Reporting on Climate Change: Making People Care

Raina Carfaro, Scarlet Staff

Climate Change becomes more and more apparent by the day. Although people seem to know about it, it’s hard to make people care. On Thursday, November 14, Nestor Ramos of The Boston Globe gave a talk to a Clarkie-full Razzo Hall where he discussed his own challenges effectively communicating the climate crisis. 

Ramos began the talk with the classic images of starving polar bears on barren wastelands captioned “This Is What Climate Change Looks Like.” He, however, disagreed with the usage of this phrase paired with these images. He argued that polar bears are too removed from our society, and while they are very sad photos they do little to arouse urgency in people sitting comfortably in their homes. Ramos said that enough people believe in climate change now, the issue is getting people to care and act. 

In the world of professional reporting, much of it has gone digital and newspapers measure the relevance and popularity of their articles and specific issues by how many clicks an article gets and how long a reader stays on the page. Climate change does poorly in these stats. 

In order to captivate and motivate readers Ramos decided to take aim at the physical ramifications on a place beloved to many of The Boston Globe’s audience: Cape Cod.

Ramos (to really focus the reader’s attention) wanted to use examples we can already “touch, see, and measure but make it readable and interesting.” Coverage of climate change is commonly filled with important statistics and incomprehensible data which only scientists can understand. It’s a challenge to combine captivating storytelling with complex scientific evidence, and while many filmographers and journalists have succeeded, they often cover topics that have no immediate connection to people’s everyday lives. 

But Cape Cod’s deterioration is very obvious to those who call the Cape their home or visit for vacation. Ramos showed videos of interviewees discussing the toll that rising sea levels had on their beaches and slowly dragging their businesses into the sea. Erosion increases with every nor’easter; one storm took away 80 feet of 30-foot-high sand dunes in one night. 

While some of the erosion is not due to climate change, it still has a slow but devastating impact on people’s lives and homes. Cape Cod is very seasonal and much of the economy rotates around tourism, and of course, seafood. However, due to overfishing and climate change’s effect on sea-life, much of the seafood is shipped into the Cape from Chesapeake Bay or Maine. The presence of cod on Cape Cod are especially sensitive to climate change and are disappearing from the shores that were named after them. 

People tend to think that Cape Cod is a place where only the exceedingly rich live and vacation, however it is an extremely and economically diverse area. Climate change threatens the fundamental identity of Cape Cod. For hundreds of years, families have made their living as fishermen, but now the lack of fish and constant storms have made fishing a challenging industry. Many working class people must face this struggle, all while combating the Cape’s rising housing prices.

Salt marshes are one of the Cape’s most effective means of combating climate change as they trap carbon and fight against erosion with peat and dense vegetation. They are the land’s first defense in fighting man-made climate change. Whimbrels are birds that feed on the salt marshes, but their disappearances are a sign that even the salt marshes are failing.

Ramos wants people to see the immediacy of climate change and how it is not just “the arctic and far away lands” that we tend to forget and ignore. Climate change is not only at our door, it is pounding on it.