Review: ‘Burning Questions: Covering Climate Now’

So, what’s it like to listen to frontlines climate-change reporters give their views on climate-change matters? It isn’t every day that we get to hear accounts from these specialists in the field of climate reporting, climate journalism.

Well, for all those who tuned into last evening’s televised PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) broadcast of “Burning Questions: Covering Climate Now,” you heard what a number of climate and other reporters reporting on the matter had to say. One of those correspondents was William Brangham of the “PBS News Hour.” The hour-long show was co-hosted by Al Roker of NBC “Today” fame and Savannah Sellers, an NBC News reporter.

I have to admit that although I found the program to be instructive from a reporter’s point of view, I felt, in the final analysis, I could not tell for whom exactly “Burning Questions” was intended. Was it geared toward a general viewing and listening audience, journalists whose duties it is to report on the climate and maybe other environmental issues, journalists in general, or a combination of any two or all three groups? That’s my burning question.

Less ambiguous to me anyway, was program content. There was no question as to what aspects of climate-change-related impacts and issues were covered. Items like melting sea and glacial ice, how rising sea levels are forcing some from their homes, and how, for others, changing weather patterns are changing their livelihoods.

Places covered in the program by those journalists on the frontlines included Bangladesh; British Columbia, Canada; Greenland; Iraq; Reedley, California and Charleston, South Carolina (both in the U.S.); among other places. We viewers were apprised on what was happening or what had already happened in those areas climate-change-impact-wise.

A reporting team from Charleston, S.C., presumably noted for covering climate in that region, wanted to get a firsthand look at what was going on in Greenland related to sea and glacial ice retreat and how such piecing together of the weather/climate shift in that part of the world could potentially be impacting or influencing oceanic- and/or weather- and/or climate-altering activity-wise going on back in their stomping grounds, in this case, in this southeast U.S.-located port city if not in the nearby Atlantic Ocean just off of Charleston’s coast. If nothing else I would say this news crew was deeply moved by what they experienced on their “way-up-north” visit.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the program, looked at were conditions some Pacific Islanders were encountering with the rising sea levels. For those affected, they will either become climate refugees or they will be put in a position of learning to adapt if leaving their homes becomes an impossibility. That was the impression I got when I was listening to their stories.

Furthermore, there was some film footage included from COP 26 (the 26th Conference of the Parties) in Glasgow, Scotland last year. As well, a “Covering Climate Now” organization representative gave his take.

Throughout the program, much of what I heard had to do with solutions to address climate change. I also heard how the technologies, capabilities to carry that out were already available.

However, what I felt was lacking somewhat was more in-depth coverage of what those ways were. Basically, their mention, in my opinion, throughout the program was only cursory. And, what’s more, I don’t remember there being any mention about transportation being the single biggest contributor of greenhouse gases to the world’s atmosphere.

Quite appreciatingly, what I did hear in the production, was a reference to the notion that fighting climate change should not be the sole responsibility of those in leadership roles.

What was special if not a bit unusual to me about this particular documentary was hearing from so-called “frontlines” climate reporters – those who objectively and routinely provide news on the subject – give their unique takes. You just don’t see that very often. And, not only was that enlightening, but also refreshing.

If I was correct about the part that this show’s intended audience was reporters whose jobs it is to report on matters dealing with climate change, then I could see how for this group “Burning Questions: Covering Climate Now” to a certain degree would have been instructive. Since I found it to be this way I trust my colleagues who also tuned into this presentation last evening would agree.

– Alan Kandel

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This post was last updated on Oct. 26, 2022 at 2:38 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.