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Number 1 Shimbun

NUMBER 1 SHIMBUN 2019

NUMBER 1 SHIMBUN 2019 (121)

Children categories

New in the Library

 

Gentle Black Giants: A History of Negro Leaguers in Japan
Kazuo Sayama ; Bill Staples, JR.
Nisei Baseball Research Project Press (NBRP Press)


Tokyo: City of Stories
Paul Waley
Weatherhill


Inhabitation: A Novel
Teru Miyamoto; 
tr. by Roger K. Thomas
Counterpoint


09 10
Night in the American Village: Women in the Shadow of the U.S. Military Base in Okinawa
Akemi Johnson
The New Press


일본 정치론 (Japanese Politics)
Akio Igarashi
Myeongin Culture History 
Gift from Akio Igarashi

 

New Members

 

REGULAR MEMBERS


09 08

Takeshi Fujitani is the deputy managing editor at the Asahi Shimbun. He earned a BA in Liberal Arts at International Christian University, Tokyo and MA Developing Studies at School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He joined the Asahi in 1987. He was later assigned to the office in Rome in 1997 to cover the Pope’s millennium visit to the Holy Land, Kosovo Crisis, and wars in Zaire and Rwanda. In 2004, he moved to Jakarta, covering the first direct presidential election as well as string of terrorist incidents. During the Indian Ocean Tsunami, Takeshi was one of the first foreign journalists to report from the disaster-stricken area. From 2009 he reported from South and Southeast Asia regions as Asia Editor. Fujitani has co-authored two books, John Paul II and Living After Tsunami.


09 09

Barry M. Kawaguchi is the slot editor for the Asia & Japan Watch English-language digital newspaper website of the Asahi Shimbun. He started his career at the Ogden Standard-Examiner in Ogden, Utah, where he got his bachelor’s degree from Weber State College. Kawaguchi had two decades of daily newspaper experience in the US, working for various papers as a sportswriter, news reporter, bureau chief, business reporter and assistant city editor. From 2002 to 2011, he served as the English-language copy editor for the Asahi Weekly, an English-teaching weekly newspaper of the Asahi Shimbun. He now leads a team of six English-native speaking copy editors in rewriting translations of articles from the vernacular Asahi Shimbun for a Western audience.

 


PROFESSIONAL/JOURNALIST ASSOCIATE MEMBER
Status Change (Associate To Professional/Journalist Associate)
Katsuyoshi Ozaki, Krey Office


ASSOCIATE MEMBERS
Olga Vlietstra, Servcorp Ltd.
Kiyoshi Aoki, Haruna Beverage Inc.
Toshiyuki Hirooka, Capital
International K.K.
Motoaki Ibano, M’s Holding
International Corporation
Takeyoshi Komatsu, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation
Koichi Kamachi, Kamachis Office
Yasuhiro Maehara, The Securities Analysts Association of Japan
Rumi Nakamura, Japan Airlines Co., Ltd.
Yoshihiro Orihara, Ebitami LLC
Koichi Seri, Mitsubishi Corporation
Eisuke Shiozaki, Mitsubishi Corporation
Mai Tanaka, No affiliation
Takashi Yoshida, Meiwa Corporation
Morikazu Yamada, Kitanomaru Law Office
Ryojiro Yamamoto, PE&HR Co., Ltd.


REINSTATEMENT (ASSOCIATE)
Keiichi Yamamura, GIGA Prize Co., Ltd.

 

 

FCCJ Exhibition - THE PAPER

09 06 

by Sunto Hiroshi

 

I studied delicate nihonga-style painting from a young age. Then, a few years ago, I started using stiff, oil-paint brushes to create thick, line paintings of people.

One of the things I learned from this is that a thick line is not a line, but a surface.

Next I photographed the finished painting and turned it into an image. 

However, being an experienced graphic designer, I found that I was not satisfied with the resulting image. It was then that an old friend suggested 

I added information to the picture and print it. 

This marked the birth of “THE PAPER,” a free newspaper that offers a complete contrast to the modern trend of delivering information digitally over the internet. 

The works in this exhibition illustrate the path that led to the creation of “THE PAPER.”

 

Hiroshi Sunto was born in 1955. He began his career at Nippon Design Center and later moved to the design office Breakfast. In 1985, he opened Sunto Graphics and has designed album covers for over 130 musicians. In addition, he has been the creative director for a number of magazines.

Bangladesh night

The Club had a successful evening celebrating “The Rhythms and Colors of Bangladesh” on Sept. 4. Left, the Ambassador of Bangladesh, Rabab Fatima (center in the black and pink sari), is surrounded by singers and dancers (left to right, Papiya Rahman Piky, Sangya Ghose, Tania Islam Mithun, Gerome Gomez, Shammi Akhtar, Ashim Mallik and Mabud Sarker). Attendees were also treated to delicious Bangladeshi cuisine.

Below, the evening was introduced by the Club’s 1st Vice President and reporter for the Bangladesh Daily Prothom Alo, Monzurul Huq.

 

09 01

 

09 02

 

09 03

 

09 04

 

09 05

 

In Memoriam - Charlie Cole

Feb. 28 1955 – Sept. 5 2019

CHARLIE COLE, ONE OF the four photo journalists who captured the iconic image of the Tiananmen protester “Tank Man” in June 1989, passed away in September in Bali where he had lived for some 15 years. He was 64. He leaves Rosanna, his wife.

Well-known in the Asia-Pacific region, Charlie was resident in Japan for much of the 1980s and 1990s and was a regular visitor to the Club along with buddies the late Greg Davis and “Rambling” James Gardner.

Writer Bradley Martin drew on him for a character in his latest novel, Nuclear Blues.
Cole, covering the Beijing pro-democracy demonstrations for Newsweek, received the 1990 World Press Photo award of the year.


Geoff Tudor

Lens craft

08 1

Face off medallists
Japan clinch the mixed-team gold medal at the World Judo Championships in Tokyo on Sept. 1, while silver went to France and bronze to Brazil.
by Rodrigo Reyes Marin

 

 

08 2

Dance off performers
Sakaikami High School’s team (from Osaka) perform at the Japan High School Dance Championship, “Dance Stadium,” in Yokohama on Aug. 16.
by Yoshikazu Tsuno

Ben Dooley - The New York Times

07


By Julian Ryall

After almost five years reporting from Beijing, Ben Dooley says Japan is a breath of fresh air—both professionally and personally. The Japan business correspondent for the New York Times, Dooley arrived in Tokyo in February and says his first reaction to being here was to be grateful for the lack of pollution in the city. 

“There were days when I would look out of my window in Beijing and I wouldn’t be able to see to the other side of the road,” he said. “After being there for a few years, I developed a natural sensitivity to air quality and while there is still pollution here, it’s not the same as in China.”

Originally from what he describes as “a small town on the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia,” 40-year-old Dooley says he is also grateful for the relatively unfettered access to government agencies, academics and corporate leaders. Asked about the “hurdles” that he has come up against in his reporting in the last seven months, Dooley says they are relatively low.

“They don’t seem like hurdles because I’ve just come from China, where it is so difficult to report on anything and to just do your job,” he said. “It’s refreshing to come to Japan and to be able to walk into METI [The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry] and be briefed on an issue by an official who is at least being reasonably frank with you.”

Dooley credits his present position to “a good degree of good fortune.” He completed a degree in Asian studies at the University of Virginia, where he “fell in love with kanji characters.” “They were just so very different to anything that I had seen before and there was something very graceful and expressive about them.”

 

HE ADMITS THAT LEARNING sufficient kanji to be able to get by “did not come easy,” but—after 18 months with a South Korean Internet startup and as a PBS online video producer in Washington DC—he honed his language abilities during two years in a mountain town in Aichi Prefecture with the Japan Exchange and Teaching program.

In 2005, he returned to the US and took a Masters in East Asian Studies at Stanford University. It was during his time at Stanford that his career path veered off. “I had thought that I would go into government, but I attended a lecture by Bill Keller, then the executive editor of the New York Times, and I got it into my head that journalism would be an interesting and fun thing to do. 

Correspondents do not, of course, simply walk into plum overseas assignments, although Dooley felt that his knowledge of Asia, some of its languages, culture, economic and political issues, meant that he would be most valuable to a news organization in this part of the world.

Back in Washington but with an eye on Asia, Dooley joined the local bureau of Kyodo News. Initially hired as a news assistant, he was soon given free rein to chase down his own stories, primarily in the State Department and then in the White House. During his four years with Kyodo, Dooley was promoted to a staff-writer position and was informed that the agency had an opening in China for an English-speaking correspondent. 

Around 18 months after taking up the position, he moved over to Agence France-Presse and was covering domestic Chinese politics, business and, increasingly, human rights issues. “When I first went to Beijing, I did not really have an interest in human rights issues because it looked like things were getting better. But it became apparent that things were actually getting much, much worse, far more quickly than anyone expected,” he said.

 

“TO ME, NOTHING WAS more important to write about than the persecution of people by their own government,” Dooley said. “The Uighurs is the most obvious case, but there were a lot of horrible things happening to people all over the country.”

He went to China wanting to write good things about the country, but it was very difficult when so much that was negative was going on. “It became more and more oppressive. Everyone believed—and hoped—Xi [Jinping] would be a reformer and would open the country up when he came to power, but those hopes quickly disappeared.” 

Towards the end of his fourth year in Beijing, a friend contacted him to let him know that the Times was looking for a correspondent with experience and language skills to be based in Tokyo. It was, he says, another stroke of luck. 

After a spell training at the paper’s headquarters while he waited for his accreditation to come through, Dooley arrived in Tokyo in February. Contrary to some suggestions that Americans in general are not very interested in what is going on beyond their borders, Dooley says readers of the New York Times do care about what is happening around the world.

“My job, my challenge is to make the news interesting and enjoyable to the readers,” he said. “At the same time, I don’t want to do the vending-machine stories or write about sex robots. I think it’s important that correspondents not exoticize or fetishize the place where they are posted. And I think that has sometimes been a problem with coverage of Japan.”

Instead, Dooley said, he wants to get his teeth into the longer-term investigative stories, similar to some that he pursued in China.

“Those would be my first love in journalism. It would be better for the world as a whole if those stories were not out there, but we all know they are.” ❶

 

Julian Ryall is Japan correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.

A finger in the eye of the powers-that-be

06

Hideaki Kimura (left)and Makoto Watanabe


The non-profit investigative cyber-paper Waseda Chronicle, led by ex-Asahi journalists, looks for important stories ignored by the mainstream media


By David McNeill

One autumn day five years ago, journalists at the Asahi Shimbun looked up from their desks to see their boss holding an impromptu press conference on the newsroom TV screens. For months, the newspaper had been taking flak over an article about the Fukushima nuclear accident. Now Tadakazu Kimura, its president, was apologizing to the nation and announcing that the article in question was being retracted.

Hideaki Kimura, who wrote the piece, and Makoto Watanabe, who ran the special investigative section that carried it, watched in astonishment as the president stood up, flanked by the paper’s heads of editorial affairs and public relations and bowed low for six seconds. Neither reporter knew what was coming. But then Kimura straightened up, and vowed strict punishment for “all concerned.” 

For many, the humiliating mea culpa, coming on the heels of another Asahi retraction of articles on “comfort women” a month earlier, was a mortal wound to Japan’s flagship liberal newspaper. For Kimura and Watanabe, though, it was the end of the line, and both quit soon after. 

But despite the slap in the face, both stayed in the journalism profession. Today, they can be found running the Waseda Chronicle, an online, non-profit investigative newspaper out of a small office in Tokyo.

When we met, Kimura had just returned from a reporting trip to the Philippines, source of most of the bananas consumed in Japan. Unknown to most consumers, the industry is a black hole for human rights, he says, with instances of strikebreaking, intimidation of workers, even murder. It’s exactly the sort of story the big media should be doing, he says. “But they ignore it.” 

 

THE CHRONICLE, (IT TAKES its name from the Institute of Journalism in Waseda University where it was founded in 2017) wants to plug this gap in investigative journalism. The mainstream media, argues Watanabe, has been narcotized by its press club system, in which official sources, from the government down, drip feed information to the press pack. 

“It doesn’t occur to most journalists to go and chase down stories in foreign countries,” Watanabe says. “And it’s not just foreign reporting—it’s anything outside their beat. They are trained to focus on daily briefings: ‘The police say this; The Ministry of Finance says that.’ They prioritize the voices of authority and that they cozy up to those voices. It’s a weakness in journalism here.” 

These problems have been cited with banal regularity in journalism surveys, most notably in the annual “World Press Freedom Index” produced by Reporters Without Borders. Globally, Japan ranked 67th in the latest ranking, a notch of five places up from the previous year but still the worst in the G7 group of industrialized nations. A copy of the survey is pinned to the wall in the Chronicle’s office.

Though still just a few years old, the paper has demonstrated a talent for nosing around in the nation’s underbelly. It was the first media outlet to report on how prefectural governments set up eugenic review boards after the Second World War, competing to perform the most sterilizations. In one shocking detail, a board commemorated the milestone of surpassing one thousand surgeries.

An estimated 25,000 people were sterilized under the 1948 Eugenic Protection Law, which targeted people with hereditary conditions such as epilepsy and learning disabilities. Local doctors reported cases of suspected disabilities that in some cases were just troublesome teenagers, according to records of board discussions obtained by Kimura and Watanabe. The youngest person sterilized was just nine years old. The victims were finally offered a paltry compensation package of ¥3.2m each this year. 

 

THE PAPER HAS ALSO carried a series of articles on how Dentsu, Japan’s largest advertising company, has been paying Kyodo News Agency to run articles on pharmaceuticals. Another reported on the construction of coal-fired power stations in Indonesia by Japanese and South Korean companies using technology that fails pollution standards in their own countries. 

The pickup of these stories in the local Japanese media has been negligible, the two journalists lament. In 2017, however, the FCCJ awarded the Chronicle its Supporter of the Free Press Award, recognizing its importance in a climate that includes “growing self-censorship” and press clubs that leave journalists struggling to serve the public interest and fulfill their “role as democracy’s watchdogs.”

The FCCJ nod was important, says Watanabe. In fact, it was a talk at the Club in 2014 that helped nudge him into action. Professor Tatsuro Hanada, the Waseda Institute’s then director, demanded that the Asahi reverse its Fukushima decision and stand up to the forces attacking it. The press conference was a clarion call to free journalism in Japan but only Watanabe and Kimura responded. 

“The birth of Waseda Chronicle is a consequence of that suppression of investigative journalists, who subsequently left the Asahi,” Hanada said in his award acceptance speech. 

The key task, however, for any such enterprise is how to avoid being crushed by economics. With no advertising, the Chronicle is supported by crowdfunding and donations. A few successful examples of this model exist: ProPublica, an American nonprofit online newsroom that has won five Pulitzer Prizes, runs with the help of large charitable foundations. In Japan, the investigative magazine FACTA, which first broke the Olympus business scandal in 2011, survives thanks to subscribers and an initial rich donor.

The Chronicle has no such largess, laments Watanabe, and Japan’s culture of charitable funding is comparatively undeveloped. One reason for publishing in English is to broaden the paper’s reach—but translation and copy editing add to the cost.

To save money on his banana story, Kimura flew economy class and stayed in the houses of local labor union members in Mindanao, where the plantation is based. The price tag for his entire two-week reporting trip came to less than ¥250,000. He is unfazed by how this might have colored his story. “When you start from the principle that you’re on the side of the victims, you don’t have to worry about being neutral,” he says.

The need for independent journalism to monitor corruption, censorship and the growth of personal surveillance has rarely been more acute, says Watanabe. He cites the growing use of DNA technology in Japan. “The DNA of about one in every 100 people is stored on record,” he says. “It’s not destroyed, as it should be. But the media doesn’t like to write about the police, so it’s a dangerous situation.”

 

WATANABE NOTES THAT THE mainstream media has steered clear of the Dentsu pharmaceutical story, which he spent 10 months researching while at the Asahi, because of the chokehold the huge ad agency has over advertising. Deference to authority, to power and money are always threats, as he knows from his time at the Asahi. In a recent series of articles, he returned to his role as head of the paper’s Promethean investigation on the Fukushima disaster. 

The climax of that coverage, and the piece that started all the trouble, claimed that workers at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disobeyed manager Masao Yoshida during the worst of the crisis and decamped to the nearby Daini plant in March 2011. 

The article, well at odds with the official narrative of brave samurai holding out against lethal odds, predictably infuriated Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the government and the Asahi’s conservative rivals. Yet, Watanabe and Kimura still believe it was accurate. Yoshida had openly contemplated the ruin of east Japan, says Watanabe, so was it so hard to imagine that his foot soldiers might panic and flee the field of battle?

“Yoshida is quoted in his transcript as saying that ‘All of the nuclear materials could escape and spread. Our image was that of a catastrophe for eastern Japan.’ He ordered 720 staff members to remain at the Daiichi plant. Contrary to that order,” says Watanabe, “650 people—about 90 percent of the entire staff—fled to the Daini site. More than 80 percent of those people had not returned by March 16. This is all recorded in a TEPCO video conference. However, no one cares about such inconvenient facts.”

His answer to the perennial question of “What is journalism and why do we do what we do?” seems obvious: to monitor abuse of power on behalf of the people who buy newspapers and watch the news. When watching President Kimura leave the dais after his disastrous apologetic press conference in 2014, Watanabe says his mind focused on one thing: “What would the ordinary people of Fukushima think about what had just happened?” ❶

 

David McNeill writes for the Irish Times and the Economist, and teaches media literacy at Hosei and Sophia Universities.

Queen of the (subtitled) screen

05 1

Natsuko Toda at the Club


The country’s most famous writer of film subtitles played to a full, star-struck crowd at a recent dinner event


By Gavin Blair

THERE CAN BE FEW countries in the world where a movie subtitler is a household name. Thanks to Natsuko Toda, 83, Japan is one such a rarity. Having produced the subtitles for well over 1,500 films, as well as performing interpreter duties for visiting directors and actors, Toda’s name is a regular fixture on movie posters, and she has come to be something of a celebrity in her own right.

At a packed dinner talk show at the Club on Sept. 12, the sprightly Toda had the mostly older Japanese audience eating out of her hand as she entertained with anecdotes and insights from her many decades in the business. “I thought only about 10 people would show up,” opened Toda, laying on the modesty. “And it’s usually women who want to do subtitling that come to hear me talk, so I’m surprised to see so many men here.”

Japan has traditionally been one of the few countries where audiences choose subtitled imported films over dubbed versions, with some territories only releasing the latter, noted Toda. But Japanese audiences want to hear the original voices of their favorite stars, she said. “When I began to watch films after the war—and there weren’t many released because of the situation at the time—everything was subtitled,” she recalled.

 

SHE WENT ON TO suggest that one reason younger audiences may have gravitated toward dubs in recent decades was a decline in the ability to read and comprehend kanji quickly enough. Another shift over the years has been the growing number of titles rendered into katakana rather than creating Japanese interpretations of film names. Toda pointed to David Lean’s Summertime starring Audrey Hepburn, which was released in Japan in 1955 under the title Ryojo, meaning a person’s mood while traveling. “Such an elegant title wouldn’t be used today, it would almost certainly be released as Samataimu in katakana, because everybody understands that now,” rued Toda. 

When Toda was trying to break into the industry, there were about ten subtitlers, all male, who dominated the business. She began working at a film distributor, gaining experience by doing small pieces of translation work. “I had studied English through school and college, but had never really spoken English until I was about thirty, everything was on paper. Then I was suddenly asked to interpret for an actor who was coming from Hollywood. I was terrible and thought I would get fired, but there were few people around who could do it,” said Toda. She went on to say that she is still not confident in her interpreting ability and prefers to work on subtitles. 

Toda began to get movie subtitling work in her thirties, but was not able to make a living at it until her forties. Toda explained the tight deadlines that subtitlers work to, usually having just a week to ten days to complete a movie, sometimes from a version that is still being edited.

 

“YOU GET THE CALL and are then sent a script. There’s no way I can decipher gangsters’ accents in movies, for example, so the English text is essential. There is basically no time for research on the background or history of the story,” she explained. 

While working within such time restraints, the biggest challenges are shortening dialogue to fit on the screen and rendering jokes, especially wordplays, into Japanese, according to Toda. “People can read about three characters per second, and audiences don’t come to the cinema to read the subtitles, but to watch the film, so they have to be short,” she said. 

Toda then recounted how she translated a play on words from a recent Bond film, to spontaneous applause from the room. This was followed by the screening of scenes from The Godfather and Mission Impossible, with attendees challenged to translate small chunks of dialogue from each. After a few brave attempts from the crowd, Toda revealed her versions; cue more applause. 

During an extended Q&A session, Toda was asked about everything from the most handsome Hollywood stars she had worked with to the biggest prima donnas—but diplomatically demurred from naming names. She repeatedly emphasized that a movie must be subtitled by a single person to guarantee consistency of style and expressions, perhaps in response to rumors that she has outsourced work on some films. 

Despite her dominance in the Japanese film industry, she has not been without her critics. Toda was taken off the subtitles for Full Metal Jacket after director Stanley Kubrick got wind that the profanity in the film was being watered down. After the first Lord of the Rings film, a group of Japanese Tolkien fans petitioned the local distributor about what they claimed were mistakes in subtitles caused by a lack of familiarity with the source material. 

Asked about how technology will change subtitling, Toda suggested it will have little effect, even though automated systems are already being tested. “But then I never imagined actual film would disappear and be replaced by digital,” she acknowledged. ❶


Gavin Blair writes for publications in Asia, Europe and the US.

Investigating the story of the century

04

In the second installment of our series, we look at the environmental impact of government rules, foreign aid, and carbon credits


By James Fahn

GOVERNMENT RULES AND SUBSIDIES 

The public sector obviously plays a vital role in determining the extent to which all of us, including private companies, address the challenge of climate change. Most investigative journalists should already be on the lookout for ways in which vested interests like fossil-fuel companies are influencing government policies. 

But they may not be aware of all the arcane ways such lobbying affects climate change. It could be through the passage of restrictions on the development of renewable energy for example, or relaxing rules on safety and other forms of pollution in order to make fossil-fuel production cheaper.

One area that generally does not receive enough attention is how government subsidizes the industries, particularly fossil fuels, that cause greenhouse-gas pollution. One study in the journal World Development estimates such global subsidies at over $5 trillion per year, and that doesn’t take into account the support for other polluting industries, such as cattle ranching. Many of these subsidies are damaging in other ways, too. For instance, governments often support their fishing fleets by providing them with cheap petrol, damaging fish stocks as well. So, is your government trying to prevent climate change, or actually making it worse?

 

FOREIGN AID, INVESTMENT AND EXPORT CREDITS

Journalists need to keep track not only of what goes on in their own countries, but also what their governments are doing abroad. In the United States, for instance, even as coal-fired power plants are being shuttered, coal exports have grown rapidly in recent years. Similarly, China is planning to reduce its use of coal at home, but Chinese interests are involved in more than 200 coal projects around the world. 

The OECD has set up rules to guard against providing export credits from wealthy nations for the construction of coal-fired power plants, but there are some allegations that they’re being skirted. Similarly, vows by the multilateral development banks that they will follow the Paris Agreement and not back dirty development have to be monitored.

 

ILLICIT POLLUTION AND FALSE REPORTING

Even when governments are able to put good rules in place, it is a struggle to enforce regulations and monitor compliance. Most greenhouse gases are invisible and odorless, so polluters can be tempted to hide their emission or provide false reporting. In recent years, for instance, we’ve learned that some of the world’s most reputable car companies, when they were not lobbying for relaxed fuel efficiency standards, installed software in their cars aimed at deceiving monitors about how much pollution they’re emitting.

There have also been alarming reports recently about cheating on the emission of ozone-destroying substances, with suspicion falling on Chinese practices. We can imagine similar scandals arising if ever the world gets serious about limiting greenhouse-gas pollution. Rules about measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) are the subject of intense negotiation and disagreement at UN climate treaty talks. The question of “who does the accounting” for greenhouse gases is relevant in any country which is claiming progress in reducing emissions.

 

CARBON CREDITS AND OFFSET SCHEMES

Just as emissions of greenhouse gases need to be monitored, so do the offsets designed to counter those emissions. Offsets, sometimes known as carbon credits, allow polluters to compensate for their own emissions by supporting emissions-cutting or carbon-storing projects elsewhere. Since the atmosphere is a global commons, the logic behind it seems impeccable, but critics argue they are inherently unfair in allowing the wealthy to pollute more. 

Some projects have been derided as “greenwashing,” while others are said to have little impact, or even cause more harm than good. Then there are the cases of outright fraud. Once again, the question is: Who’s doing the counting of how emissions are “offset?” The answer varies from nation to nation, but identifying the government or private agency responsible for overseeing carbon credits or offsets is often the first step toward determining their legitimacy.

 

UNEXPECTED OR UNDER-REPORTED IMPACTS

Reporting on the impacts of climate change can be tricky, because linking climate change to, for instance, specific weather events is notoriously difficult. Even when attribution is possible—and the science of determining attribution is getting better all the time—in most cases we can only determine that a particular event was exacerbated by global warming, not caused by it.

By and large, the media has been doing a better job over the years of reporting on climate change impacts, and has even started reporting on secondary or “knock-on” effects, such as how climate-induced migration and resource stress is causing conflict in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. This needs to be explored more in other regions, too, such as Central America. 

The enterprising journalist needs to investigate the many factors, including but not limited to climate change, that can lead to catastrophic weather-related events. For instance, the conditions that created the wildfires which have torn through California in recent years have certainly been exacerbated by climate change, but they’re also due to forest management practices and to development patterns that have been building more houses deep in the woods. Sources can include scientists who are researching such phenomena, but also others—such as insurance companies—that keep track of the data that lie behind such events.

There will still be some impacts that surprise. Some people living inland from the coast, for instance, may be surprised that they, too, are affected by rising sea levels as they push up the water table underneath their land, potentially causing more flooding. Also in recent years, there has been speculation that climate change has weakened the jet stream, thus possibly unleashing the polar vortex on regions to the south, although this is far from certain.

While there are still some areas that seem to be under-reported and worthy of more investigation—ocean acidification, for instance, or the public health impacts of climate change—there have also been cases when the impacts of climate have been overstated. This raises a fundamental matter in reporting on climate change: 

As is common in the sciences, research findings on climate change impacts are always framed in ranges of likelihood and probability. Including such uncertainties may appear to undercut your claims, but in fact it generally serves to enhance your credibility. By demonstrating the underlying approach of the scientific method itself, and being open about the limits of scientific certainty, you are strengthening your own credibility as a journalist and a source, for the public, of scientifically-grounded information.

 

ACTIVIST GROUPS AND THEIR SUPPORTERS

This list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the need to investigate activist groups working on climate issues, their goals and where they get their financial support. The focus here has largely been on climate-denier groups and how they operate. In the US, this has followed a long line of industry-funded groups who seek to obfuscate scientific findings related to the environment and public health, most notoriously those funded by the tobacco industry. They have been helped by relatively new rules that make it easier for “dark money” to support nonprofit groups.

What about the activist groups on “the other side,” those fighting for stronger action to address climate change? There, too, journalists should demand transparency, and should be able to report on who is funding their activities. One major difference is that climate action groups generally have science on their side, with 97 percent of climate scientists confirming that climate change is real and being caused by humans, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) making it clear that the issue is becoming increasingly urgent.

And what about the scientists? Climate deniers, politicians and some media pundits have taken to claiming they’re biased, too, because they get funding to do research on climate change. There have been several attempts to cast doubt on their actions, most notoriously when the private emails of some climate researchers were hacked and released to the public back in 2009. 

But it was eventually shown that the researchers had done nothing out of bounds of the ordinary scientific process. Indeed, the very questions they had of one another are the essence of the scientific method itself—a process that has been repeatedly exploited by those interested in undermining climate science. (On the other hand, the perpetrators behind the hacking incident have never been caught.)

More broadly, the peer-review process is generally considered an effective filter to help us reach scientific truth, as best as we can understand it. Even when mistakes are made, such as when an IPCC report suggested that Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035, they eventually get exposed and corrected. 

In recent years, for instance, there was a claim that global warming had gone on a “hiatus”—that warming trends had slowed or stopped for a few years—but again it was eventually shown that this was just a statistical mirage due to short-term events and a lack of data. All the more reason for journalists to keep a close watch on the latest scientific findings, and stay in touch with trusted researchers.

 

MONITORING THE SOLUTIONS

Humanity’s response to climate change has so far been tepid on the whole. But eventually, it will have to become stronger if we are to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, and that means journalists also need to investigate the solutions put forth to prevent and adapt to climate change. Renewable energy projects using solar, wind and geothermal power are becoming ever cheaper and more popular, but like any other infrastructure projects, they could be subject to corruption and abuse.

Meanwhile, some of the more traditional types of alternative energy—notably large hydropower projects and nuclear power plants—come with controversies of their own, and may in fact pit local environmental interests against global supporters of climate action. Solely in terms of their carbon footprint, the reservoirs kept behind dams can release large quantities of methane due to decay of vegetation under water. And like other types of infrastructure projects, building and maintaining these facilities requires a lot of fossil fuels. Really, in order to judge any activity’s impact on the climate, full life-cycle analyses need to be carried out. ❶

 

Next month: Part III of “Investigating the Story of the Century”: Monitoring the proposed solutions.

 

James Fahn is Executive Director of the Earth Journalism Network at Internews. He is also a lecturer at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, where he teaches international environmental reporting. First published on the Global Investigative Journalism Network website. Reprinted with permission.

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