Friday, June 19, 2015

Climate change: Is more news good news?

The Indian media has been reporting on climate change far more frequently in the past months. As the international community prepares for the end-2015 Paris Conference of Parties (CoP) to the Climate Change Convention – which will decide on the successor to the Kyoto Protocol – there have been far more stories mentioning climate change and global warming in the Indian media.

Indian newspapers and climate change
Does this signify a coming of age for climate change reporting in the country, or is this a flash-in-the-pan interest that will not continue after the Paris CoP? This question emanates from the trend for India in the continuous assessment graphs being plotted by the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA.  

The CSTPR graphs track 50 newspapers across the world using the keywords ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’. The global list includes four newspapers from India – the Hindu, the Times of India, Hindustan Times and the Indian Express.

Like with media across the world, Indian media’s interest in the subject peaked around the December 2009 Copenhagen CoP, where the world hoped for an international political solution to the climate change issue. However, that was not to be, and the media attention never peaked as much as with the Copenhagen CoP later. The only periods when the attention peaked was during and immediately before and after the annual CoPs, which were held near the end of the every year.

World newspapers and climate change
India follows this global pattern. However, there has been a consistent increase in media coverage in India since the beginning of 2012, from where there has been a near-consistent plateau in the CSTPR graph. Though this does mirror the global trend, there are far less peaks and troughs in the Indian graph.

Absence of peaks and troughs signify consistent day-to-day reporting, which means that there is a potentially higher issue recall among readers. This in turn means that there is potential for greater public pressure on policy makers to support greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change adaptation.

The CSTPR graph is just the tip of the Indian media iceberg, but it gives an indication of the trend. According to the Indian Readership Survey for fourth quarter of 2012 (the figures since 2013 have been disputed by the media industry), the Times of India, Hindustan Times and the Hindu are the top three most widely read English newspapers, with a combined readership of 13.5 million. The Indian Express added another 0.5 million.

The figures of the English newspapers, however, pale in comparison to the readership of the Hindi dailies, whose readership has grown manifold in the past 15 years. The most read Dainik Jagran itself had a readership of 16.5 million during Q4 of 2012. In spite of their lesser readership when compared to the Hindi newspapers, the four English dailies tracked by the CSTPR study have the potential of reaching a strong section of the readership in India and also parliamentarians and other decision makers.

Thus, if the increased reporting in these four newspapers reflects the thinking of the people who read them, then there is an increased attention on climate change in this section of the population. Even if it the other way around, i.e., these newspapers are driving the interest among the readers, it is a good indication that there is a greater discussion on climate change.

The CSTPR graphs show that in the build up to the Paris CoP, media attention on climate change has been increasing in most of the countries. In the USA, though the graph is still jagged the peaks of media stories, especially those contributed by the New York Times, have been high.

The graph for the UK is both similar and dissimilar to the one for the USA. The British media seems to have reported more frequently about climate change than its American counterparts. However, like in the USA there is one leader among the pack in the UK too. Since September 2014, the Guardian and Observer have been doing far more stories on climate change than any other media outlet in the world. In November 2014, the month before the Lima CoP, there were 446 stories in the Guardian and Observer.

Media in Australia and Canada continue to have periods of interest and disinterest. In the number of news stories on climate change published in a month, the Australian media scores much higher than the Canadian media.

As the CSTPR graph for India shows, the Indian media has had a weaker coverage on climate change before 2005, even though New Delhi hosted the CoP in 2002. This is despite the fact that India has been an active participant in the climate change negotiations since the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Rio Earth Summit).

Interestingly though, the Indian negotiating position has not changed much from the “we are against binding emission reduction targets” in the past 23 years. In Paris, India will need to show its commitment to emission reduction, even while keeping its space for economic growth.

This is where a steady flow of stories on climate change will help make the discussions in the country more comprehensive, and possibly also pressure the negotiators to have a more nuanced than a rhetorical position. The developed country vis-à-vis the developing country binary position of the early 1990s is certainly passé for India, and when there are more stories in the media there is more scope for the multiple dimensions of the climate change discussions to be articulated in the public domain.

Like with the Copenhagen CoP, an increased media attention on climate change in the build up, during and immediately after the Paris CoP can be expected in India. The likelihood of this momentum continuing is high, since the media has been steadily exploring how the climate change discussions link to the day-to-day lives of the readers, viewers and listeners.

Citation for the graphs:
McAllister, L., Nacu-Schmidt, A., Wang, X., Andrews, K., Boykoff, M., Daly, M., Gifford, L., and Luedecke, G. (2015). World Newspaper Coverage of Climate Change or Global Warming, 2004-2015. Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Web. [18 June 2015]

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Building climate resilience, crop by crop

To deal with future climate change, an MSSRF project helps Kolli hills farmers overcome present weather unpredictability. ... MORE ... 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Tamil Nadu's high grasslands: Key to water security

The grasslands and sholas of Western Ghats can protect Tamil Nadu from climate change. ... MORE ...

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

In projects, stakeholders need to agree on risks and benefits

Both sides can come to common understanding of risks and trade-offs if both use a common set of tools for assessment. Traditional cost-benefit analysis is passé. ... MORE ... 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Of 'Madrasis' and 'Bengalis'

The winter was just beginning in 1988. I saw him while I was waiting for the bus at R.K. Puram in New Delhi. He must have stepped out of the train just the day earlier. His wavy hair was ironed down with coconut oil, and his palms were sticking from under his pullover. He came close and struggled to ask me the direction to a location in Hindi.

Explaining the directions needed a few questions and answers. I could have relieved him of his discomfiture by talking with him in Malayalam. But then, I didn’t want to deny myself the vicarious pleasure of making him struggle with a difficult language. I was in my early 20s then, and at that age I enjoyed this mild ragging.

The skyline of Thrissur with the recent buildings built mainly by migrant labour.
In fact, he and I belonged to same class in the facelessness of Delhi – an immigrant from South India. The city called him, me, and also my friends from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Pondicherry and Andhra Pradesh by the same name – Madrasi. We were those who ate “dhossas with sambur”. Fortunately at least then the Delhi-wala star had not made the lungi dance famous.

From being a Madrasi I had moved to Madras in 1992. I had my brush with the term Madrasi at a premier academy for training future officers of the armed forces. The Press Information Bureau (PIB) chief in Chennai had a programme to take journalists from Chennai to Government of India institutions in different parts of the country every year.

In the news bureau of the newspaper where I worked, we took turns to participate in this annual tour. When my turn came, the destination was Pune and its near-abouts. One institution we visited was the Academy.

Our group reported at the Academy early in the morning and attended a press briefing by the commandant – a lieutenant general – and his senior team before breakfast. It was November 1999, and the country had just gone through the Kargil War. For the journalists from Tamil Nadu, meeting and speaking with cadets from their State would have made excellent human-interest stories for their publications. They requested the general, through the PIB chief, for an opportunity to interview cadets from Tamil Nadu.

The general appreciated the idea. “Woh Madrasiyon ko bhejo!” the general told the colonel. “Woh Madrasiyon ko bhejo!” the colonel repeated to the major. I saw and heard the order getting lost in the military undergrowth.

After visiting the beautiful locations in the Academy, we returned for lunch. There were a few cadets standing ramrod in attention for us, in whites and blazer. “So, you are from Tamil Nadu?” asked the PIB chief. “No sir, we are from Kerala,” one of the cadets replied. Those following the general’s orders perhaps interpreted the term Madrasi in its generic sense.

Denoting a large community with a generic name has strong socio-political intent. It is a stamement of power. It means, “I don’t care who you are, where you are from, your individuality or your dignity. You are here to help me with my interests.”

More than two decades ago, Malayalis like me smarted under the generic reference. In the year when Tracy Chapman sang “you got a fast car” on behalf of all of us migrating in search of our dreams, my stranger-friend at the R.K. Puram bus stop and I had moved into an unknown land for employment. We hadn’t gone to Delhi in a fast car, but had taken the Kerala Express. Far removed from a fast car, a scooter was our near-term aspiration.

Flash forward to today, and I hear an equally disparaging expression being used, this time in Kerala. “Awan Bengaliya” (he is a Bengali) is a term that I hear being used in Kerala all the time. Again, the term Bengali here is as potent as the Madrasi in terms of its geographic reach. Perhaps more. It covers anybody from Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Bihar, the seven states of the north-east and maybe even Bangladesh.

These young men and women have got into trains and moved to lands with unknown people, language and food habits to chase their dreams of employment. They work hard, live simple lives in shared accommodation and send home as much money as possible. They run the Kerala economy from bottom up – constructing buildings, manning restaurants and private security services.

They are finding ways to make themselves comfortable in the new land. Recently, in a wayside restaurant the young man spoke with me in Malayalam without hesitation. “Midukkan” (smart boy) was my surprised compliment. Malayalam is not an easy language to learn. And to be able to converse in it with reasonable confidence requires far more than an average effort.

They are here, but not here in the Kerala society. Everybody is aware of their presence, but prefer to look through them. Interestingly, this is being perpetuated by the very Keralites who are at the receiving end of similar treatment in the emirates such as Dubai. Much of the workforce that migrates from India (or for that matter Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh or the Philippines) in the Gulf countries is treated as invisible part of the society. Theirs is to work and not be seen. And certainly not be heard. 

The tragedy is when a similar behaviour is perpetuated within the country – among fellow countrymen and women. As long as you and I see somebody from a different part of the country – from a village or town as real as ours – as a generically-labelled Bengali or Madrasi, we are abetting crimes of discrimination. We cannot then be outraged on social media over attacks on taxi drivers in Mumbai or on students from the north-eastern states in New Delhi.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Green memories

On how Jairam Ramesh found the middle ground of engagement on economic growth and environmental conservation. ... MORE ...

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Life among the monuments in Bhaktapur

In the past three years I have visited Bhaktapur Durbar Square, near Kathmandu in Nepal many times. Unlike many other heritage sites, this one teems with life. People work, play, pray and rest in the buildings that store centuries of Nepali history. Tourists from across the world come and experience the erstwhile royal city.

I have not travelled to Nepal since the 25th April Nepal earthquake. I share these pictures of those who live their lives among the monuments of Bhaktapur.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Zebra crossings and climate change

Walking across a road scares me in Chennai. And this has an impact on climate change. ... MORE ...

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

For a green GST

With the GST being finalised, this is a good time to include eco-taxes and eco-subsidies. ... MORE ...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

More gene banks can help cope with climate change

Stored in gene banks or in farmers' fields, the seeds that hold the genes for agricultural diversity could protect us from starvation as the climate changes. ...MORE ....

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Water bodies, urban waste and greenhouse gas emissions

Public posturing and lack of end-to-end planning is resulting in slow death for the water bodies in Kerala ... MORE ... 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Framing news on the environment

How does the Indian media frame environment and sustainability? ... MORE ...

Friday, November 28, 2014

New emissions target

Will the emission cuts announced by the EC and the US, and the 2030 peaking by China help hold the temperature increase to less than 2 degrees C by 2100? ... MORE ...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Missing the point

This book could have taken the risk assessment discussion to the next level ... MORE ...

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Climate change and insurance

When cyclones like Hud Hud hit India, we are poorly covered by insurance to deal with it. ... MORE ...