We are in a climate emergency. And you were born at just the right moment to help change everything.
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We’ve made it to the six week mark here at The Phoenix! Thank you to all of you for joining me on this journey.
I’ll be honest with you, writing about climate change never gets easier for me. As a scientist-turned-journalist, it’s something that feels a little like gaslighting. I have learned enough about the science to feel confident that our current course is leading us toward planetary catastrophe in our lifetimes – the disasters all around us show that’s already happening. I have learned enough about justice, from listening to folks with marginalized identities who continue to be systematically erased and silenced, that getting to a new course that’s life-giving for everyone is going to mean reckoning with a lot of uncomfortable truths.
Climate trauma is real. We all feel it in some way.
With pandemic lockdowns starting up again and the climate emergency at a crossroads, we are going to need to strengthen and reinforce our relationships, share resources with each other, and encourage each other that real change is possible.
After these first six weeks at The Phoenix, I’m realizing yet again that doing this work is so much better when you do it with a community.
So today, we’re launching Tuesday threads.
Every week, we’ll come together on Tuesdays for a community discussion on climate, on justice, on the world, on anything we think is worth talking about. I’ll give the prompt, and I’ll devote a set block of time – 5-7pm ET every Tuesday - when I’ll join the conversation live. If there’s enough interest, we could even do this as a live video stream. For now though, I want to focus on building up the comments and threads here on Substack.
This is a chance to ask for or offer mutual aid. This is a chance to organize. This is a chance to show each other what a better world looks like.
Today’s topic: The Phoenix
When I set out to create The Phoenix, I summed up my goal in a single sentence: “What we need isn’t more stories about apocalypse; what we need is justice.”
Since then, there’s been a rash of extreme weather worldwide, the most potentially consequential election of our lifetimes, and the continual refusal of our government to take basic precautions to protect public health in a pandemic: plenty of fodder for apocalyptic narratives, in other words.
Over the first 16 posts, 7 of them have been focused on specific weather events: Hurricanes Delta, Zeta, Eta, and Iota, an Arctic Ocean that’s refusing to freeze, and a three-part series on the wildfires in Colorado.
I don’t want to make The Phoenix a disaster blog, I’ve just felt unable to stop covering what I see is erasure of marginalized people in their time of greatest need. Even in these disaster-heavy stories, I aim to make the bulk of the story focused on interviews and context from the people themselves, rather than just treating the Arctic or hurricanes as events that don't impact people. I include links to donate and reviews of locally-led organizations focused on transformational change, not just top-down “disaster relief” agencies that can perpetuate colonialism. To me, that feels very different than traditional weather and climate reporting. But I could be wrong. I’ve heard from a few people that they tune out headlines like “Humanitarian Emergency in Central America” to preserve their mental health. And I can’t judge anyone for that, it’s a lot to bear.
I’d like to always make sure The Phoenix stays true to the mission of focusing on justice, and I need help.
I received this (long!) message today from a subscriber who has a few ideas about how to steer The Phoenix back towards revolutionary change:
Good morning from London. So, I don't know how to exactly put this and, most especially, how to appear as diminishing any of your efforts or expertise. You hopefully know how much I admire your work.
Here is the thing: When I think of you, I think of a climate expert who understands the crucial point that humans generally don't respond to doom scenarios but need narratives that are instructive and contain at least a glimmer of hope in order to change behaviours or 'take action'. To me, that was a key point you made in your book. When I then signed up to your newsletter, I didn't quite expect a daily rosy dose of 'happy solutions journalism', but I did expect a more hopeful tone and content. By now, though, I honestly dread opening your newsletter because it primarily gives me what I am already seeing in my timeline and daily news consumption: 'tipping point', 'climate emergency', 'worst ever', 'apocalypse' etc.
Now, of course, I don't question the veracity of any of these assessments. They are all true. It just isn't what I felt the newsletter promised originally, i.e. it doesn't give hope but rather seems to preach to the converted, as it seems safe to assume that your readers all know and already fully agree with the fact of us being in an emergency. What the newsletter conveys then is almost a club feeling of 'we are the ones who get it, the diaspora courageous enough to look into the abyss' which may even be the case...but what does that achieve? Or to put it differently, what does that achieve compared to what your newsletter could achieve if it would combine that intellectual rigour of looking at the real horrors of this crisis with your proven and really, really valuable ability to also search for and frame long-term narratives of hope, as proven in your wonderful book.
Again, all of what you say in your newsletters (and also in your tweets) is true, it just isn't as unique and - I think - as powerful as what you ventured out to do.
All easier said than done, I know..but I felt compelled to share that thought with you and I hope you will take my candors as an expression of genuine respect for you.
As you may know, am currently doing research myself in a research fellowship on climate crisis journalism and am slightly mortified by what I am seeing which is that so much of what 'we' publish misses our audiences.
During my time working in journalism directly, we noticed this telling phenomenon: whenever we asked readers which topic we should cover more often, the climate crisis always was amongst the top-3. When we then asked in separate surveys whether they themselves would read more about it, the dominant answer was ‘no’. It turned out that the majority of readers wanted us to publish more climate coverage so that others could read more about it.
I could imagine that your readers will show a similar pattern, i.e. that they will encourage you to ‘spell it out for everyone’ while not really answering from a perspective of what they themselves would really need from you.
Which then raises that obvious question of who your target audience is, which I am sure you are thinking about a lot. Is it frontline journalists, researchers, policy makers and activists who fully know about the daunting risks but need positive perspective from someone like you with your trustworthy science background, or is it people who still need learn about how serious this situation is?
Both, are plausible target audiences - there are people willing to sponsor journalism for others to read and not themselves.
I guess what I was trying to put in words earlier is how different these two target readerships are. Maybe they can even be addressed by one and the same newsletter, but I’d guess the content in it needs to be segmented/labelled more clearly (news / perspectives).
Again...thx for even listening to me, Eric. Easy for me to make comments here. Much harder for you to write about the topic each day. Thank you for doing that.
First, I’m very grateful to this person for this intervention and helping shape this community to be one focused on truly transformational change.
How about you? What do you think about the first six weeks of the Phoenix? What would you like to see more of? What am I focusing on too much? What does transformative change look like to you, when it comes to journalism and storytelling about this critical moment in history?
So here’s your assignment:
For our first Tuesday Thread: Please write a short comment, include a little bit about yourself, why you signed up for The Phoenix, and your thoughts on what we could (and should!) be building here together.
I’ll be joining the conversation throughout the day today, but I’ll be online from 5-7pm ET this evening to chat live and help map out the next step for The Phoenix with you all, here in the comments on this post. Join me if you can, I’d love to hear from you.