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Waves and lightening strikes wash away buildings of all sorts, windmills, churches, bridges, huts in this image by Victoria Shibaeva

Why we are launching the Sinking Cities Project

Coming in Spring 2022

Unbias the News will connect, train, and publish local journalists covering how rising sea levels and coastal flooding caused by climate change threaten cities.

Why are some of Africa’s largest construction projects underway in Lagos, Nigeria, a city that is projected to be submerged by coastal flooding in the next decades? Why is Karachi, Pakistan proceeding ahead at full speed with construction that blocks drainage, when dozens or even hundreds are killed in yearly monsoon floods that are projected to increase? Why is Dublin, Ireland allowing new developments to be built in areas soon to be below sea level? What are officials doing in Alexandria, to prepare for flooded coastlines, when buildings are already collapsing at the highest rate in Egypt?

With the recent news that the Eastern front of the Thwaites “doomsday” glacier, an Antarctic ice block the size of England, is poised to collapse within the next five years, the time to cover these stories is now

That is why Unbias the News is launching The Sinking Cities project, an ambitious cross-border investigation that seeks to determine why threatened cities, rather than preparing, appear to be building expensive sandcastles that will topple into the ocean.

To cover this story, we will train local journalists, particularly those underrepresented in climate journalism, and give them publication opportunities to join a global conversation about climate change.

Who tells climate change stories?

We will  bring together local reporters from cities that are likely to be impacted by imminent sea level rise and offer them training, networking, and most importantly, paid publication opportunities.

 

These journalists will work together to investigate the question of preparedness in their cities and expose not only failures but also possible innovations and solutions underway. Perhaps in comparing different cities and connecting Global North and South, new ideas will arise that can be useful in more than one place.

It’s important that the journalists working on the project actually live in the cities affected, so that they can access the context and background necessary to explain what is happening to the public. There have been numerous award-winning stories done by legacy-media journalists traveling abroad to expose climate crises and disasters, but local journalists also need to be present on the global stage and the current media structure does not allow for that. We want to contribute to making that shift – and make sure these stories get the attention they deserve before disaster strikes.

Local journalists are best placed to identify actors and movements that can make changes, and to inform the public about the policies and individuals responsible for climate change preparations- or lack thereof. 

Crossborder collaboration connects cities and solutions

As a global network of journalists with 6,000+ members in 155 countries, we see it as our responsibility to act now – and equip journalists with the tools and the network that can help them to investigate, find similarities and solutions.

We will first connect journalists from Africa, Asia and Europe, and hope to be able to expand to more cities that are likely to be impacted, with support from organizations who see the importance of a project like this. We will amplify the resulting articles in our network of media partners, the Indie Media Alliance, and any others interested to help spread the word.

Unbias Climate Journalism

Just like journalism has a well-documented diversity problem, climate journalism has a diversity problem. When editors mainly trust people who look like themselves or went to the same schools or have already published in big name publications, we miss big stories by journalists who don’t meet these criteria. These biases tend to reproduce a view held by the most privileged in each society- a problem we already saw during coverage of the pandemic.

As Michelle García correctly argued in her article “The Media Isn’t Ready to Cover Climate Apartheid”,

“More than simply altering the practices of individual journalists or newsrooms, the threat of climate apartheid should challenge the news industry to confront a media worldview that, as we saw with the early pandemic coverage, too easily defaults to the perspective of an affluent, white citizen within a wealthy nation."

As we look to our home countries and their coastal cities that may soon be underwater we wonder: Why aren’t we hearing about preparations for the sure-to-arrive tide of climate change? Is it a reflection of journalism more generally, where writers and producers are instructed to pander to the wealthy, the white and the Global North?

Underrepresentation of Women and the Global South

This lack of representation creates gaps in research and a lack of curiosity about issues that effect those who are left out.

This issue is also present in climate science research more generally, as pointed out by Ayesha Tandon in Carbon Brief:

 

“A recent analysis entitled “The Reuters Hot List” ranked the 1,000 “most influential” climate scientists – largely based on their publication record and social media engagement. Scientists from the global south are vastly under-represented in the list, with, for example, only five African scientists included. Meanwhile, only 122 of the 1,000 authors are female.”

"Biases in authorship make it likely that the existing bank of knowledge around climate change and its impacts is skewed towards the interests of male authors from the global north. This can create blind spots around the needs of some of the most vulnerable people to climate change, particularly women and communities in the global south.”

Ayesha Tandon

The time is now

The enormity of the forces threatening to reshape our planet face us with a problem that seems too complex, too grandiose, too potentially monumental for us to influence or prevent. 

 

However, humans are good at solving complex problems, and are able to accomplish monumental feats. That is, when we acknowledge what is happening, and prepare.

The media plays an important watchdog role now: informing the public what is happening, how (and if) the government is preparing, and whether the preparations are adequate. When the government fails to face the future, the media’s pressure is the main lever the public has to pull. We need to act now, and we need a diverse array of ways to do so.

In our 2019 book Unbias the News: Why Diversity Matters for Journalism, Costa Rican environmental journalist Michelle Soto Méndez wrote about the need for more diversity in climate journalism, an argument that rings even truer now in 2022:

“In ecology, it is said that a diverse ecosystem is strong and balanced, which allows it to better deal with the environmental conditions brought about by climate change. In journalism, the same principle applies: the diversity of voices and the solidarity among professionals creates a better environment for journalism that can inform their audiences about an urgent subject.”

Join us

Diversity in climate change coverage is urgent, and we will rely on solidarity between you, our readers, our newsroom partners and funders to make it a reality. If you are a newsroom who shares our values, consider joining our Indie Media Alliance. If you are a journalist, join us for trainings and to hear about opportunities to take part in Sinking Cities. If you are a donor, please consider supporting us to help expand our impact and the cities we can cover.

 

And if you are a reader: stay tuned!

Unbias the News is grateful to the following partners. To join our donor consortium and enable us to expand our work, please contact managing directors Mercy Abang and Julia Vernersson at sinkingcities@unbiasthenews.org.

 

Luminate LogoRobert Bosch Stiftung LogoAdessium Logo

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