The words of Ken Gnanakan, prominent Indian educator, environmentalist and theologian.
What is the one subject that a theologian, a philosopher, a 12 year old student, a filmmaker, a government official, a blogger, a doctor, a journalist, even a corporate representative share the most interest in? Climate change? Hmm… I would have been skeptical just a couple days ago. Not that I didn’t care but I always found myself bored by the invariably doomsday’ish talk on the media each time the climate change issue comes up or when experts are called on to deliver a burst of dry and technical terms most of which unfathomable. But since I witnessed, unpurposefully as I was attending a forum in Germany last week that happened to tackle the issue, how climate change is a matter of widely shared interest indeed, I think in hindsight I’m pretty convinced this is the one issue that people, especially in the media should focus on. The event in question is the Global Media Forum held in Bonn, Germany, from 21 to 23 June, that I and my friend Jillian C. York were attending to accept an award for Talk Morocco, the collaborative blogging project we co-founded and that has won the Best of Blogs award (BOBs) in the English category.
There is undoubtedly growing concern over environmental issues around the globe and the media in particular are expected to play a major role in informing and sensitizing the public to these pressing issues. The forum focused on the media coverage and some interesting questions were asked: How to get the attention of a media-sated public? How relevant is the role played by citizen media? How to move away from the doomsday talk and be more positive and inspire hope? How to make “Oscar-winning movies on climate change”? What’s the role of religion and spirituality in this issue?
An eclectic group of media people, activists, government officials, artists, inventors was brought together. Below I’m sharing my notes on the few workshops I attended.
In the openning ceremony the Director General of the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle insisted on the importance that media should convey a message of hope and avoid the doomsday approach that is prevailing nowadays.
Bonn’s Mayor, Mr. Jurgen Nimptsch proposed in his address a “new kind of alliance” between the countries of the world based on mutual respect and shared interest.
Mr. Werner Hoyer, German Minister of State considered that the outcome of the recent Copenhagen conference on Climate Change was “a big disappointment” adding that reporting on environment needs not only free media but also expertise and dealings with the issue in a language that is accessible to the wider public. He said training for journalists is therefore becoming more and more important and that his government is providing financial support for this effect (see Deutche Welle Akademie).
Mr. Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Fund for Climate Change also addressed the audience and stressed the fact that since developped countries have played a major role in “creating the problem”, they must take the lead in combatting Climate Change. He also urged journalists to “take time to learn more about the human as well as the technical aspects of climate change”.
Bertrand Piccard is a doctor, a member of a family of pioneer inventors and balloonists and co-founder of the Solar Impulse project. He insisted on what he called “the pioneering spirit” which consists basically on the ability and the courage to follow one’s convictions and keep walking even in times of doubt. “We have to get rid of our certainties and cultivate doubt, change strategies and accept new possibilities along the way” Mr. Piccard insisted. The language as far as the media is converned should change he says adding: “in Copenhagen they were talking about the ‘problem’ and the ‘costs of solving it’ as if we had the choice, and as if the cost of letting things get worse would be lower. Instead we should be speaking of solutions and profit.”
Adil Najam is Professor of Global Public Policy at the Boston University. He explained that many progress can be made just by changing the perception of Climate Change, with the potential of opening a range of solutions for profitable business. Pr. Najam explained that the prospect of making money out of climate change-related businesses and projects is to lead to a rallying force from large business sectors and the civil society as a whole.
Some documentary directors and filmmakers whose work touched upon climate change were also present. They were invited to talk about their experience and how they think an Oscar-winning movie on Climate Change can be made. A number of them explained that while they didn’t consider themselves environmental activists, they had a hard time getting funding for their projects. They insisted that to make a good movie, a director needs not to be an activist. The crucial thing is to believe in the project. Werner Boote is producer and director of the award-winning Plastic Planet [Ger] documentary. He says he spent 10 years of researching and producing for his film. The trailer [in German] can be seen here.
Committee to Protect Journalists together with Reporters Without Borders co-hosted an interesting workshop: Hidden dangers: The Risks and Challenges of Environmental Reporting. Frank Smyth from CPJ started by reminding the audience of instances in which journalists have been threatened, atacked or prevented from doing their job in relation to climate change and environmental catastrophes: Mikhail Beketov who was scheduled as a panelist during the workshop was not able to attend as he was still, a year later, recovering from a brutal attack; Lucio Flavio Pinto from Brazil faces several lawsuits in relation with his reporting on the environmental damage caused by corrupt land owners and speculators in the Amazon region.
Liu Jianqiang is an environmental journalist and editor of the ChinaDialogue.net. He explained how “a kind of free media” is emerging in China and how he succeeded, not without substantial cost for him and his website, to uncover major environmental devastations caused by corporations, mostly state-owned. Jianqiang added that “environmental activists are less likely to face prosecution from the government compared to pro-democracy advocates but it is still a risky business since you have to face special interest groups enjoying huge political influence.”
Tamer Mabrouk is from Egypt. He’s a former employee of a chemical factory in Port Said, Northern Egypt. He’s also a blogger [Ar] who wrote as a volunteer for a number of opposition newspapers reporting on the clandestine dumping of chemical waste by the company he was working for. He was fired after a series of law suits against him that saw the government officially backing the company’s claim despite Tamer’s documented evidence. Tamer says “I was an easy target because I am a blogger. Had I been a journalist I would have had more support.” Tamer is indeed the first blogger on record to be prosecuted by a private company in his country. Tamer is now unemployed and has a US$6,200 fine hanging over his head that he says can’t possibly afford to pay. He now faces imprisonment. He, and the rest of the panel also insisted on the importance for bloggers and journalists to protect themselves by avoiding working alone and making sure of keeping one’s reporting and writings as balanced and as free from factual errors as possible. Still, in authoritarian and dictatorial regimes like in the Middle East, facing the government or abusive corporate power is sometimes unavoidable.
An interesting workshop tackled “Religion, climate change and the media.” Ken Gnanakan, an environmentalist and theologian from India, explained how early in his life as an activist he started linking the destruction of nature that has occurred most noticeably in his country to the Christian doctrine of creation that made western invaders believe they had a godly right to take whatever nature can offer them. But he later realized that no religion is monolithic and that no one religion has an edge over any other in that respect. “In the final analysis it always comes back to human nature” Mr. Gnanakan says, insisting on the notion of Stewardship that has terrific connotations for today’s world: Nature is not our’s to be exploited… We should stop being arrogant anthropocentrists. Mr. Gnanacan also called for a “New Global Spirituality” that has environment at its core.
Felix Finkbeiner is a 12-year-old environmental activist. He is the founder of Plant for the Planet campaign. Felix called for making carbon emission a thing of the past, for “climate justice” and for a worldwide campaign of tree planting with the aim of planting one million trees in each country of the world. Addressing politicians he says “Stop talking and start planting!” So without further ado here is Felix’s inspiring presentation: