Climate Crisis and Journalism: A Roundtable on Rethinking Media for Planetary Emergency

I'll be joining colleagues from SFU and members of the media in a roundtable discussion of the climate crisis and journalism this Monday. If you're interested in joining the discussion, come on down!

SFU Vancouver @ Harbour Centre, Room HC 7000; Monday 15 May, 5 - 7 pm

Questions for the panel

From organizer, Prof. Robert Hackett: What kind(s) of journalism (practices, institutions, policies) do we need to enable people, communities and governments to address the climate crisis effectively?  What can we learn from professional experience, and academic research concerning climate change? 

These are the questions for this panel, which takes as a starting point a new book, Journalism and Climate Crisis: Public Engagement, Media Alternatives, by R. Hackett, S. Forde, S. Gunster, and K. Foxwell-Norton (Routledge, 2017).  In part a product of the CCPA’s Climate Justice project, this book takes as a starting point the complicity of corporate news media in diverting humanity from the existential challenge posed by climate chaos.  The book’s main themes are these: 

While climate change is heavily under-reported relative to the scale of the problem, the key shortcoming of conventional news media is lack of, not information, but of agency, hope and efficacy.  Journalism needs to rethink its mission: it’s less about the informed citizen, and more about engaged publics – and mobilized social movements. 

In that light, journalism needs to complement its monitorial function (reporting on events and issues) with more emphasis on the facilitative role of promoting public discussion, and the radical role of identifying injustice, accessing marginalized voices, and advocating social change.  The latter two roles are particularly well-suited to the ‘alternative’ media, given their oppositional content, participatory production, engagement with communities and movements, and ownership and control independent of corporations and the petro-state. 

Still, no single type of journalism could meet all the demands of planetary crisis – or of democratic communication.  Previous experiments within ‘mainstream’ media, including Public Journalism and Peace Journalism, may also offer some valuable lessons for climate crisis communication.

Moreover, even within ‘western’ traditions, there are competing models of democracy, each emphasizing different roles for media. 

Democracy?  In an alarmingly short time, the global political environment appears to have shifted towards pulling up drawbridges, building walls, demonizing Others, and (to mix metaphors) scrambling for the lifeboats rather than collectively stopping the ship from sinking. 

Thus, climate crisis is arguably not just a matter of environmental degradation and economic systems, but also of political and communicative capacity.  For climate action, we need better democracy.  For better democracy, we need better media.  For better media, we need better media structures, including stronger independent media.  And for all these things, we need an active and engaged civil society.

With their combination of journalism experience and media scholarship, the panelists bring to bear their distinct perspectives on these themes.

Enbridge Pipeline Decision: Art Sterritt Available to Comment on Federal Cabinet's Northern Gateway Decision for Gitga'at First Nation

Gitga'at First Nation spokesperson in Vancouver for media interviews and commentary

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwired - Nov. 29, 2016) - Gitga'at First Nation spokesperson, Art Sterritt, will be in Vancouver on Tuesday, November 29th and Wednesday, November 30th, and is available for media interviews and commentary on the Federal Cabinet's decision on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

Prime Minister Trudeau and Justice Minister Jodi Wilson-Raybould visited the Gitga'at community of Hartley Bay and the Great Bear Rainforest just before the last federal election to announce their opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

Who: Art Sterritt, Gitga'at First Nation Spokesperson
What: Media availability and commentary on Federal Cabinet decision
When: Tuesday, November 29 & Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Tuesday's decision was put in motion by a Federal Court of Appeal victory won by the Gitga'at and their allies this past summer that quashed the federal cabinet approval of the pipeline and required the government to consult with First Nations, or end the project.

Gitga'at territory encompasses approximately 7,500 square kilometres of land and water, including a major portion of Douglas Channel, which is the proposed route oil tankers would have to travel to get to and from Kitimat.

Contact Information

Art Sterritt
Gitga'at First Nation
604-868-9110

Trudeau's LNG Approval Raises Troubling Questions For Progressive Voters in B.C.

As a progressive voter, it was disappointing to watch the sunset press conference, hastily organized on the banks of the Fraser River earlier this week, to announce the federal approval of Petronas's Pacific Northwest LNG project. Hosted by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change (cue the irony), the event welcomed an industrial project that would trample First Nations' rights and title, and make it virtually impossible for B.C. to meet its legislated greenhouse gas emission targets.

As the news sunk in, I couldn't help but feel my own faith in the Trudeau government fading like the sun that was setting behind his Ministers.

Just under a year ago, I wrote an opinion piece, identifying where progressive British Columbians in the Lower Mainland should strategically vote Liberal to defeat Stephen Harper. The Liberals ended up winning in all but two of the 11 ridings I recommended (the other two going to Conservatives Alice Wong and Dianne Watts in Richmond Centre and South Surrey-White Rock, respectively).

In making my case, I listed 10 reasons why a progressive voter in the Lower Mainland could feel positive about voting Liberal based on their election platform and party policy, including a new relationship with First Nations, evidence-based scientific decision-making, and action on climate change.

Unfortunately, the Trudeau cabinet approval of Pacific Northwest LNG sharply calls into question the government's commitment to these policies, and progressive voters in B.C. must now seek and deserve answers to two simple questions:

1.    How is this approval consistent with establishing a new relationship with First Nations based on respect and meaningful consultation?

2.    How is this approval consistent with evidence-based scientific decision-making and action on climate change?

With regard to the first question, Lelu Island, the site of the proposed LNG plant, is subject to complicated and unresolved First Nations titleholder claims. This makes approval inconsistent with the government's legal responsibilities to First Nations, let alone its moral obligations. In Question Period, the Prime Minister glossed over opposition questions about the government's respect for First Nations, and he spoke of "folding in" consultation with indigenous leaders. Was this a slip of the tongue or a true glimpse into Trudeau's actual views on meaningful consultation?

On the issue of climate change and scientific decision-making, this approval gives Petronas, wholly owned by the Malaysian government, nearly a third to as high as 75 - 87% (depending on whose numbers you use) of the total allowable emissions for B.C. in 2050, assuming we are going to meet our legislated climate target of 13 megatonnes that year. This leaves little to no room for the emissions of other sectors of the economy, or for British Columbians personally, making it virtually impossible to achieve our targets. How will Canada meet its international climate commitments if our provinces don't meet theirs?  

In response to the public outrage this approval has generated, Trudeau and his Ministers have repeated a non-sequitur about growing the economy and protecting the environment (not possible when we're talking about expanding fossil fuel infrastructure in the context of climate change), and platitudes about conducting resource development in the "most sustainable manner possible" (it's either sustainable or it isn't).

This approval violates some very closely held progressive values, and in the absence of answers and real action on these troubling questions, the hope of thousands of progressive voters in B.C. who helped elect this government, may go the same way as his Ministers' press conference: off into the sunset.

How a New Generation Is Fighting to Survive Climate Change

Earlier this year I had a chance to be interviewed by Geoff Dembicki for a new book he’s writing called “Are We Screwed?” for Bloomsbury US. It focuses on how millennials are fighting climate change with new political and economic strategies. Some of my own efforts as a citizen will be discussed in the book, and were mentioned in Geoff’s recent talk at TEDxEastVan. The Tyee also has an article/transcript of Geoff’s talk here.

Gitga'at First Nation Records the Soundscape Of Its Marine Territory to Protect Against Shipping and Tanker Noise

Baseline acoustical research initiated to study potential risk of increased marine traffic disturbing wildlife along the Douglas Channel, as well as cultural-use impacts on indigenous Territory

HARTLEY BAY, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwired - May 12, 2016) - The Gitga'at First Nation and researchers from UBC and Michigan State University have completed a first of its kind study along Douglas Channel and adjacent waters in Gitga'at marine Territory, in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. The channel has been proposed as an oil tanker shipping route for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

The results of the community-led study, published in the open-access scientific journal Global Ecology and Conservation, present a 'baseline' of the diverse acoustic-ecological conditions of Gitga'at Territory. This baseline is informed by over 357,000 discreet sound recordings, taken at eight locations in Gitga'at Territory over a 14-month period.

"This study builds on our multi-faceted ecological and cultural monitoring program and establishes baseline sound conditions against which the Gitga'at can assess future potential shipping and tanker traffic proposals in our territory," said Chris Picard, Science Director, Gitga'at Lands and Marine Resources Department. "It gives us a critical tool for protecting and managing our Territory and marine resources against the cumulative effects of industrial development."

While government and industry have just started talking about the need for more ecological monitoring in the face of greater proposed development on the coast, the Gitga'at and partners are actually busy doing it. This is critically important as more and more 'soundscape ecology' research reveals that increases in industrial noise can cause significant disturbance to wildlife, and cultural-use impacts.

"The Gitga'at people have a long history of protecting our territory and the cultural and social values, and the marine resources that sustain our nation," said Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor and Hereditary Chief of the Gitga'at First Nation. "Effective noise control policies are just one of the administrative tools we are considering to protect the Great Bear Rainforest and BC's coastal waters for all British Columbians."

The study considers an array of ecological sites along the Douglas Channel as well as Otter Channel and Wright Sound, recording captured acoustic signatures of marine mammals, ravens, and eagles, boat and aircraft noise, as well as wind, waves and rain.

"The frequency and intensity of anthropogenic noise in Gitga'at Territory is currently very low, suggesting a low degree of disturbance by human activities," said Stuart Gage, Professor Emeritus with Michigan State University's Global Observatory for Ecosystem Services & Remote Environmental Assessment Laboratory. "The potential increase in boat traffic due to the establishment of a new shipping channel through Gitga'at Territory would likely cause significant disturbance of the biophony in the region."

The study is one of the first indigenous-settler collaborations of its kind in the rapidly expanding field of soundscape ecology, and involved Gitga'at high school students, two of whom are listed as co-authors.

"This baseline project was a tremendous opportunity to learn from and work with Gitga'at," said Max Ritts, a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography at UBC. "One of the most interesting developments was working alongside students from the Hartley Bay Elementary School, who performed essential tasks as field technicians. This wasn't an initial part of the proposal but emerged over the course of our engagement. I think the idea that scientific monitoring should adapt to the emerging interests of the community isn't always easy for science to incorporate, but it is necessary. We were fortunate to have Gitga'at Leadership guide us through this process."

Full research article:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2351989416300178

Contact Information

Chris Picard Science Director Gitga'at Lands and Marine Resources Department 778.884.2402

Max Ritts PhD Candidate Department of Geography, University of British Columbia 778.884.6580

Still Kicking: The Importance of Media Releases as Storytelling Workhorses

That's the title of the presentation I'll be giving to the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) in Vancouver next week. If you're interested in attending, you can register here. I'll be talking about media releases not just as tools of media relations, but also as tools for organizing and empowering organizations and communities. Here's a preview of what I'll be discussing:

First Nations Legal Challenge Aims to Enforce and Uphold BC Government’s Decision-Making Power Over Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline

Province must exercise its decision-making power over a project that threatens BC’s natural environment, coastal communities and Aboriginal rights and title. VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA (Jan. 13, 2015) - The Coastal First Nations and the Council and hereditary leadership of the Gitga’at First Nation are launching a constitutional challenge against the Province of British Columbia seeking to compel the Province to exercise its decision-making power over the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. The Petition, being filed today in British Columbia Supreme Court, says the Province is required to review the impacts of the project and make a decision as to whether it should proceed and, if so, on what conditions.

The proposed heavy oil and condensate pipelines would stretch 660 kilometres across British Columbia, and would cross approximately 850 streams and rivers. Under British Columbia’s Environmental Assessment Act, such a project requires an Environmental Assessment Certificate to be issued after a process of considering the environmental, economic, social, or health effects.

The Petitioners are represented by Joseph Arvay, Q.C., one of Canada’s most influential lawyers and an expert in constitutional, aboriginal and administrative law.

At the heart of the lawsuit is an argument that the Province failed to consult with First Nations and failed to follow the British Columbia Environmental Assessment Act when it entered into an “Equivalency Agreement” with the federal National Energy Board (NEB), in which the Province abdicated its power to review the project’s environmental effects and to impose more stringent environmental protections.

“The Province signed the Equivalency Agreement without any consultation with First Nations, even though the Northern Gateway project could have devastating impacts on our rights and way of life,” said Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor of the Gitga’at First Nation. “Our territories are within the shipping route that would be used by hundreds of tankers each year. In abdicating its decision-making power, the Province is putting coastal communities at risk of the severe and irreversible harm of oil spills and oil tanker traffic.”

The Gitga’at First Nation and Coastal First Nations are bringing a direct challenge against the Equivalency Agreement, which they argue was made in violation of their constitutionally protected rights and the Environmental Assessment Act itself.

“This lawsuit is about protecting Aboriginal rights and title, and giving the BC government an opportunity to take action that is consistent with its own opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline,” said Art Sterritt, Executive Director of the Coastal First Nations. “We believe the Province has erred in law by avoiding responsibility for a project that its lawyers argued before the NEB should not be approved because of unacceptable risks to British Columbia’s communities and natural environment.”

The lawsuit contends that while the Province was entitled to reduce duplication and overlap by participating in the federal assessment process, it was not entitled to abdicate its decision-making power over the project.

Contact Information:

Art Sterritt Executive Director Coastal First Nations Office: 604-696-9889 Cell: 604-868-9110

Andrew Frank Communications Officer Gitga’at First Nation 604-367-2112

Media Advisory: Forensic Auditor to Present Analysis of Lubicon Lake First Nation’s Cree Development Corporation

PEACE RIVER, ALBERTA (September 5, 2014) Attention News Editors:

Media are invited to a public presentation by forensic auditors from MNP LLP in Peace River on Monday, September 8 at 1:00pm.

What: A forensic auditor from MNP LLP will present results and analysis from a forensic audit into the operational transactions, assets, liabilities and revenue sources of the Lubicon Lake First Nation’s Cree Development Corporation covering the period March 1, 2006 to Feb. 28, 2012.

A Q&A session will follow the presentation.

Chief Billy Joe Laboucan will be available for interviews.

When: Monday, September 8, 2014 at 1:00 pm MT

Where: Belle Petroleum Centre in Peace River, Alberta.

Contact: Lubicon Lake Band Andrew Frank Communications Specialist 604-367-2112 www.lubiconlakeband.ca