Bringing the Climate Crisis Story Home in 2023

January 4, 2023
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One local climate change story to pursue is what your area is doing to preserve and promote tree cover that can absorb carbon dioxide and cool urban heat islands. Above, trees provide shade along Locust Street in downtown Columbia, Pa. Photo: Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program via Flickr Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0).

TipSheet: Bringing the Climate Crisis Story Home in 2023

By Joseph A. Davis

In the wake of the recent COP 27 in Egypt, the climate crisis is far from solved. So much so that U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has called for a new summit in September to up the world’s ambition game. Yet little action can be expected from the new and divided Congress convening in January. The Biden administration will do what it can via executive action, but that has its limits.

So where do environmental journalists find the most important climate stories? Closer to home. By finding out what measures your state and local governments (may require subscription) are taking to mitigate global heating.

There’s a climate story — inspiring or discouraging — in every state.


Backstory and why it matters

Climate change matters immensely. Some think it is the most important story of our time. Right now in the Horn of Africa children are dying because of climate-driven starvation. Climate change is likely to cause large-scale migration and exacerbate conflict between nations. It is causing heat waves, extreme weather, hurricanes, wildfires, floods and droughts.


People (and governments) have been

arguing a lot — and doing too little — to

head off the worst impacts of climate change.


People (and governments) have been arguing a lot — and doing too little — to head off the worst impacts of climate change. The debate has intensified since 1988, when NASA scientist James Hansen warned senators that human-induced climate change had arrived.

Since then, we have learned a lot about how the campaign of doubt and denial is funded and amplified by fossil energy companies, which will have to stop emitting greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane to solve the problem.

Along with the PR campaigns to restrain climate action, there has been a steady increase in partisanship about climate science and how (or whether) to deal with climate change. You will see very different patterns between red states and blue states on climate.


Questions to ask and story ideas

  • Does your locality have laws, rules or policies that push electrification of heating and cooking in new homes? Does your state have laws that forbid localities from doing this?
  • Where does your state stand on electric vehicles? California has led the move to tough standards (calling for zero-emission new vehicle sales by 2035). As many as 17 states are in the process of following suit.
  • Some states have laws forbidding state-managed funds (e.g., pensions) from investing in fossil-fuel and other climate-damaging companies. Other states forbid such investments in funds that divest from fossil investments. What about yours?
  • Has your state adopted greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets — with specific numerical goals, timelines and enforcement mechanisms? Some have. Some haven’t. Here’s one map of state policies.
  • Whether you write for a metro area or a whole state or region, what is the policy in your area about public transit versus auto traffic? Is there an emphasis on building roads or on mass transit? Is any mass transit moving toward lower greenhouse gas emissions?
  • You probably have one or more solid waste facilities (typically, regulated landfills) taking wastes from your area. Landfills emit a lot of methane, a major greenhouse gas. How do your landfills manage methane — if they do at all?
  • Do governments in your area try to make it friendly toward nonautomotive movement? Are there bike paths, bike lanes and walkable communities?
  • What is your area doing to preserve and promote tree cover and green infrastructure? These can both absorb carbon dioxide and cool urban heat islands.
  • Is your state or locality friendly or unfriendly toward nonfossil sources of energy? The answer may be complex. For example, Texas, which loves oil and gas, is also a leader in wind energy. What is your state’s stance toward wind, solar, geothermal and other sources?
  • What do your state and local governments (or public utilities commission) do to encourage rooftop solar? So-called feed-in tariffs pay homeowners for the excess electricity they put back into the grid. Are the rules and rates encouraging or discouraging to homeowners?
  • Regional grids do a lot to encourage or discourage green energy. What limits does your regional grid place (purposely or otherwise) on nonfossil electricity?


Reporting resources

[Editor’s Note: For more on climate change from SEJournal and SEJ Publications, check out our Climate Change Topic on the Beat page, and our special reports on Covering Climate Solutions and on covering your climate in the South and the Pacific Northwest, as well as our Climate Change Resource Guide.]

Joseph A. Davis is a freelance writer/editor in Washington, D.C. who has been writing about the environment since 1976. He writes SEJournal Online's TipSheet, Reporter's Toolbox and Issue Backgrounder, and curates SEJ's weekday news headlines service EJToday and @EJTodayNews. Davis also directs SEJ's Freedom of Information Project and writes the WatchDog opinion column.

* From the weekly news magazine SEJournal Online, Vol. 8, No. 1. Content from each new issue of SEJournal Online is available to the public via the SEJournal Online main page. Subscribe to the e-newsletter here. And see past issues of the SEJournal archived here.


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