Today’s guest is Zahra Hirji, Energy and Climate Reporter at Buzzfeed News.
Zahra has been a reporter at Buzzfeed since 2017, where she’s focused on how Trump Administration policies, federal agencies and Congress have impacted climate change. Priding herself on holding all parties to account, she recently wrote an article, titled “How A Bad Boss Remade Himself As a Climate Hero,” shining light on the intersection of the MeToo Movement and climate change within the scientific community.
Prior to joining Buzzfeed News, Zahra held a career steeped in climate change journalism, spending several years as a reporter for InsideClimate News, one of the earliest publications dedicated to covering the impact of climate change.
Zahra offered a unique perspective not only to thinking about the ongoing challenges in climate change but, also of the role of journalism. I very much enjoyed this conversation and think you will too!
Enjoy the show!
You can find me on twitter @jjacobs22 or @mcjpod and email at email@example.com, where I encourage you to share your feedback on episodes and suggestions for future topics or guests.
In today’s episode, we cover:
How Zahra landed at Buzzfeed covering climate
The Trump Administration and how its policies have affected climate
Her audience and readership
The positioning of her news room and editors
Her journey from studying geology at Brown to the world of climate journalism
What she learned at Inside Climate News
How climate change has become increasingly topical and relevant
Editorial decisions around what stories to cover
Delivering impact vs. ad revenue
Journalism’s shifting focus
Challenges faced by journalism and the rise of disinformation
Links to topics discussed in this episode:
Jason Jacobs: Hello everyone. This is Jason Jacobs, and welcome to my climate journey. This show follows my journey to interview a wide range of guests to better understand and make sense of the formidable problem of climate change and try to figure out how people like you and I can help.
Today’s guest is Zahra Hirji, an energy and climate reporter at Buzzfeed News. At Buzzfeed, Zahra attracts the policy and science moves of the White House, federal agencies like EPA, DOE, DOI, and more as well as Congress. She also follows energy markets, natural and manmade disasters, worker safety, activism, the international climate talks, and a wide range of other topics.
This was a fascinating discussion delving into Zahra’s background and what led her down the journalism path. We talk about climate change and when and how and why Zahra became concerned about this topic and what led her down the path of doing climate reporting. We talk about the state of the climate problem and how Zahra’s thinking on the topic has evolved from when she first started working in this area to today. We also talk about the state of journalism and we talk about media business models. We talk about how those do and don’t play into what reporting happens, both at Buzzfeed and in general. And then we do a deep dive into Zahra’s work at Buzzfeed; what kinds of articles she likes to cover; how she determines which ones
to write about; what her process is for writing these stories. Some examples of some specific stories she’s done recently that she’s proud of and what role journalism has to play in the climate fight in general. I really enjoy this one and I hope you do as well. Zahra Hirji, welcome to the show.
Zahra Hirji: Thank you so much for having me.
Jason Jacobs: Thanks so much for coming. It’s a thrill to speak with you. I’ve been a reader, both of Buzzfeed and of your work specifically for a while now, and you do really great reporting and it’s an honor to have you on the show.
Zahra Hirji: Well, that’s why I like to hear readers.
Jason Jacobs: Why don’t we just jump right in?
I mean, I think it’d be great to hear about Buzzfeed and about your role there. And then I have a bunch of topics and things that we could jump into from there, but why don’t we just take it from the top?
Zahra Hirji: I can talk a little bit about our approach to covering climate. Is that best or,
Jason Jacobs: That’s great. And in fact, if I had asked it that way, that would have been an even better question.
So thank you for helping me along.
Zahra Hirji: I’ll back up a little bit. I joined Buzzfeed in June of 2017, which you know is pretty early on into the Trump administration, and it was, it was like two days after Trump had announced he was planning to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Obviously there was already a lot of, I think, speculation that he would do that and had already been making moves to roll back environmental regulations.
So it was clear climate and environmental coverage and policies were going to be a hot spot for this administration, and they wanted someone who could be on the ground in DC covering this trend.
Jason Jacobs: Were you already there, by the way? Were you already in DC? Did you go for this job?
Zahra Hirji: I was not, no, I was, I think where you are based up in Boston and I moved, yes, and I didn’t move right away, but had a pit stop in San Francisco for my husband’s job, and then there’s a Buzzfeed office out there. So I actually hung out with our tech reporters for a couple of months and then eventually made it down to D.C. where I am based now. And the Buzzfeed science team is now four reporters and an editor. I am the one person on the team dedicated kind of full time to climate and energy reporting. But several of my colleagues also touch on this topic. I mean, it’s really too big for any one person. And since I’ve been here, we have really expanded our coverage across the newsroom. So really recently, one of our world’s reporters has now taken on the beat full time, and we have reporters across the world.
So as you can imagine, some of our Australia reporters are kind of dealing with this issue and covering it full time right now is they’re in the middle of the Bush Fires, but it really started less as a straight kind of climate encompassing position and focusing on the administration. But it’s kind of expanded in the last couple of years as this issue has become.
More salient as the science has come out, that clearly shows it’s a more urgent problem. And as we’ve also seen this sweep with activism, kind of covering all the different pieces of the movement and the issue. So I cover science, I cover activism, I’m covering climate in 2020, I’m covering the Trump administration policies. But we’re a much smaller team than say the Washington Post or The New York Times, which has a squad of people dedicated to this issue. So we do have to be much pickier in what we can cover cause we just don’t have the capacity to cover everything. And part of that is driven by who our audience is. I have a much younger audience than a lot of people, so think people in their teens or twenties, a lot of young moms read Buzzfeed.
So there’s clearly been interest in the past year of covering the youth climate strikers, for example. And that’s something I’ve done a lot of in depth reporting on. But our desk also it’s very much a watchdog journalism group. We treat science in some ways, like any other beat. Whereas I think some science publications, there’s a little bit of a cheerleader effect, and we kind of believe that everyone in our beats should be held accountable, whether it’s bad scientists pointing out the science that is wrong or questionable or bad actors in that basically shining a spotlight on everyone in the fields we’re working on. So that’s our main approach. And I think something that’s a little bit different that we have the support and the resources to get to be more investigative and take this watchdog approach.
Jason Jacobs: One thing that that you flagged for me before we started recording is, is that the role of a journalist is not an advocacy role.
And so it’d be great to hear about your motivations for getting into doing what you’re doing and kind of where climate change fits in and it would then also be great as a followup to talk about the role of journalism in the climate fight, what it is and what it is not.
Zahra Hirji: Might be easier to start with that latter one just because I don’t think a lot of people think about it that much if they’re not in journalism, where you’re right I had said, I am very much a journalist and I see the role of the journalist being very different from a climate advocate or activist, and a lot of times I think activists or advocates feel like we are on their side, and that’s not necessarily true. I mean, we’re not supposed to be doing propaganda and we’re not there to prop up any one group or solution.
We’re there to add transparency and accountability to our reporting to the areas and the people in the beats that we’re covering. But that being said, I am reporting from a place where there are some underlying truths. And one of that is that climate change is real, and that is a manmade problem. And that is because that’s what the science overwhelmingly says, so those are things that I accept as truth in my reporting. But that being said, like I’m not trying to put my thumb on the lever of pushing any type of particular policy or effort. I’m here to shine a light on the people who are doing that and to present a different range of perspectives and also hold everyone accountable.
So I guess examples would be to say that Greta Thunberg is the best person ever, but I am here to cover what her movement is doing because she’s been a very powerful person in this industry. And also I think there’s a lot of questions she herself has questioned what will come out of the movement, and it’s people like me that are trying to follow and seeing what will come out of this. What is coming out of this big push from young people is what will happen with the pressure that they are trying to exert on adults and people of power. In terms of how I came to this topic or found it, I have a complicated story.
In some ways I fell into it. I mean, I have a background in geology from Brown University and ended up getting a Master’s in Science Writing. Kind of knew early on I wanted to do science writing, whether that was journalism or something else that took a little bit of while to figure out. I did work as a geologist for a little bit.
I had an internship, at the Hawaii Volcano Observatory, and then I worked as a technical writer in the catastrophe disaster space. So a lot of my career in writing has been focused on disasters, even if they weren’t all climate disasters. And then after my master’s, I just ended up getting an internship at Inside Climate News.
And I will say that’s when I really kind of leaned full in. They were doing climate reporting and I started to learn what that meant. I covered local fights and the activism movement in a way that I never had before. I had largely been just focusing on the science, and it was a space at the time a lot of newsrooms had actually cut their climate desks, so we were the largest environmental newsroom in the country that since changed over the last couple of years. But…
Jason Jacobs: Hooray.
Zahra Hirji: Yeah.
Jason Jacobs: And I, I mean, I say that it’s like half hooray and half like, ah, too bad because it’s becoming a bigger, well, it’s not necessarily becoming a bigger issue, but it’s becoming more visible. The scope of the issue we’re dealing with.
Zahra Hirji: I mean, clearly there are ups and downs. There was this time when it was a really big issue and that got less attention and now it’s clearly back in the forefront for a lot of news rooms and the media.
And it’s nice to have been doing it before we got to that point again, because it feels like I have learned a lot and just feel very prepared to kind of cover it now that is one of the hot topics and clearly it is now, and so definitely see no reason to leave this space. I mean, there’s just there’s too much to report and so that is a great feeling.
I never feel like I don’t know what I’m going to report on. It’s always, which is the story I actually have time to cover and I think we’ll make the biggest impact or makes the most sense.
Jason Jacobs: And what’s the mental checklist there? Because you talked about how it’s so broad that there’s no way that you guys can cover it with the staff that you have.
And you also talk about how you need to be more exclusive or disciplined about making sure that you cover the right ones. So what’s, what’s the mental checklist you go through as you weigh one place against another in terms of stories.
Zahra Hirji: It’s always a conversation between me and my editor. So there is no hard and fast rule.
It can potentially depend on what else is going on that week. I guess one thing is largely if there’s say a study or something that is going on that we feel like everyone is covering, maybe it doesn’t make the most sense for me to put in my time to just do the same story that everyone else is going to do.
That being said, if it rises to the occasion that it is such big news, we feel like we have to cover, examples being Trump announcing that he would like the U.S. to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement or the roll back of the clean power plan, then we will certainly do that. But what does it mean to like reach that bar?
That’s a discussion. It’s a discussion I have with my editor, with my other colleagues deciding, okay, yes, this meets that criteria or maybe not, and we’re going to pass. If we decide that the news of the day is not something we’re going to cover, then it’s a matter of. How can we get at these topics in interesting, a novel way, exactly what you said, kind of how can we feel like we’re actually shaping or changing or contributing to the conversation?
How are we moving the conversation forward? And that is really all about the people and the types of stories that we’re seeing. If we see that there’s a hole in the coverage out there that that we can focus on. You know, there are some areas that I see as sweet spots for Buzzfeed. One of those is, I’ve done a lot of reporting on climate denial, but we have an amazing, and very aggressive and well known set of reporters working on tech. And just in the past year, I’ve done a lot of collaborations with one of our tech reporters, Ryan Mac, looking at how these big platforms say Facebook or Google are covering this space. So, you know, we had broken a story about how some one of the Google apps on your phone seem to be bringing up obscure climate denial blogs, like proposing this as something that people would want to read, and that just came out of both of us kind of having the expertise to be able to tackle that jointly. We’re looking for interesting stories like that, that we feel we’re in a unique space to be able to cover.
Similarly, a big story I did last fall was about how some of the young climate activists beyond Gretta, but certainly including Greta Thunberg the 16 year old, or now she’s 17 actually, as of this month, in Sweden were being harassed online. Clearly this was a trend we’d seen politicians calling her out, including the U.S. President, Donald Trump.
People were reporting on that, but our science desk in particular, and Buzzfeed has done a lot of reporting on the MeToo movement and harassment. And so we were kind of equipped to dig in a little bit further and found it was this trend that a lot of the young, especially women, teen activists were facing and it went beyond people calling or questioning their science, but really gross stuff like being sent porn or having their accounts be hacked or creepy messages and you know, that was something we felt like we were just equipped to see. And obviously then to report on it.
Jason Jacobs: One of the things that I struggle with, I come from the technology entrepreneurship world and, and although that might not be my exclusive focus, it seems like directionally beyond the pod that will continue to be in the intersection of that, and climate innovation is going to continue to be an area that’s important for me.
It’s where my passion lies and where my expertise lies as well, and it can play at least one role in the, in the climate fight, but there’s a tension I find between the capitalist lens and the impact lens when evaluating, and there’s some areas where that intersects and then there’s some that doesn’t, and it’s something that I sometimes have a difficult time sorting through.
I’m wondering if there’s a similar tension as it relates to journalism in terms of the things that will be, that will generate the most traffic, readership, audience, et cetera, and the things that will be most impactful for the, and I’m careful because you’re not an advocate, but, but for the mission of the org, which maybe it would be helpful to talk about as well for, for clarification purposes.
Zahra Hirji: Well, I wouldn’t, there’s always attention between doing a story that you think is really important and will, drive impact, whatever that impact may be and how you decide to define it and traffic and getting clicks. You know, I just published a big story last week looking into the CDC climate scientist named George Luber, who has been positioning himself as a climate hero, and he is actually filing an official whistleblowing complaint.
And a lot of people had covered that story and it is a very familiar narrative because a lot of scientists within the Trump administration have faced censorship. But this was a story questioning that his own staff, the saying, that’s not really what’s going on here. Actually, he’s a bad boss, a sexist boss, and that’s why he was pushed out.
And that could be a really uncomfortable story for them. The climate community because it’s in some ways tearing down a climate hero, and maybe that’s not what people want to hear right now. When we, you know, the same week that the Trump administration is rolling back yet another environmental rule.
But we decided that that was an important story to tell, especially at a time when I think there’s a lot of turmoil and self-reflection in the climate community about who should be the face or the faces of it, and trying to give voice to the women and people of color on this staff that were the ones pushing back on this guy.
But, well, that’s a tough story. It’s one that I’m not sure everyone wants to hear. Um, but we decided that the impact of doing it was worth it. It was just too important a story not to do and traffic really isn’t are the point of it. The point is that we’re trying to get this other side of the story out there.
That is a tough call that you make with every story, but especially bigger investigative stories. Those stories require a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of resources, and don’t necessarily have, or we’ll bring in the big traffic that covering the news of the day. What? Because everyone is, for example, heavily invested in the Australia Bushfires right now.
Now, it’s not that we’re not covering that. I have colleagues who are covering that, but it’s not something that I was able to cover for a couple of weeks because I was dedicated specifically to this story. But I don’t know. I think in terms of watchdog journalism. Impact is, can you see change, whether that’s a change in the conversation or an actual change in rules or who’s in a position of power, which is different than say, change in policy that supports climate activism or the fight against climate change?
I think we’re seeing a shift right now in climate journalism, especially in the last couple of months with the Exxon trial and New York of people. Well. There’s a lot of the climate communities really wanting to hold bad actors, in particular, the fossil fuel industry accountable. And I do think there’s a lot more reporting on what the oil and gas, and coal, natural gas industries are doing.
It used to be focused on their denial in the past, but we’re starting to see a shift in focusing on their rhetoric today and is it greenwashing? Is it genuine? People are taking different stances on that, but following it much more closely and calling it into question continuously. I think that’s a big shift we’ve seen in the last year.
It’s going to continue this year, and it’s in some ways due to the increased interest and also the language, the activism by the climate kids that are calling out these companies for their historic contribution to climate change and their continuing contribution as well as their blocking of climate policy.
But is it more worth my time to cover and hold those companies accountable versus covering the people that are working on solutions. For me, it’s just deciding which is the most interesting and impactful story at the time. And ideally you can cover everything. Maybe you can’t cover it all at once, but you would like the breadth of your stories over time to be able to cover the different pieces of this.
Jason Jacobs: So given that you are not in an advocacy position, how much time do you spend, if any, or I guess what percentage of your brain is occupied by the problem itself of climate change? Where does that fit in?
Zahra Hirji: You have to understand the problem to be able to cover it and to pick and choose what you think are effective stories.
Another fight we’ve kind of seen play out in the last year has to do with individual action versus government or a larger scale, systematic change, and it’s a tension. I think a lot of people feel there’ve been a lot of really great essays written over the last year to kind of from people, writers, activists, kind of getting at this tension.
Clearly there’s people on all parts of the spectrum and it’s something I was thinking about a lot of is one position right or wrong, or how could I get at this dynamic? And I ended up doing a story about how climate scientists were changing their own lives in response to the problem. And it’s something that I just saw because it was clearly a tension, a conversation playing out on Twitter and on other forms of social media and used them as a way to capture what I saw as this spectrum.
So some people had stopped flying. A lot of people had stopped eating meat and gone vegetarian, or at least dramatically cut down, and it seemed like they were representative of this larger trend that I was seeing across the community. I like looking for stories like that. It’s, you know, if I have questions based on my own daily life for the people, my family, my friends, what comes up at the dinner table, how can I turn that into my reporting?
Because I want my reporting to help answer questions for people. You know, what are the questions that people have and can I use my reporting and my data skills to be able to answer that in a way that could help them. That is certainly one thing that helps guide my recording. And I guess that comes up a bit.
Jason Jacobs: And now that you’ve spent years focusing on this problem space with your reporting from multiple publications, how has your thinking changed, if at all, about the nature of the problem now versus when you started working on it or solutions for that matter?
Zahra Hirji: I mean, I think the science itself has changed.
Not that it’s changed, it’s just become more, more clear. Scientists have been warning about warming since I’ve been reporting on this, but we’ve come to understand the problem so much better. I mean, the field of climate attribution was barely a thing when I started. You know, I remember doing stories where scientists would say, Oh, we cannot attribute any specific event or piece in event to a climate change.
I mean, that conversation has shifted. And I would say that my understanding of how urgent the problem is and how much we know. Has shifted along with that. You know, I’ve seen the change or do feel like the UN special 1.5 report in October of 2018 was a real turning point in the public’s understanding of how urgent the problem was and how people have framed it.
Because that’s for a lot of people that had reported like me on the signing or the Paris Climate Agreement and this idea that world leaders were aiming for two degrees or less than two degrees Celsius, ideally 1.5 degrees. So halting warming to that level. This was a report that made it crystal clear that catastrophic impacts would come with two degrees warming and actually 1.5 degrees warming and painting a clear picture of what that looked like and that I think you have now seen, there’ve been a lot of amazing journalism.
For example, the Washington Post has done a series this past year highlighting the places of the world that are already feeling two degrees warming and what that looks like or the framing around this issue. I know I’ve done, this is not that climate change is this future problem, but it’s something that is happening now.
And really focusing on the impacts now and making that clear to our readers. That is a priority. That is certainly how we frame it, and that is all guided by what I’m seeing play out. Those are changes that I have made an adjusted in my reporting to kind of reflect what I’ve seen is the change in an overall discussion and in the science.
Does that answer your question?
Jason Jacobs: I don’t even know that it’s a question that answerable. It’s more just kind of a framework for how to think about it that I was after, which I think you answered perfectly. A couple of things that have been on my mind and you happen to be well placed to address both of them.
One is this narrative in the media, ironically, of distrust in media and journalism and another is distrust in science. And you happen to be at the intersection of those two things. And one of the things on my mind is you certainly see it, but is it like the loud vocal minority, but it’s just like this little blip on the radar and it’s not really a thing or.
Or is it actually something that’s more systemic and as big an issue or bigger than is being made out in the press?
Zahra Hirji: I think distrust of the media is a very real thing and a very real problem. I don’t think anyone could kind of deny when the president has repeatedly, the U.S. president has repeatedly called journalists enemy of the people.
A lot of people have since internalized that. Similarly, when the president questions science, his followers will question science, but these are things that predate Trump, and I don’t want to say that this is just like a post Trump phenomenon because it is not. I think about the anti-vaccine movement, which is just been around for a while now and it’s, we are seeing a surge, but there have been ebbs and flows in this. It’s a real challenge. I don’t have any good solutions. I love reading like social behavior, psychology papers about people working on climate science and it’s like studies of. What are the most effective ways to talk to people about this issue?
And in many cases, just like overwhelming people with the facts is not a productive way of communicating. And I think that is true across communicating different sciences. The problems, I guess between the two why don’t people trust in scientists and why don’t people trust in the media? I do think they have different sources when it comes to the media.
Journalism is in a crisis. The field is shrinking. Jobs are being lost at a terrifying pace. Buzzfeed is one of the many publications that laid off many reporters last year, and local media is in even worse shape. And there are polling and studies to show that people have a lot more faith in local media than they do in national media.
So if they are losing the main source that they have trust in and they’re left with a shrinking larger source that they don’t have trust in. You can understand why the gaps of distrust are potentially growing or why they exist at all. I don’t really have good solutions for that. I mean, people should support journalism and I do think that journalism plays a valuable role that no other group does.
It offers this objective or not objective, but this like lens, this transparency, as I said, this accountability across whatever subject you’re covering and when that’s lost, if there’s not someone there who is reporting on the facts, and then you have the rise of the internet and blogs and it’s like hard for people to tell what is legitimate reporting versus opinion and blogging.
It could get really messy. It can get muddled. And it’s just a problem we’re going to have to deal with. It’s certainly a problem that is being exacerbated when with the rampant spread of kind of fake news on top of that. I don’t know. It’s, I don’t have good solutions for it. I think it’s something that every journalist, but especially at Buzzfeed, thinks about a lot, and I say especially at Buzzfeed because we have reporters that are dedicated to covering misinformation, and I’ve seen the dramatic rise in misinformation, whether that’s on science issues or other.
Jason Jacobs: So I feel like that painted a really clear picture of some of the symptoms of the crisis. And I know you mentioned you don’t have solutions, but it’d be great just to understand a little better the nature of the crisis in, in your words, like what is actually happening and why.
And I’m not saying. Jobs are being lost in business models are struggling, but what is underlying happening that’s leading to this crisis?
Zahra Hirji: How we consume media has changed. So that’s certainly a part of it. There was this traditional model of newspapers, for example, and a lot of that revenue for newspapers came from advertising, and there was this really reliable base of readers that would want to get a print paper because that was their source of news.
Now you can find news for free online. That’s people like things that are free, right? Like, just think about like. Time when you were back in college and every time there was free pizza, even if you didn’t want that pizza or not like you went after it, or maybe that was just me.
Jason Jacobs: I’d like to think about that, but for a lot more reasons than just this analogy.
Like I would just like to be back in college was free pizza.
Zahra Hirji: It’s really hard when there’s so many different sources of news and so much of it is free online and people are now used to that. And why would you pay for it? We just had this boom, and now it’s trying to kind of retroactively be like, Oh, can we like rope that in a little bit?
So what you’re seeing is a lot of really interesting and creative ways across the industry as feed and other places in terms of how can you monetize news. And I would say every place is wrestling with it. They’re all trying it in different ways. This is where you have membership programs or different types of advertising, or maybe people are getting into the event space, but it just isn’t the old model for how news used to be profitable doesn’t work anymore, and a large part of that has to do with how we get news now and the way that information is just so easily available. How did that come to be? I mean, I don’t know. There’s so many different reasons, but I do think that kind of is the underlying thing behind this is like the way that news used to work has changed. And we’re still trying to figure out how it works today in a way that could be profitable. And if it’s not profitable, people are gonna lose their jobs, which is just what’s happened. And I, I think a lot of people don’t realize, because I’ve seen a lot of criticism, you can see this, you know, in, in the climate world, there’s frustrations that climate change isn’t on the front page all the time, and so many jobs have been lost. So many local papers. The science desk is the one that gets cut and that is playing into this.
Jason Jacobs: So a couple final questions and I ask these to every guest. I mean, it’s a little different, I think given your your seat, but the first is just if, if you had $100 billion and you could put it towards anything to maximize its impact on the problem, where would you put it?
And I’m not asking as an advocate for, for the cause, but more just as someone who covers it and has seen a lot of it over the years and understands it probably better than most.
Zahra Hirji: I mean, I would just throw it at local journalists. People I think there really is something to be said for one’s ability to really understand and engage and relate with climate change happens at the local level and having reporters that can shed a light on that and can talk to what your city or town your officials are or aren’t doing, cannot be under emphasized. And so I would just throw money at more journalists who can cover this issue wherever they are and make this a local issue because it is a local issue.
Jason Jacobs: And can we play that out? So let’s say we did that and, and a lot more people at the local level had awareness. How does that actually translate to fundamental decarbonization? Like, “why does it matter?” is really the question.
Zahra Hirji: Why does it matter that we should decarbonize?
Jason Jacobs: Why is educating people at the local level the highest leverage thing to do to solve that problem?
Zahra Hirji: We’re coming at a point where a lot of cities, a lot of local communities are battling the impacts of climate change and they’re wrestling to find solutions. The more reporting that’s done, shedding a light on that. The more communication there is about shared ideas, people finding inspiration. I think there’s a lot for some people, I’ve certainly experienced this and people I’ve spoken to, it’s a lot of hopelessness.
Even if you believe climate change is real and it’s an urgent problem. There’s a sense that you don’t know what to do, which kind of goes back to the thing we were talking about earlier of the local action, the consumerism action versus the systemic change. That is an interplay. And knowing what is happening at the local level can help people, I guess, can inspire people.
And if you’re looking at what scientists and policymakers are saying is needed to actually tackle the scale of the problem. What’s needed is the kitchen sink approach that requires the buy-in of as many people as possible, and I don’t think you’ll really get federal change. Until you have a lot of state change and a lot of local change.
It’s kind of built up on top of each other. And what works in one place is not going to work and another, and even a place that has the best intentions can have a lot of problems. I mean, look at California, which has very aggressive climate policies, but because of some of the problems with their wildfires, there are a lot of real questions about how they’re going to achieve some of those policies.
I don’t see how more people knowing about something could possibly be bad and more people being engaged. So I just got an email from the Yale program on climate change communication. They have great experts that have been tracking public opinion on climate change in the U S for years now. So how it has changed over time.
So this is just an update of some of their newest information. And if you’re just looking at these maps or they’re pulling generally, you know, there’s X amount of people that say they believe in climate change. There’s a lower number of people that believe in climate change and think that it’s manmade.
There’s maybe an even smaller amount of people that believe that it is an urgent problem when it comes to how is change going to happen. It just seems logical that you would want all of those numbers to go up. But especially that last one, people who believe it’s real, who believe it’s manmade and who believes that it’s actually an urgent problem, and
one way to do that is just to overwhelm them with the news about how climate change is happening in their backyard or why it means to them and their daily lives and not just to someone that’s living on the coast dealing with sea level rise or to people down in Australia dealing with bushfires, but important in their own life.
Jason Jacobs: And when I pushed you on the local news, it wasn’t because I’m skeptical. It’s just a different answer than I had heard before. And it’s an intriguing one. So I just wanted to understand why you gave that answer. And I think about it. I mean, it gives me a lot to think about and process myself.
Last question. So our listeners, they tend not to be people that are. Not really thinking about this, but looking for the 10 top tips to, you know, make their house more efficient. Yeah. It’s not that those things don’t matter, but the people that are primarily listening are either people that have been devoted themselves to this issue professionally for a long time, or people that aspire to and are interested in and have appetite and skills in some way to work on this at the systems level.
So for people like that, what advice do you have. For them or for me even on on how we can help or where we can have the biggest impact in helping address this problem.
Zahra Hirji: Support news, but also just engage with journalists. I love hearing from readers and I want to be writing about stories that people care about.
You know, I mentioned this earlier, how now I talk with friends and family and try to really gauge what they don’t know or what they want to hear. I think, not that that is the role only of journalism, but service journalism does play a role, and if people have questions, this is one area that as a reporter, I can look into and, you know, really do want to be doing stories that I think people care about. If people who are really engaged in this issue and they are struggling with questions, that’s really interesting to me. If they, they are debating something, I want to hear from you and know how that should shape my coverage. So I would just say engage with journalists and support journalism because it is a big role in providing accountability and transparency. Sure. It is very different from climate activism, but it is, it is part of the larger picture of this.
Jason Jacobs: And these, these may be obvious, but just to make sure we get it right, for people that want to support journalism or for people that do want to engage with, with you, what is your preferred mode of engagement and what is the best way that people could support journalism.
Zahra Hirji: Well, Buzzfeed has a membership program, but a lot of places do. And I’m not saying, just engage with me. To be very clear, one of the things that’s really amazing about the field of climate journalism is that there are so many people looking at very different pieces of this. And so, I think the work of my peers, whether it’s the times or the post or the guardian or inside climate news, everyone is really tackling this in a different way.
And so to just keep an eye out and be reading a lot of different types of news, because you’re not going to be getting the same stories everywhere, and there are different ways to engage, whether it’s just sending an email after you’ve read a story and it’s like sparked your curiosity or engaging on Twitter.
Certainly there’s a lively conversation and the climateverse and energyverse are real and journalist jump in and out of that all the time. So those are, I think the big ways is where do you find your news? And letting those people know and just engage with the reporters that you think are the ones doing a good job.
And the way that we do more news is, I mean, as I said at the beginning of the show, there’s always stories. There’s too many stories, but the best stories are the ones that we get from readers that are tips or questions.
Jason Jacobs: Anything I didn’t ask you that I should have or any parting words for listeners?
Zahra Hirji: I’m so familiar to that question. That’s where to be on the opposite end.
Jason Jacobs: I hope that doesn’t mean I’m starting to become a journalist.
Zahra Hirji: I don’t think so. I think this was a good conversation. I hope people enjoy it. I hope they find it interesting. I know it’s a very different perspective on this.
Jason Jacobs: Well, I thought it was great. Thank you so much.
It’s a real honor to have you on the show and I have to say as well that you speak like you write, because I’ve read a bunch of your, your writing and your speak, you know, there’s a depth to it and a clarity and an intentionality that I definitely saw in your writing. And it was a trip to, to see it in an audio interview as well.
So Zahra, thank you so much for all the work that you do, and thank you for coming on the show.
Zahra Hirji: Thank you so much for having me. This was great.
Jason Jacobs: Hey, everyone, Jason here. Thanks again for joining me on my climate journey. If you’d like to learn more about the journey, you can visit us at MyClimateJourney.co. Note that is dot C O not .com. Someday we’ll get the.com, but right now, dot CO. You can also find me on Twitter @jjacobs22 where I would encourage you to share your feedback on the episode or suggestions for future guests you’d like to hear. And before I let you go, if you enjoyed the show, please share an episode with a friend or consider leaving a review on iTunes.
The lawyers made me say that. Thank you.