Climate Crisis Reporting 2020 - My new year-long project!

Friday, January 10, 2020

This new year's eve, we welcomed 2020 while Australia was being swallowed by unprecedented wildfires burning 15 million acres of forest so far, leaving 25 humans and 1.5 billion animals dead and Indonesia's capital Jakarta was flooded by relentless, record-breaking, unseasonal rainfall that claimed over 66 lives and displaced over 400,000 people so far.

In the past, we could've discounted this as alarmist cherry picking to further an agenda. But today,  we know these extreme events aren't unrelated anymore. 2019 was when climate crisis came knocking on all our doors, irrespective of whether we were from the global north or south, rich or poor, or somewhere in between.

In 2019 alone, we had 15 disasters that costed the world more than a billion dollars each.
And in the last decade, natural disasters caused a damage of over 100 billion dollars.

None of these catastrophes were caused by climate change.
But each one of these were made much much worse by global warming.
In 2019, we saw the Amazon rainforest go up in flames, California get decimated by wildfires once again ( 2019 saw unprecedented power blackouts while 2018/19 fires saw the super rich hire private firefighters - hello dystopian future), Europe face an unprecedented heatwave first and then flooding, Greenland lose a significant portion of its ice sheet - all in a day, Bahamas get battered by Category 5 Hurricane Dorian, Mozambique get pummelled by two tropical storms within a span of five weeks leaving 1300 dead, Somalia get flooded by the year end displacing over 270000 people, Japan bear the brunt of two catastrophic typhoons, one category 4 and another category 5, within a month that caused damages of over 20 billion USD. Japan also saw 57 deaths and over 24000 hospitalisations in summer due to a heatwave. And as bizarre as it sounds, the freaking Arctic was on fire and Qatar started air-conditioning the outdoors!

Apart from climate change, many of these extreme weather events have one more thing in common - they broke records as the worst in recent history. July 2019 was the hottest in our 140-year recorded history. 2019 was the second hottest year (after 2016) and the last decade was also the hottest recorded since pre-industrial times.
Source: India Meteorological Department's Statement on Climate of India during 2019 Report
Coming to India, we had a disastrously bad 2019. Heat waves, extreme flooding and cyclones battered the country continuously one after the other in quick succession causing immense damage to human life, property and agricultural produce. Chennai water crisis was this year if you remember. Not just Chennai, many cities, towns and villages had to battle severe water shortage this summer as heatwaves intensified and ground water supplies depleted. We also saw a glimpse of the dystopia that's waiting for us when the social systems collapse in the face of resource shortage in near future. The heatwave not only caused water crisis, but broke records as the country reeled in seething summer temperatures that were beyond human tolerance - daily wage labourers had to stop working in the outdoors in the afternoons, schools were shut due to the extreme heat and hundreds of people died across the country unable to deal with the heat. Then came the torrent of unstoppable floods and extreme rainfall. This monsoon we once again saw severe flooding across many states and cities simultaneously that not only caused severe inconvenience to the public but also claimed over 2100 lives. We've also had hailstorms destroy fields and agricultural produce through the year in various places, which affected the farmers' economic condition as well as food security. Extreme and unseasonal snowfall also affected orchards as well caused many cattle deaths in the upper mountains. This is our new normal in India - heatwaves, drought, floods, snowfall - all unseasonal and in excess or too less.

In 2018, India reported the highest human casualties of 2081 from climate change triggered natural disasters and suffered second highest monetary loss to the tune of 37 billion USD as per a global report that assesses global climate risk. When the 2019 report arrives, I would only imagine the human and monetary loss would have increased even more.

And I haven't even listed out the ecological losses of 2019 yet. There was a time when climate change was affecting natural ecosystems and humans were relatively shielded from the fallout. But we didn't act in time and today climate crisis is directly affecting our wellbeing in every single way - from finance to food, mortality to mental health and everything in between.

Despite the media wanting to give you hope and your favorite influencer unknowingly selling the lie to you, individual action will not take us anywhere in this fight. What we need is a global reformation of our energy sector and a shift from extractive market economy to one that also considers environmental protection and social justice along with monetary profits.

And for all this to happen, we need to have a better informed public that will vote right and put pressure on governments and corporates for a global shift to green economy.

So what am I doing about that?

In 2020, I aim to amp up my climate crisis reporting and make it my main area of focus to produce at least 52 explainer/awareness posts on social media and a minimum of 5 in-depth articles with original reporting/uncovered perspectives specific to South Asia and India. The goal is to raise mass public awareness through social media and supplement it with informative on-ground reporting that connects the science with the stories.

The issue that I see is that climate change communication sucks right now, even more so in south Asia and India. The global, predominantly western, media kept showing polar bears to us whenever it spoke about climate change and we entirely forgot how tropical countries are the worst affected by climate crisis already and the unimaginable human cost of ignoring the crisis. But 2019 showed us a glimpse of the hell that in store for us and in the coming year I will be focusing on this topic to educate the masses on climate crisis in innovative and effective ways as a storyteller and communicator, acting as a bridge between the experts and the public.

Now you might wonder what are my credentials to talk on the topic. You're right in questioning, my skills are not in developing climate science but in data and research collation, journalism, storytelling and social media. And given my science background as an engineer and further experience as a journalist and unwilling "influencer", I know how to seek experts, find research, understand and communicate available science through effective stories.

In January 2019, I researched and wrote an article about climate change in a remote Himalayan valley. That was my first introduction to climate science officially. As I read more, the following months were depressingly low and some difficult soul searching later, I started a successful digital media initiative called #ClimateChange Weekends on my popular Instagram account by June 2019. After realising it was difficult to have an honest and useful conversation about climate crisis in India because of missing scientific literacy on the topic and lack of simplified communication on the effects of climate crisis, I spoke about the science behind climate crisis and the associated injustices for a lay-audience on Instagram.  In the process, I learned of the gaps in people's knowledge and the misconceptions fuelled by many non-expert discourses that wrongly portray the global complex problem of climate crisis and environmental degradation as a simple lifestyle and individual action problem. It's been a hugely satisfying endeavor where I get to engage with public and get instant feedback on what's working and what's not working when talking about climate crisis. Using that learning, I constantly modify my communication style and storytelling tactics to identify what's the optimum way of keeping people sufficiently informed and concerned about climate crisis. It's January 2020, I'm now working on a documentary about the human cost of climate crisis, scheduled to be released by mid 2020.

You know I'm in it for the long haul. Traditional media alone won't work in today's drastically changed media consumption atmosphere, especially in reaching to the young crowd and that's where my focus would be - innovative storytelling, instructive journalism & social media discourse with a strong focus on India & south Asia. Over the course of coming months & hopefully years, I will be taking part in a variety of collaborations with creatives and interested parties online and offline to start and continue having an effective discussion on climate crisis.

And this is where I could use your support.

I have been voluntarily doing all this for the last one year, using my own time, money and resources. I could either do climate crisis reporting on the side while I earn money through commercial assignments, which means I will possibly have to fully lean into my "influencer" status and sell you all sorts of things from makeup products to alcohol on my Instagram and blog to fill my coffers. (I really don't want to do that and don't make me do it please 😅). Or I could focus on climate crisis reporting and communication entirely with your support.

I can still earn through journalism and travel writing but you must know people do journalism out of passion and a sense of duty rather than it being a scheme to laugh one's way to the bank. There are no travel budgets today, the publishing rates are abysmally low and payments are almost always delayed. But I still would love to continue doing my research and on-ground reporting because there are a billion important stories to be told and national and international news platforms still have massive reach and use in certain contexts.

And coming to social media, this medium's reach and access is incomparable and extremely effective in talking to a generic mix of urban audience that's not an echo chamber. While news sites and journalism talk to an already aware audience, social media can be used as the first step to cultivate the interest and concern in an indifferent or unaware audience. That is why Instagram became my preferred platform to start the climate change conversation and from what I've seen so far, the potential is endless.

In the coming twelve months, I would like to continue doing this but all of this is much time and resource intensive. So if you find my strategy promising, have found any of my climate change articles or social media posts useful, or simply believe in my cause, do consider contributing to my climate crisis reporting fund. Of course I will still continue doing all of the above in any case, but any monetary support would mean I can happily put in as much time and energy into this without always worrying about going broke.

All raised funds will be exclusively used for climate crisis research, reporting, travel, pitching, writing, publishing, collaborations and raising awareness. I will still continue to work on my commercial, travel writing, photography and journalism assignments to pay for my travel & other personal fancies.

Come along with me, on a virtual journey! Find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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