Lessons Learned in Covering the Climate Crisis

From an Inside the Times story by Somini Sengupta headlined “Lessons Learned in Covering the Climate Crisis”:

Today, I wrap up my turn at helming this newsletter. So, this is a thank-you card.

I became a climate reporter after many years as an international correspondent because I could see how the climate crisis was affecting everything from how people farm to how nations realign geopolitics.

It’s why I chose to anchor this newsletter for you. I wanted to show you, in short, bite-size pieces, not just the perils of global warming, but who is doing what to address it. I wanted to share with you the amazing work of my colleagues. I wanted to walk us through sometimes impenetrable debates and explain, simply, how it matters for everyday people in our everyday lives. I wrote from a place of neither hope nor despair, exactly, but from the perspective of an OK-now-what-do-we-do pragmatist.

So, for nearly a year and a half, backed up by Douglas Alteen, Manuela Andreoni, Claire O’Neill, Adam Pasick and many others who popped in to help, Team Climate Forward has unpacked things like obtuse climate negotiations in Sharm el Sheikh (“a parade of men,” as I described in my postcard) and the biggest U.S. climate legislation of my lifetime (plus tips on how U.S. residents can take advantage of some of that climate aid).

We covered the news of fatal heat in India and teased out the geopolitical consequences of unusually warm weather in Europe (“Winter is trolling the Kremlin,” I wrote).

You came with me on road trips with The Teenager, once to Costa Rica, another time through Central California. You sent us your stories about the wild creatures around you. You told us about intergenerational standoffs in your families. Some of you wanted to know why we weren’t writing about population growth. So, we did. And showed you why that’s not really a big problem.

You sent us kind notes. You complained. I read all of it. It made me a better journalist. Sometimes, it moved me. Thank you.

I’ve learned three things from my Climate Forward experience.

One, it’s impossible to look away from the climate crisis. The burning of fossil fuels is scorching even the countries that burn a lot of them, like the United States. The latest, most terrifying example came last month, with people in many parts of the United States suffering in dangerous, record heat. There is little doubt that it’s amplified by human-caused climate change.

Two, we are living in a time of big change. No longer is the global economy powered only by coal, oil and gas. Solar power is expanding faster than even its champions had imagined. Every automaker in the United States is rolling out electric vehicles. Electric heat pumps are proliferating in Europe. Of course, the change isn’t fast enough. Greenhouse gas emissions are climbing dangerously. But two things can be true at the same time. The challenge of writing about climate change is to hold both in your brain.

Three, the people who are changing their everyday lives most aggressively are those who aren’t responsible for the problem of climate change. I’ve shared their stories with you, from South Korea to Bangladesh to Uganda. Sometimes, their strategies work. Sometimes they don’t, with perilous consequences.

This is perhaps the most important lesson for me, which I tried to distill in a recent essay. “As a climate journalist, I get asked a perennial question by my fellow Americans: What do I do in the face of a crisis so big and complicated?” I wrote. “The answer I witnessed on a recent reporting trip to East and Southern Africa: everything.”

This is what I want to write more about in the coming months. The everything.

First, I’m going to take a long summer break. The pace of the newsletter has kept my fast-think brain very fit. But my slow-think brain is real flabby.

When I’m back, I’ll take on a new role, traveling and writing about how people are changing their lives in the face of the climate crisis. Spoiler alert: Expect to read more about food. To keep my fast-thinking muscles in shape, I’ll jump in to offer climate analysis on big news events.

Now, I pass the baton into the able hands of David Gelles, whose voice you’ve heard several times in the newsletter. Lucky for you, Manuela Andreoni (read her essay about her mom) will continue writing for Climate Forward.

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