UVic News – University of Victoria

Recent climate-related disasters—from heat waves and wildfires to floods and hurricanes—clear that we need to be prepared for climate change, while also working to prevent it. Journalists and scientists must work together to do that. By increasing media coverage, the public can make the best decisions about today’s most pressing issues. To help support this work, humanitarian and political activist Wayne Crookes is funding a professorship in Environmental and Climate Journalism in the UVic Writing Department through a $1.875 million prize.

Sean Holman, who takes up the role in September 2021, says the strength of the professorship is the mix of teaching and research. This allowed him to “engage students and members of the wider community in this research in a very direct way, so that they can take action on climate change.”

Setting the basis for good climate coverage

One of Holman’s first achievements as Crookes Professor was to lead the first Canadian study to compare perceptions of climate change coverage across three groups: journalists, climate scientists, and the public. The resulting Climate Coverage in Canada report was published in November 2021, shortly after the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow. The report offers recommendations on how climate change reporting can be improved, including how scientists and journalists can work together better.

“Until now we haven’t had a basis for establishing what good climate coverage looks like,” Holman said. “Now, as a result of this survey, we are getting a better idea of ​​what climate scientists want to see in the news media and how they want the media to reflect the scientific evidence around climate change.”

Climate Disaster Project

The Crookes Prize goes beyond a professorship to fund other research and outreach initiatives such as the Climate Disaster Project. In the project manifesto, Holman wrote: “We have already lost many lives and livelihoods to climate change. That means we are all climate catastrophe survivors. But we don’t see ourselves that way, so we feel alone in our experience.”

This project brings together students at UVic and several partner universities to collect and share stories of people who have lived through climate change-related disasters. The stories will be published and broadcast by the project’s media partners and then added to a publicly available memory vault. The vault will also serve as a launching pad for investigative solutions journalism projects on climate disasters and a virtual gathering place for anyone who has experienced one.

“So many narratives about climate change revolve around ‘can we stop it?’, without acknowledging that it is happening. The hope is that by making these stories, we can build community, and by building community, we can create hope.”

– Sean Holman

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Journalism with trauma information

UVic student Sandra Ibrahim participated in the project through her undergraduate writing class. To prepare for interviews with climate disaster survivors, students in the class learn interview techniques based on trauma information and practice them with one another. This mode of interviewing relies on a gradual build of trust between the interviewer and the interviewee. Practices such as consent, giving interview questions first, sharing transcripts after the interview and self-care were built into the process to help interviewees feel comfortable and confident in sharing their stories.

For Holman, one of the most satisfying aspects of a donor-funded professorship is teaching a course that combines classroom experience with a real-world pilot project. “I’ve always wanted to be able to teach these kinds of transformative courses, courses that not only have an effect in the classroom, but outside the classroom—and are grounded in research and social change.”

Reflecting on the class, Ibrahim said: “One of the things Sean said that I remember was, ‘What if the truth was a gift?’. What if sharing pain, insecurity—or sadness, in my case—what if sharing is a gift, even if it makes us feel vulnerable?”

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Focus shift

Holman believes this project can create a change in perception for those who share and listen to stories. For example, for students in her class, the collective awareness that they are not alone in their fears about the future helps foster a sense of community. Ibrahim described the process of sharing in the community as “absolute healing. It may not solve the problem of climate change, but it solves the problem of loneliness and hopelessness and sadness about climate change.”

Perhaps that is the essence of why Crookes’ visionary gift is so important, not only to UVic, but to the world as well. This allows for the sharing of truths—truths that are shared by one individual as well as by humanity. This shifts the focus from the percentage of data and temperature to empathy and shared experience, from the magnitude of prevention to the reality of adaptation.

“None of this would have happened without Wayne Crookes. His visionary concern for the humanitarian costs of climate change and his belief that society can be mobilized based on this experience made this possible.”

– Sean Holman

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