Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.
Justice work and social movements are no strangers when it comes to news media coverage. In the last decade alone, readers have seen an influx in the coverage that has been dedicated to specific movements within our current culture and social climate.
These movements have included Black Lives Matter, Time’s Up, #MeToo, The March for Our Lives and plenty more, each of which has sustained a presence within the news in order to educate readers on the actions that are being taken around them.
One specific movement that could easily do with more coverage is the push for environmental justice.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), environmental justice is defined by, “The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income, with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.”
This EPA then explains that this form of justice is present when all people are protected against the harms that come from climate change and all people have equal access to the decision making that must be made with regards to the environment.
If we have learned anything from the marginalized communities that make up so much of our population, it is that they are still very much removed from both of those elements, creating a need for the fight for environmental justice for all. According to page 303 of the book “Uncommon Ground,” Giovanna DiChiro’s essay, “Nature as Community,” states that this movement dates all the way back to 1982 in Warren County, North Carolina, where one of the first larger-scale instances of civil unrest took place as a result of the local Black neighborhoods being targeted for toxic waste dumping. If we use this as the starting point of the environmental justice movement, that means there have been almost four whole decades of work that has been done, much of which the average person might not know a great deal about.
In late 2014, the Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ) created a code of ethics that would be widely regarded as a model for other journalists and publications. Across all eight language translations of the code, the SPJ presents and expands upon four different pillars of what makes a solid, ethical publication.
The very first pillar in that list is, “Seek Truth and Report It.” This may seem like a no-brainer when it comes to journalism and news, however, many writers and outlets, as well as consumers, need to be reminded that the journalist’s job is to “be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable,” give voice to the voiceless,” and “recognize a special obligation to serve as watchdogs over public affairs.”
With respect to these non-negotiable duties, news publications have a responsibility to provide their readers with the context they need to make critical decisions and take action upon issues that may concern them. This includes reporting on social movements which warrant having a spotlight on them in order to make their actions known to the public.
Though many of the scientific and general concerns surrounding climate change and the state of our environment are granted coverage in mainstream news publications such as CNN, MSNBC and the like, coverage specifically relating to environmental justice work is considerably harder to come by.
Various national environmental organizations, such as Moms Clean Air Force, have made public statements urging other groups, many of which are made up of white people, to begin advocating for the protection of marginalized communities and their struggles when it comes to the climate change narrative.
However, those unique and specific struggles that marginalized groups such as the Black and LGBTQ+ communities face, aren’t always presented clearly in the news.
More often than not, we hear about the ways in which climate change is dangerous and affects everyone. Little is said about the ways that people who are not white, are not straight, are not male and so on and so forth, are impacted.
When critical information such as this is left out, the story as a whole becomes skewed. When speaking up and doing the work that needs to be done to protect the environment, people may be ignorant of the specific ways in which they ought to be taking action in order to achieve true environmental justice.
Climate change is everyone’s issue. No one is exempt from the ways in which the decline in the health and safety of our environment will impact life as we know it. That said, marginalized communities are made the most vulnerable to the threat of climate change, and until all people understand and are made aware of the issue, we can not anticipate seeing the kind of change that we would like to see in the next several years or even decades.
For this reason, journalists and news media publications need to step up and fully embody their role as watchdogs and vigilant, courageous reporters who hold people accountable for their actions, and give people the information they need to think critically, take action and make moves that are necessary for a safer future for all.
Ali Kochik is a fourth-year English major with minors in Journalism and Women’s & Gender Studies. AK908461@wcupa.edu