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Dear Friends,

I am currently writing my thesis for my MA in International Journalism. While I was home in Kenya doing research for my radio documentary (on the latest carbon miles debate and how this and issues of climate change are affecting the Kenyan flower industry), I found that the media doesn’t give climate change much coverage.

So for the written part of my thesis (6000 word journalistic essay), I am looking at why this is the case. I find it interesting that the poorer nations will be worst hit by climate change if it gets out of hand, yet people in those countries won’t know why or how this is happening, because they aren’t being informed. So why is this? Is climate change too scientific and technical that editors don’t understand it, hence they trivialize the issue? What about news values…do politics stories sell more than science? Why? Why aren’t the science journalists in Kenya getting the stories to the people who need to hear them? Lack of training?

I’ve been in contact with some of you already who have provided me with some very useful resources. If anyone else has any thoughts, information, ideas or resources on this topic, I’d appreciate your contribution very much. Please feel free to start a discussion, and/or e-mail me at smrits02@hotmail.com - Thank you!

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Smriti: The African Centre for Technology Studies in Nairobi published a series of reports and books in the early 1990s with data showing that Africa was already experiencing ecological challenges similar to those being predicted for climate change and that something needed to be done then, especially on adaptation. The person to contact there for copies and titles is Professor Judi Wakhungu or Harrison Maganga . It would be interesting to know why the evidence presented then was hardly taken seriously. Remember: the argument is those reports was that the measures needed to address routine ecological housekeeping were similar to those needed to address long-term climate change and so adaptation measures needed to be introduced immediately. We produced a book entitled "A Change in the Weather: African Perspectives on Climate Change", co-edited with SH Ominde which you might find in British library. We also did a Kenya case study entitled "Weathering the Storm: Climate Change and Investment in Kenya". The final major work was "A Climate for Development: Climate Change Policy Options for Africa" which was presented at the first COP of the UNFCCC in Germany. This historical work might give you an insight into what is happening today. Calestous
I have been following this discussion, Calestous, and it was nice to learn about the work done on how climate change has been affecting Africa. Can one get access to any of these studies online? Since I have done my doctoral research on African Studies, it would be of particular interest to me.
Rina, Harrison Maganga Adunga, who is on this Network, would know if the books are still in print. At the time the work was very controversial because it concluded that "adaptation" was what Africa needed. At the time, you would have vitriol poured all over you by "mitigationists" if you uttered the "A" word. A lot of people were "shut out" of climate forums for support adaptation. There is another thesis to be written on why adaptation as a policy measure was kept on the margins of climate discussions for nearly a decade. I recall that those advocated it were the suject of ostracization but my this may be unfair. Calestous
Smriti,

That's a correct observation. However, the phenomenon is neither confined to Kenya nor developing countries; even in the advanced economies, climate change topics hardly find space in the media. To explain this indifference, you have to only consider the nature of the subject and imagine how difficult it would be to communicate it to people. Human beings, by nature, respond to direct clear tangible information. Things that are of direct immediate impact on us will always receive prominence in the media. Something as ambiguous and distant as climate change will barely make the cut for commentary. The media exists to, first and foremost, make profits by selling stories; the simpler the stories, the more the readers. I consider myself fairly well-educated, but still can't make head or tail about climate change; makes you wonder how a journalist, with no science background, would package and communicate such complex information to layperson. Another aspect concerns the audience. What value is it for a common person to understand and care about climate change, when there's hardly nothing she can do about it? The primary target should be the policymakers, who can influence policy and take initiative. But, this lot operate on very short term basis; telling a politician, for example, that most of Kenyan land will be barren by 2050 is hardly interesting news. The effects of climate change are easier addressed ex-post, when people perceive something unusual happening around their environment. In such cases, mitigation messages are more useful. In my opinion, for effective communication, discussions of climate change issues need to be tied directly to tangible impact scenarios, if it is to make sense to the media and their audience. For instance, your example of carbon food miles is an illustration of a tangible direct effect that journalists/media can find easier to communicate. They need not refer to climate change to convince producers and policymakers of the high stakes, given the potential loss of export markets, etc. This an area that needs a lot of thinking and innovation. I hope you can help us think through it with your thesis.

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