Covering climate change through a solutions and data lens

Jan 11, 2024 in Environmental Reporting
Tree and wind turbine in a field

Covering climate change through a solutions lens is picking up steam in the media. This is not about telling positive, pat-on-the-back stories about the environment. This model uses investigative techniques and data that rely on scrupulous reporting, to identify policies and practices to help mitigate the crisis.

“Solutions reporting seeks out responses that are working and puts a spotlight on the places that are verifiably getting it right,” said Matthew Kauffman, data project manager for Solutions Journalism Network (SJN). He noted in an SJN blog, “When news outlets ask and answer the question: `Who’s doing it better’ they help their audience see and explore possible opportunities for change.”

How is that concept playing out in today’s newsrooms?

A watershed moment

The U.N. describes the climate crisis as “the biggest threat modern humans have ever faced.” Records show that the last decade was the hottest in human history; wildfires, floods and droughts have become the new normal. This poses a quandary for journalists.

“We have to close the significant gaps between what audiences may need from climate change news coverage if they were to get more engaged in the story and what news providers cover,” noted a World Association of News Publishers’ report. It posed the question: “Could journalists inadvertently be contributing to climate inaction?”

For the past 20 years, noted scholar Maxwell Boykoff has researched how the media covers climate change. He has seen evidence of audiences being turned off.

“I have written about how doom and gloom reporting has been found by researchers to raise awareness, but it may effectively paralyze people from taking action. It can be overwhelming,” said Boykoff, who leads the Media and Climate Change Observatory at the University of Colorado.

The observatory monitors 131 sources across newspapers, radio and TV in 59 countries in seven different regions of the world to measure trends in climate coverage.

Solutions and data team up

SJN’s Kauffman described three approaches on how data interacts with solutions journalism, with links to climate stories that break the mold of doomsday reporting. His three approaches:

Asking the right questions is an important part of the equation. The Earth Journalism Network (EJN) suggests starting with a local example of action on climate change and tying that to a broader trend or issue.

Among the key questions, EJN suggests:

  • Where did this idea come from?
  • What evidence is there to show the solutions are working?
  • What do researchers say?
  • What do the numbers show?
  • Who are the critics, and what do they say?
  • What metrics matter when it comes to measuring success?
  • Is what’s happening in one place with solutions a model for somewhere else?

Other examples of climate solutions journalism:

Stories like these can make a difference. A University of Maryland study found that news consumers exposed to solutions felt they could better influence climate change policy and support actions to address it. Focusing only on the negative aspects of climate change gives a false impression that there is nothing that can be done about it, the report found.

Other Resources

This article was adapted from a story originally posted on It was edited and republished on IJNet with permission.

Photo by Karsten Würth on Unsplash