Solution-based thinking was the name of the game on the second day of the annual Environmental Media Association Impact Summit, which featured sessions filled with searing insights and new ideas in the battle against climate change and environmental inequity.
First up was The Hollywood Reporter’s deputy editor Degen Pener, in conversation with Mustafa Santiago Ali, executive vice president of conservation and justice for the National Wildlife Federation. Titled “How Should the Media Discuss Eco-Disasters Such as The Norfolk Southern Train Derailment?” the talk touched on the importance of community-led change.
“Communities speak for themselves. Communities will let you know what they need,” said Ali, who was recently on the ground in East Palestine, Ohio, after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed there on Feb. 3.
Though heartened by the increased coverage of eco-disasters by journalists, Ali encouraged media companies to be more transparent about the sources of their ad revenue. “Who are your main sponsors? What is their tie to how storytelling is done?” he asked. “Hopefully we have editors, we have reporters who stand up and do the right thing. I know how difficult that is, because I’ve helped train some of the folks who are in that space.”
Ali — the CEO of Revitalization Strategies, a consultancy that works with communities impacted by climate change and public health disasters — also encouraged media to invest more in local news sources, and to spend more time on the ground listening to community members affected by environmental disasters. To this end, he spoke of the importance of media training for local community change agents so they can be their own advocates.
“It is about learning — how do you sit in front of a camera for three minutes? If you’re going on one of the news shows, you need to be able to condense down the most important parts that you’re trying to get across,” he said. “The training is also about multimedia. Now, most people get their information on TikTok or on YouTube. … So, how are you able to translate your story there? How are you able to make sure you have the right types of camera angles? How do you make sure that you identify those folks inside of your community who can help make sure there is a full story there, done in your voice?”
This rousing conversation ended with Ali leading the crowd — which included EMA board members Frances Fisher and Wendie Malick — in a chant of “Power to the People,” while everyone in the room held hands.
There was a focus on hope for the future in the next conversation as well, as EMA founder Debbie Levin and Dr. Colin Polsky, director of the Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University, discussed “How to Become a Bipartisan Environmentalist.” Polsky celebrated the encouraging trend of bipartisan support of environmental initiatives in deeply partisan Florida. “It’s not about education,” he said. “It’s about trust and cultural identity. So, the answer to your question is don’t add more facts in science before you can address questions of trust and cultural identity.”
Polsky pointed to strategies for reaching out to climate change doubters by identifying and speaking to what is important to them, which have been effective in Florida. “One way to engage with people where there’s defensiveness or distance is to identify common values,” he explained.
Singer and EMA board co-chair Lance Bass and Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, president of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, rounded out the morning discussing “How Our Prehistoric Past Can Solve Today’s Issues.” They each spoke of the importance of science education and how museums can work as change agents, by linking past trends that have been identified as involving climate change and human footprints to what is occurring today.
Bettison-Varga displayed the new plans for the redesign of the Natural History Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, which will include an interactive lab, exhibits and science led experiential and learning opportunities. “My responsibility to Los Angeles and to the world is to make sure that we’re doing the work ourselves, but also creating the opportunity for future scientists who are going be out there problem solving,” she said.
As Bettison-Varga noted, the wonder of science and innovative learning opportunities may just be the key to leading toward a more environmentally sound future. “You need awe,” she said, “to inspire action.”
On day one of the EMA Impact Summit at Pendry West Hollywood, panel discussions in partnership with Apple TV+ and The Hollywood Reporter included a look at the new anthology drama Extrapolations — which included Apple head of sustainability Lisa Jackson, show creator Scott Z. Burns, writer Dorothy Fortenberry and stars Kit Harington, Sienna Miller, Tahar Rahim and Yara Shahidi — and a discussion of the making of the series Five Days at Memorial, which follows the deadly effects of a flood caused by Hurricane Katrina on a hospital in New Orleans.
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