McCarthy and Dr. Aaron Bernstein kicked off the workshop and joined the panels on November 14 and 15. Our goal was to bring together a diverse group of reporters, academics, researchers and practitioners in order to help journalists deepen their reporting skills and expand their thinking around climate-related issues and how they intersect with all beats.

The workshop was made possible with generous support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Find more information below:


2019 Covering Climate Workshop Tip Sheet

The 2019 Covering Climate Workshop was a collaborative effort from The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Harvard Chan C-CHANGE), the Nieman Journalism Foundation at Harvard, and the MacArthur Foundation. Through a series of panels, conversations, and a trip to a green start-up incubator, journalists developed their skills to report on and increase understanding of climate change. Resources shared and discussed throughout the weekend are available on the Nieman Foundation website and all of the participating journalists’ Twitter accounts can be found on this list to continue the climate conversations. 

Below is a summary of the top takeaways based on the comments from speakers and participants from the three-day workshop.

Think Critically about Language

“The words we use matter”

  • The way we talk about climate change is important. It determines how urgent and intersectional people interpret the crisis. 
    • When discussing action needed to solve the crisis, use “responsibility” instead of “blame” and “fault”.
    • Use “choice” and “urgency” instead of “inevitability” to maintain hope for a healthy future. 
    • Use evidence, not beliefs. People want facts that can be proven by professionals.
    • Use “relocate” not “retreat”. The key is to encourage solutions and resilience to the effects of climate change. This will maintain hope and minimize fear.  
  • Emotions impact how people absorb information and facts, so use language that sparks them by knowing who your audience is and speaking to their interests. People understand issues better when they are personal. 
    • I.e. Republicans care about the economic impact, so share that climate solutions create jobs, improve the economy, and lower energy costs.

Make Climate Personal and Local

“You have to understand what people care about and what they’re willing to relate to.” – Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Co-Director of Harvard Chan C-CHANGE

  • Frame climate change as a public health issue rather than a planetary one. The effects of climate change are here, now, and taking a toll on the way we think, breathe, eat, and live. They will continue to do so until policies are solidified and actions are taken. 
  • Telling personal stories allows people to feel closer to the issue. Vulnerable populations such as the elderly, minorities, those who are handicapped, those who are on medications, and children face the most detriment due to climate change. Journalists can make these inequalities known so readers can take action in their communities to protect these populations.
  • Explain practical action for the issue at hand rather than leaving your audience feeling defeated by a lack of federal action.
  • Discuss younger generations and their intolerance for inaction on the climate crisis. Youth activism is empowering and shows why these issues directly impact children’s futures. Their voices need to be heard loud and clear. 

Use Science to Tell Stories

“Cut through the noise with evidence and facts.” – Sean Harder, Communications Officer at the MacArthur Foundation

  • Doctors are seeing the effects of air pollution on their patients’ lungs, heatwaves on their patients’ cognition, extreme weather on their mental health. Gather their perspectives and share these stories. 
  • People are skeptical of the news that they receive, so the sources reporters use impacts how readers will receive climate coverage. Use sources that your audience trusts. NASA, National Geographic, and military leaders are trusted by audiences across the political spectrum.
  • Specify that your facts are coming from climate scientists rather than just scientists. Context and credibility count. 
  • Journalists may feel uncomfortable covering climate change because they don’t want to appear as advocates. Focus on the climate scientists who encourage action due to the urgency of this crisis. 

Focus on Solutions.

“I’m so tired of talking about the problems. I’m so excited to hear about the solutions.” – Gina McCarthy, Director of Harvard Chan C-CHANGE

  • It may seem easier to only cover climate tragedies— don’t. Focus on covering the solutions to climate change, the actions that local communities are taking, the policies being put into place, and activism around the globe. 
  • By covering practical and local solutions for the issue at hand readers will feel more hopeful and likely to act rather than feeling defeated by a lack of federal action. 
  • Dig deeper into what is working well in other places and bring that to your community. Find out what they’re doing and how. 
  • The same solutions to large public health issues such as obesity, diabetes, etc. are also the solutions we need for climate change. Point out these parallels and use scientific evidence to do so.