Dear Journalists of Canada: Start Reporting Climate Change as an Emergency

A five-point plan for mainstream media to cover fewer royal babies and more of our unfolding catastrophe.

By Sean Holman 28 May 2019 | TheTyee.caSean Holman covered B.C. politics for 10 years and is now a journalism professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary. He produced Whipped, a documentary on the corrosive effects of party discipline, and is now writing a book on the history of freedom of information in Canada.


Karyn Pugliese, president, Canadian Association of Journalists
Martin O’Hanlon, president, CWA Canada
Fiona Conway, president, Radio Television Digital News Association
John Hinds, president and chief executive officer, News Media Canada
Jerry Dias, national president, UniforCanada’s editors, news directors, publishers and station managers

On May 6, the United Nations released a scientific report warning that around a million species are threatened with extinction due to human activity, including climate change. But, according to an analysis by Media Matters for America, on the day of that release, the nightly newscasts of ABC and NBC felt it was more important that their audiences learned about the birth of the newest royal baby — someone who will likely never have any say over their day-to-day lives. And I’ve found most of Canada’s 15 most-read English language daily broadsheets felt the same way.

Between May 6 and 7, 13 of those newspapers failed to front stories about the United Nations’ devastating finding. Instead, the National Post ran a story about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s son, with 10 others teasing that birth on their front pages. Eight of the teasers were placed above-the-fold, next to a photograph, or both — drawing reader attention to pictures of Harry, Meghan and their beaming well-wishers.

By comparison, six of the 13 newspapers ran front page teasers about the extinction report. Just one of those teasers was placed above the fold and none were accompanied by photographs. Only the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star did more than that, fronting stories about that report. It turns out that most of the country’s other major broadsheets concluded that proof of a dying planet was less newsworthy than puffery about a newborn baby.

In doing so, I want to be clear that I am not recommending journalists become activists. That isn’t our role, except when promoting and defending the rights and freedoms necessary for a functioning free press. However, we are responsible for ensuring Canadians have the information needed to make the rational and empathetic decisions that are supposed to underpin our political and economic systems, whether that’s at the ballot box or the checkout line. And we are further responsible for exposing public and private institutions when they are harming Canadians with their actions or inactions.

By that standard, the climate crisis should be the biggest story of our time. Due to government and corporate actions and inactions, we can expect a multitude of tribulations to be visited upon us. For example, by 2050, decreases in food availability caused by global warming could cause 529,000 additional deaths in that year alone. That warming could also cause as many as one billion people to flee their homes. And, in the United States, the cost of climate change could be US$35 billion per year.

However, in searching Canadian Newsstream — a database of 569 different English language Canadian news sources that includes a majority of the country’s newspapers, as well as CBC and CTV’s televised national evening newscasts — I have found our mainstream media too often does not reflect the scope and severity of that crisis in five important ways. In addition to failing to prominently place news about this story it has:

  • Failed to cover news about the climate crisis. For example, on Oct. 15, the House of Commons held an emergency debate on that crisis. According to Canadian Newsstream, between that date and Oct. 22, the Canadian Press, our country’s national wire service, produced two stories covering it that may have been carried by other news outlets. The debate was also mentioned twice on CTV’s Power Play with Don Martin, and once by CTV National News and the Northumberland News, a newspaper in Cobourg, Ont. Finally, Postmedia produced an editorial claiming “this sort of fear-mongering doesn’t help the environment or Canadians.” The editorial was published in 22 newspapers. In other words, these sources seemed more interested in convincing Canadians there isn’t a climate crisis than actually reporting on it.
  • Failed to localize international news about the climate crisis, reporting on what those stories mean for Canadians, as well as holding governments and corporations to account for them. For example, Pope Francis I has long warned about the dangers of climate change. At a Vatican conference in June 2018, he even urged oil and gas executives gathered there to switch to green energy to avoid a calamitous rise in global temperatures. This was an opportunity for Canadian journalists to ask our own executives for their responses to that statement. It was also an opportunity to ask the country’s Catholic priesthood if they have been preaching the same message from their pulpits and if the church’s believers are heeding the Pope’s warning. But none of the sources in Canadian Newsstream appear to have taken advantage of those opportunities, even though the news media routinely asks these sorts of accountability questions when other interest groups make calls for action or publicize their research. Just look at what happened when the right-wing Fraser Institute released its controversial annual report card of Ontario secondary schools on May 5, a day before the United Nations extinction report was made public. Journalists from outlets such as the CBC, the Toronto Sun and the Windsor Star all asked schools for comments on the grades they received; and
  • Failed to routinely contextualize news about the climate crisis. For example, between Aug. 15 and Sept. 7, 2018, British Columbia was under a state of emergency as a result of forest fires that were spreading smoke across the Rockies and into Alberta, creating a public health and safety disaster. During that time, the Canadian Press, as well as the Calgary Herald, the Edmonton Journal and the Vancouver Sun (the three most-read local daily broadsheets in the two provinces), produced 182 unique reports, columns, editorials, or op-eds referencing those fires or their effects. Just 14 or 7.7 per cent of those items mentioned the demonstrable connection between the climate crisis and increasing wildfire activity, even though it was one of the major reasons why that season was the worst on record for British Columbia. This is the equivalent of reporting on the overdose epidemic or a terrorist bombing without naming the drug or group responsible — something we would never do in any other kind of day-to-day coverage since audiences must know the cause of an event to understand it.

These are unconscionable failures of journalism, nothing more and nothing less. If we continue in these failures, we could be contributing to the deaths of millions. That’s not hyperbole. That’s a scientific estimate. And the science surrounding the harm humans are causing to our environment has long ago reached the certainty required for comprehensive and aggressive news coverage, as well as immediate political action.

So, in 2030, when we hit the deadline to reduce our carbon emissions by 45 per cent, do we want to say that we, as journalists, helped Canadians make the best possible personal and political decisions about this most important of issues or do we want to say we distracted them from those decisions by making the birth of a wealthy aristocrat our lead story?

We’re answering that question right now, whether we want to or not. And it’s well-past time we changed our response. So what I am asking you to do today is not dismiss this letter by defensively citing examples of when the Canadian news media has actually appropriately reported on the climate crisis. Instead, what I am asking you to do is recognize our failures, and call upon your members to do these five things: properly placecovercontextualize, and localize the biggest story of our time, and hold public and private institutions to account for their actions and inactions on climate change — from the smallest governments to the biggest transnational corporations. It is simply our responsibility as journalists. I look forward to your prompt reply.


Sean Michael Holman, associate professor of journalism, Mount Royal University  [Tyee]

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Sustainability: Is the Mount Everest gridlock a metaphor for our planet?

Thank you for your insights and now if we could only start listening and acting accordingly.

Robby Robin's Journey

The pictures that emerged this past week of the long line of climbers waiting their turn to get to the summit of the tallest mountain on our planet was staggering to behold. This is perhaps the most remote and inhospitable place in the world. Those people were waiting in frigid temperatures, requiring oxygen tanks to breath, and they were waiting in line – kind of like the lunch line in the high school cafeteria or the line waiting for the door to open at a popular store for shopping deals on Black Friday – and they waited for up to 12 hours, with several deaths along the way. Commentators are suggesting there is a sustainability issue around the number of people who are attempting to climb Mount Everest. You think?!

Photo credit:

It was in 1953 that Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to be…

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Humanity’s biggest own goals

Hard hitting thoughts on humanity. Thanks Matthew for your realistic outlook.

Matthew Wright

There’s no question in my mind that human-driven climate
change has to be one of the biggest own-goals humanity has ever struck on
itself. And we should have seen it coming. I mean, we’ve been pushing
combustion products into the atmosphere in ever-larger quantities since the
advent of industrialisation, over 200 years ago. We’ve been burning up fossil
fuels, polluting the environment, hacking down forests and generally creating
ecological mayhem at ever-increasing scale and speed. What did we think would

A beautiful picture of Earth from 1.6 million km sunwards. NASA, public domain.

When I say ‘one of’ the biggest own goals, to my thinking there’s only one other totally massive own-goal in the same league; the invention of nuclear weapons. And it’s a bigger one. The thing about human-driven climate change is that ultimately it’s not risking end-game. It’ll likely reduce what we call our civilisation. It’ll change…

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The Art of Life

Wise words for a dreary. rainy Friday!

I can't believe it!

These wise words are by Roman Emperor/ philosopher Marcus Aurelius. We have a natural inclination to reject the emergence of difficult circumstances or events that do not appear to be amenable, but there is usually a lesson and opportunity for growth.

“True understanding is to see the events of life in this way:
‘You are here for my benefit, though rumour paints you otherwise.’

And everything is turned to one’s advantage when he greets a situation like this:
You are the very thing I was looking for.

Truly whatever arises in life is the right material to bring about your growth and the growth of those around you.

This, in a word, is art — and this art called ‘life’ is a practice suitable to both men and gods.

Everything contains some special purpose and a hidden blessing;
what then could be strange or arduous when all of life…

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The Winning Sand Sculpture of the 2019 Texas Sand Sculpture Festival


Damon Langlois has been awarded 1st Place for his incredible sand sculpture, “Liberty Crumbling”, at the 2019 Texas SandFest. The 23rd annual Texas SandFest drew 35,000 people to Port Aransas, Texas and is recognized as the largest native-sand sculpture competition in the United States.

Texas SandFest’s mission is to give back to the community by raising funds for local charities and scholarships for high school students. This year they raised $355,000 usd and have raised $1,261,750 usd for charities in the last 8 years.

I’m pro-choice because I’m pro-life — Doubting Believer

Robby Robin's Journey

If people genuinely wish to live in a society that is truly pro-life, then promoting laws and programs that provide adequate support systems for those who are alive (quality public education for all, affordable and accessible health care, parental leave, care-giver support, support for parents of children with special needs, etc.) has to be more effective and humane than preventing safe abortions when necessary for complex and valid personal reasons. Anti-abortion is pro-birth, not pro-life. But Rev. Anne Russ, at her blog Doubting Believer, explains it so much better. You can read it at this link:  I’m pro-choice because I’m pro-life.

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My mother couldn’t choose her story’s end. This needs to change


Kathleen Venema is an associate professor of English at the University of Winnipeg and the author of Bird-Bent Grass: A Memoir, in Pieces, from which this essay is adapted.

My mother and I were exceptionally close from the day I was born until the day she died. During all those years, our relationship was defined by thoughtful, animated, meditative, informally philosophical discussion. She was my mother, my mentor and my friend. When her doctor diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease in July, 2005, my world came skidding to an end.

Then Mom and I took stock and gathered up as many pieces as we could. We were, in a thousand crucial ways, of one mind, and I was not yet ready for Mom to lose hers.

So, we allocated our Friday afternoons to activities most likely to slow dementia’s erosions, and for the next five years, we read together, wrote together, talked, walked, sang together, made up word games together and played them. We used a range of memory prompts, primary among them the 200-plus letters we’d exchanged 20 years earlier, while I was working in Uganda after the end of a civil war, and my mother, in her 50s, was increasingly engaged in the world broadening around her.

Predictably, our early letters rehearsed our intense homesickness for one another (“It’s a good thing I didn’t know how much I’d miss you or I never would have come”; “I didn’t have much heart for knitting lately. I still have to get used to you being all the way in Africa and then I can’t knit right away”).

The letters did everything they could to bridge the distance between us, and they recorded us getting on with the work of our lives. For Mom, that included encouraging the people at her conservative church to greater political awareness; pursuing a university degree (“I got my last assignment back with a ‘wow’ on it”); and various forms of activism (“I’ve just finished signing 70 cards to MPs urging them to support disarmament and banning of nuclear tests, cruise tests, and space weapons tests. And I have approximately 230 to do!”).

In 2007, the letters were their own tangible proof of existence, but Mom sometimes expressed doubt. “I wrote letters?” she sometimes asked when we started to read, and sometimes she multiplied the emphases in her question: “I wrote letters? To you?!” But we persisted and paved the way for remembrance. “Oh,” she would tell me, looking up, her face alight, “now that I read it, of course I remember.”

Remembering, though, sometimes came with its own demons. We mourned a beloved family member throughout the gruelling winter of 2008, and Mom’s profound grief intensified both her awareness of her diminishing capacities and her wish to die. Mom had always celebrated progressive politics in the Netherlands, where she was born, and from the mid-1970s onward, she’d explicitly, repeatedly endorsed her birth country’s broadening acceptance of doctor-assisted dying. It wasn’t a surprise, in 2008, to hear her speak more and more often about ending her life. I understood exactly how she felt. I knew I’d feel the very same way.

But the subject came up so frequently that winter, I began to dread our visits, terrified she’d ask me to promise to help.

“Kathleen,” she’d demand, “if I could not communicate with anybody and that was obvious to you, if I couldn’t have a conversation with you, if I wouldn’t know who you were, or who Dad was, or my grandchildren – what is left then, tell me that?”

“It’s not legal now,” she retorted, when I tried that angle, “but when you think about it from my position, it should be.”

Despite her utter seriousness, though, and her admirable determination, Mom was no longer capable, by 2008, of thinking through details, logistics or procedures. If she were going to end her life, someone would have to help her.

For five months, I lived what felt like an impossible dilemma. There were ways to help my mother die, and I could have investigated, could have identified collaborators, gathered ingredients, designed a plan. Because I knew, deep in my being, that this was what Mom would have wanted, what she would have opted for if she’d had any choice in the matter.

But logistics defied me, competing ethics defied me, my love for my mother defied me. I was not yet done with the story we were making together, and so I held my breath while she talked, nodded encouragement as she rehearsed her garbled schemes. I let the law tie my hands. I let Alzheimer’s continue its corrosive work, and by spring, 2009, Mom no longer remembered what it was she had planned to plan.

Mom’s final years weren’t easy for her and they weren’t easy for us. By January, 2015, she no longer spoke recognizable words in any of the five languages in which she was once fluent. She vocalized only to communicate almost constant distress. I’d reach her care home on Fridays and find her bent double over the tray attached to her wheelchair. I’d lay my face beside hers, massage her arms and remind her that I loved her, hoping to balance off at least some of the distress. Because I couldn’t help thinking, every single time, that it was anger she was expressing, at us, for not helping to end things before they got to this point. She so clearly had not wanted to get to this point.

Canada finally passed medical-assistance-in-dying (MAID) legislation in June, 2016, but without a single provision for people with dementias. So that, even now, almost three years later, people with serious and incurable dementias, people who are, unarguably, in states of irreversible decline, people who can reasonably foresee their natural deaths, still cannot choose – as my mother could not choose – the conclusions to their own stories.

On February 15, 2017, Alzheimer’s vanquished my mother’s remaining bodily processes and she died. I didn’t regret our final years as I held her for the last time, shrunken, emaciated, but I mourned the jaunty, purposeful, dignified exit she might otherwise have chosen. One month before MAID passed, I gave Mom a last, achingly sweet Mother’s Day card, a simple pen-and-ink sketch of a little girl on an old-fashioned swing above a field of flowers. “Happy Mother’s Day,” the card read, “Remembering every happy moment.” We didn’t, of course, any more, in May, 2016 – remember every happy moment. But here is one:

It’s the fall of 2012 and Mom and I are still taking walks together in the forest behind my parents’ home. By now, our conversations and our word games are much diminished, but while we walk, I throw out words and ask Mom their definitions. She balks at “enterprise,” but when I assure her that this isn’t a test, she takes a moment, considers the next word, then launches into a lively but muddled account of what it means to “vacillate.” I tell her she’s correct, then ask about “correspondence.” “Correspondence,” Mom repeats without hesitating. “That is when – say you have something and then something else. And you have something and you say, that looks like the same thing.” I tell her she’s exactly right: that when one thing corresponds with another, it means that the two things are quite alike. “Jah,” Mom says, “and then if, say, you are living here and someone else is living there, and if you want to communicate with them, maybe you send them something, like a message.”

We’re seven years and four months past the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, but Mom has, without prompting, just produced both main meanings of correspondence. “You’re absolutely right, Mom,” I tell her. “When I lived in Uganda, we’d send each other letters, and those letters were our correspondence.” A few years ago, talk about the letters sometimes made her anxious, but today, she’s deeply pleased. “We did, eh?” she says, dazzling me with a smile. “That’s good!”

Looking at aging with the glass half full

Thanks to John Persico for the original and much more thanks to Jane Fritz for such a positive outlook. It is indeed a privilege to live to 70 and still be healthy but with my many lumps that I have earned.

Robby Robin's Journey

“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands …” If everyone were to sing this well-known ditty, which age groups would clap the loudest? 1-5 year olds? 10-20 year olds? 40-50 year olds? 70-80 year olds?

If you were to read John Persico’s blog post from earlier this week (and he’s not always as negative as this), you would definitely think that it must be the 40-50 year olds, those at the peak of achieving the goals they started in their youth. He suggested that youth is a time of “getting” (friends, education, a career, a spouse, kids, a home, promotions, status, etc.), whereas old age is a time of “losing” (our careers, friends and family as they pass away, teeth, hair, eyesight, hearing, flexibility, dexterity, balance, our knees, our hips, our homes because we can’t climb the stairs, and our money to pay…

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