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The importance of environmental journalism

The importance of environmental journalism

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Like so many others of my generation, us from the 80s, and currently living in Syria, my mind is filled with images of Syrian cities, towns, and areas, from fifty years ago. My family and many elders tell me about the lush Ghouta of Damascus, the flowing Barada River, the trees alongside the road between Hama and Salamiyah, all the way to the edge of the Syrian Desert, the abundant fish in the sea, and the forests and reserves that hosted rich wildlife that might seem hard to believe existed in this country.

"Defending our right to a healthy and clean environment and a better life is incomplete without true environmental journalism"

Perhaps these images might be excessively romanticized and deceptive, as we look to the past to escape our grim reality. But most of those scenes have now disappeared, replaced by semi-barren lands, dry and polluted rivers, forests consumed by fires and logging, and a sea exhausted by overfishing and other violations. Climate change and the mismanagement of natural resources were followed by a devastating war, enough to destroy vast parts of Syria’s environment, making recovery seem impossible.

I am often asked, is this what drove me to environmental journalism nearly three years ago?

Sometimes, I smile and say that an article I read in a Syrian newspaper from the early 90s, discussing the "cutting down of thousands of trees in Eastern Ghouta for unplanned urban expansion," motivated me to start researching and writing about the environment.

Other times, I think of a particular scene that saddens me greatly: the water fountains scattered throughout Damascus streets, which for many of the city's residents hold memories. But for a variety of reasons, most of them have ceased to function in recent years, which makes me feel like we have lost part of our culture and memory. Sometimes, I recall a visit to Homs in 2020, when my friend’s father took me by the hand and said, "Come, I want to show you something sad and frightening," and he led me to a spot along the Orontes River where we saw a swamp of stagnant, polluted water with a foul smell.

Working in environmental journalism has helped me understand the place I live in better and has fostered my attachment to nature and all it grants us in terms of our mental and physical health. I am now more determined to defend and fight for it

Images from Syria, Iraq – where rivers and marshes have dried up, and animals are dying of thirst, Yemen, which has faced floods and torrents it cannot handle, to Somalia where agriculture – the source of income for more than half the population– is deteriorating alarmingly, have motivated me to dive into this field, which has entirely changed much of my professional and personal life.

Working in environmental journalism does not just involve paying attention to and writing about rising temperatures, biodiversity, desertification, pollution, recycling, and healthy food systems. It also means understanding the many political, economic, social, and cultural circumstances that govern our lives, countries and the entire world. It means being aware of the dynamics of conflicts and of interests that affect every detail of our lives: the water we drink, the vegetables we eat and the cars we think about buying. It means using the power of media to talk about the violations happening every hour against our environments, our rights, and the rights of our children and future generations, while being fully aware that this could pose a danger to us, no less than exposing any other type of violation.

Environmental journalism is essential for shedding light on the stories of those most affected by these violations, knowing and understanding their problems, and discussing the solutions they propose that suit their local environments and contexts. When an environmental journalist is well-versed in their media, scientific, and research tools, they can amplify voices and the opinion of experts, building bridges between them and decision-makers, and identifying the causes of the ongoing harm and damage to the environment. This is all in the hope of bringing about the change we need.

Did I mention how much my profession has impacted my personal life? Environmental journalism means fieldwork and interactions with farmers struggling to keep their lands alive in the face of climate change, economic difficulties, and sagging administrative structures. It involves meeting fishermen worried about the state of the sea and its marine resources, and female farmers working from dawn to dusk under the scorching sun to earn their daily bread, perhaps without knowing the impact of high temperatures on their bodies. It includes interacting with shepherds who continue to roam, searching for enough water and fresh, tender grass for their cattle.

Environmental journalism does not just involve writing about rising temperatures, biodiversity, desertification, pollution, recycling, and healthy food systems. It also involves understanding the many political, economic, social, and cultural circumstances that govern our lives, countries and the global community

All of these experiences have added much to my life. It has helped me understand the place I live in better and, at the same time, fostered my attachment to nature and what it grants us in terms of serenity, tranquility, and mental and physical health, making me more determined to defend and fight for it.

As I write this on World Environment Day, celebrated by the United Nations Environment Programme on the 5th of June each year, I think about how this awareness and defending our right to a healthy and clean environment and a better life is incomplete without true environmental journalism. It is the most powerful and most important means to spread our messages on the widest scale, demanding from everyone, from the smallest individual to the largest company and government, the actions our planet urgently needs now for its protection.


* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22



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