Marking 20 years
of bold journalism,
reader supported.
Culture
Media
Environment

Fresh Ways to Cover the Climate Crisis

How the Climate Disaster Project at UVic is reinventing journalism, winning awards and teaming with The Tyee.

David Beers 16 May 2024The Tyee

David Beers is the founding editor of The Tyee and serves as current editor-in-chief.

As people in British Columbia and across the nation steeled for another fierce wildfire season, Canada’s National Newspaper Awards gave a special commendation to the Climate Disaster Project based at the University of Victoria.

The 2023 Special Recognition Citation honours work that “opens the door to experimentation in journalism: transcending categories, newsrooms and the industry.”

In this case, it’s innovation with life-and-death implications. If we are to survive this climate crisis, we need to learn from people hardest hit and on the frontlines. That is why, three years ago, veteran journalist and journalism professor Sean Holman, with seed funding from Vancouver businessman Wayne Crookes, established the Climate Disaster Project within UVic’s writing department.

The project gathers the personal accounts of climate disaster survivors — some 288 so far. Affiliated students, professors and working journalists employ trauma-informed interviewing skills to co-create pieces that use only the survivor’s own words — speaking directly to readers about their experiences and what they want to see done about the disasters they lived through.

The project then reports on the problems and solutions survivors identify in those testimonies. An example is the investigation by UVic students Aldyn Chwelos, Kristen de Jager and Paul Voll into the threat wildfire smoke poses to tree planters — published by The Tyee and selected as a finalist for this year’s Canadian Association of Journalists labour reporting award.

The objective, said Holman, is a new kind of newsroom that can create community and action around the shared experience of climate change.

“A warmer world is a more traumatic world. And that’s why we need new approaches to reporting on climate change that’s responsive to those traumas — collaborating with survivors rather than just covering them,” Holman told The Tyee.

“Too often the news media takes away control from those who have already experienced a profound loss of control during a disaster. Our project is about doing things differently. It’s about giving survivors control over the stories they share — treating the truth as a gift rather than something that we have to steal.

“This Special Recognition Citation belongs to the students and survivors because they are the ones who are working together to tell stories from the frontlines of climate change with empathy and compassion.”

The Climate Disaster Project’s work happens mostly in classrooms at a network of post-secondary institutions in Canada. But project member Darren Schuettler, a former Reuters bureau chief in Asia, also has co-ordinated courses with local journalism instructors in Brazil and the Philippines — with that work being published by Rappler and, soon, O Globo, Brazil’s largest newspaper.

Joining forces

The Tyee has been privileged to collaborate with the Climate Disaster Project, most notably in the creation of “Bracing for Disasters,” a 21-part series we published during spring and summer of last year.

The Tyee series, made possible by funding from the inaugural Lieutenant Governor’s BC Journalism Fellowship, includes 11 survivors’ stories from the files of the Climate Disaster Project. After The Tyee published each separately, we gathered all into this one article:

Surviving, in Their Own Words

Here on the cusp of another wildfire season, “Bracing for Disasters” invites revisiting also because of its investigations by Tyee reporter Francesca Fionda into flaws in B.C.’s disaster response capabilities and potential solutions.

Just as relevant, Fionda compiled a guide to how to survive a climate disaster. We recommend you read and share this article for its pointers on how to be prepared for a catastrophe-caused evacuation and what to do when it happens:

How You Can Be Ready for the Next Disaster

Here is the entire series (an opening summary with top-line findings with all articles listed below it):

The Tyee’s “Bracing for Disasters

“Bracing for Disasters” culminated in a live, in-depth conversation around solutions attended by more than 300 people and a summary of lessons learned.

Multiple researchers working in climate displacement with Indigenous communities and government bodies have since reached out to Fionda to learn more about her findings and methodology to help inform their work. Survivors and people working in emergency management have described the series as crucial, compassionate, accurate and “amazingly comprehensive.”

Honours for ‘Bracing for Disasters’

“Bracing for Disasters” is a finalist for the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s award for climate solutions reporting and for the CJF’s excellence in journalism prize. The winners will be announced June 12.

The project is also nominated by the Canadian Association of Journalists for a data journalism award to be announced June 1. And it was a finalist at the B.C.-based Webster Awards for excellence in environment reporting.

Looking at the impact of “Bracing for Disasters,” Fionda, who also helped start the Climate Disaster Project, expressed gratitude.

“People who have survived floods and fires were so generous and open with us,” she said. “They shared their fears as well as their lessons in the hope that anyone facing disaster might feel less alone.

“Thanks to the dozens of people who spoke to us for this series, we were able to put together a comprehensive list of resources for communities and individuals as we continue to grapple with climate disasters.”


If you value the work we do at The Tyee and the collaborations we forge with amazing organizations like the Climate Disaster Project, please consider supporting us financially, at any level you find comfortable, by becoming a Tyee Builder.  [Tyee]

Read more: Media, Environment

  • Share:

Get The Tyee's Daily Catch, our free daily newsletter.

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Comments that violate guidelines risk being deleted, and violations may result in a temporary or permanent user ban. Maintain the spirit of good conversation to stay in the discussion and be patient with moderators. Comments are reviewed regularly but not in real time.

Do:

  • Be thoughtful about how your words may affect the communities you are addressing. Language matters
  • Keep comments under 250 words
  • Challenge arguments, not commenters
  • Flag trolls and guideline violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity, learn from differences of opinion
  • Verify facts, debunk rumours, point out logical fallacies
  • Add context and background
  • Note typos and reporting blind spots
  • Stay on topic

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist, homophobic or transphobic language
  • Ridicule, misgender, bully, threaten, name call, troll or wish harm on others or justify violence
  • Personally attack authors, contributors or members of the general public
  • Spread misinformation or perpetuate conspiracies
  • Libel, defame or publish falsehoods
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities
  • Post links without providing context

Most Popular

Most Commented

Most Emailed

LATEST STORIES

The Barometer

Are You Concerned about Your Municipality’s Water Security?

Take this week's poll