UC Berkeley News
Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

Student journalists report on "Early Signs" of global warming

– Reports from the field by 11 student journalists at the University of California, Berkeley, that document the impacts of global warming from East Africa to the Arctic to the South Pacific will be released weekly by salon.com and National Public Radio's "Living on Earth" program beginning today (Friday, March 17).

Drought on the mountain
Berkeley student journalist Kate Cheney Davidson recounts her experiences reporting from the farming communities on Mt. Kilimanjaro, which are already feeling the negative consequences of a changing climate.

The series, "Early Signs: Reports from a Warming Planet," will be published each Friday through May 5. It is the product of a two-semester seminar and reporting workshop taught at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism by veteran international reporter Sandy Tolan and John Harte, a leading climatologist and a professor in UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources as well as the Energy and Resources Group.

Students spent the fall 2005 semester examining the science and politics of climate change and identified potential news stories in more than 20 countries, Tolan said. After a rigorous journalistic and scientific vetting process, he said, students selected eight explorations of climate change in six countries and headed out into the field. They produced their stories this current semester.

"We wanted to get beyond the 'debate' about whether global warming exists, to document actual changes on the planet," said Tolan. "The time was right, and we had the team to do it."

Their reports look at the political, social and environmental impact of melting glaciers, sea level rise, and warming lakes and savannahs, while focusing on the human impact. The pieces feature compelling narratives populated with real people and a sense of place, Tolan said.

"At each location around the world, the eleven reporters listened to a diversity of voices on climate change and its causes, consequences and cures," said Harte, who checked and verified the scientific content in multiple drafts of each story.

"The American public also is confronted with such a plethora of views," Harte said. "This series of reports exemplifies how reporters, and the public as well, can rely on basic science to sort out the confusion and be a better informed citizenry."

A central premise of the class, Tolan said, was the scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to global warming. Harte said that by getting the students well-grounded in the scientific fundamentals of global warming, they avoided something for which he's often criticized the media- creating a false balance through the use of "dueling experts" and essentially giving equal weight to unequal sides.

The series includes:

  • A profile about Churchill, Manitoba, in upper Hudson Bay, the so-called polar bear capital of the world
  • A report about the warming of Lake Tanganyika and its potential impact on the fish population in Tanzania
  • A story about a program to resettle residents of a Pacific archipelago whose islands may be inundated by a rising sea level
  • A portrait of the island of Kiribati, which has been swamped by the rising elevation of the ocean
  • A report from the vulnerable delta areas of Bangladesh
  • A report from the southeastern side of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania on vanishing glaciers and the impact of that on water supplies
  • A story of melting glaciers and the water supply in the Ecuadorian Andes
  • A piece about the Maori view of climate change in New Zealand

Harte commended each report, but said the one that most surprised him linked Lake Tanganyika's declining fish population to global warming and lake temperature to changes in the "overturning" of nutrients in the lake and the amount of algae growth. Student Jori Lewis was the first reporter to pull all those pieces together, he said.

"The challenge to covering global warming is to make the issue vivid," said Jeanne Carstensen, Salon's managing editor. "This series is wonderful because it reports on a complicated global crisis through personal stories."

"There are few series that are more important that 'Early Signs,' as they tell us that the tremors of climate disruption can already be felt in almost every part of the world," said Steve Curwood, host and executive producer of "Living on Earth." "Telling these stories is absolutely essential, as we ignore these signs at the peril of our civilization."

Harte said he is gratified as a scientist to help teach "the next generation of journalists."

The reports run Fridays through April 28 in Salon.com. Radio versions of the stories will air on "Living on Earth's" nearly 300 public radio stations and can be found on its Web site at: http://www.loe.org/. A list of stations and times the program airs can be found online at: http://www.loe.org/where/where.htm.

The student trips were financed by the Graduate School of Journalism.