Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, April 17, 2024

L.A. Times reporter Rosanna Xia talks ‘Lessons for Climate Communication’

On Sept. 28, environmental reporter and Tufts alumnus presented key takeaways from her new book to the Tufts community.

Rosanna Xia.jpeg

Rosanna Xia is pictured on Sept. 28.

Rosanna Xia, an environment reporter at the Los Angeles Times, 2020 Pulitzer Prize finalist and Tufts alum, presented at Tufts. This presentation is part of the series of events hosted in celebration of her newly published book, “California Against the Sea: Visions for Our Vanishing Coastline.

After graduating from Tufts, Xia combined her passions for environmental justice and communications, diving into the environmental journalism landscape in California. Xia strives to help her readers think critically about climate change.

“The words climate change … it’s so politicized today and so overwhelming that it almost means nothing anymore,” Xia said. “When you talk about climate change, how do you actually start writing about this issue? I think it’s about finding your way, finding issues that will speak to broader universal messages.”

She continued by explaining several examples of environment coverage from various media outlets across the nation, including the Washington Post and the New York Times.

“This is a snapshot of some of the things I find fascinating at the Washington Post — they’ve been expanding their climate departments,” Xia said. “They have a whole climate solutions vertical, which is really interesting. I think they recognize that readers are craving solutions-oriented stories.”

She expressed admiration and praise for others reporting climate solutions, referencing Christopher Flavelle, a New York Times reporter focused on climate adaptation.

“[Flavelle] focuses solely on what it means to respond and prepare for the consequences of climate change that are inevitably going to happen, whereas so much of our conversation today is still about mitigation and curbing all of the effects that lead to global warming,” Xia said. “To have someone focus on adaptation was a brilliant move, and he was one of our first adaptation reporters in the industry.”

Another issue with current climate communication lies in the language used by scientists and reporters. Xia noted The Guardian’s rebranding of climate change as the climate crisis to highlight its urgency.

“My personal hot take is that climate change is almost like the word nondescript. … With climate change, I think you can get way more precise about it,” Xia said. “A conversation about all those floods that are happening now five times a year outside your home, or the beach that used to be this wide, or a hurricane that just hit again … or the fact that Austin just had its hottest summer on record with the number of over one hundred degree days — those are tangible ways to talk about the climate crisis.”

She encourages the audience to contemplate what they are communicating, who they communicate to and how to guide people into these conversations.

“Sometimes we’re preaching to the choir and other times we’re bringing new people into the conversation. I think bringing more people into the conversation is what we desperately need. Sometimes saying the words ‘climate crisis’ or ‘apocalypse’ throws up that wall immediately,” Xia said.

Xia further discussed how to spread the message that climate change is not something for the future, but rather something to take action on now.

“The numbers are pretty stark,” Xia warned. “Two-thirds of our beaches are at risk of being drowned out by sea level rise and 100% of our salt marshes and the entire ecosystem along the Pacific coast could be completely gone by the end of the century, based on what we’re doing today and the hardened infrastructure that is in the way of the ocean coastline.”

Through a broader approach to the entire California landscape, Xia said, the L.A. Times has helped unite legislators and city council members against a common issue.

“That’s one of the beauties of reporting. You help people talk to each other, connect the dots and the silos across all these different spaces,” Xia said.

Xia explained that recognizing feelings as valid, acknowledging uncertainty and seeing the nuances of different resident stories have proven the most effective when approaching climate communication.

“When we write about climate change, you can’t just tell people the sky is falling. You also have to plant ideas and solutions. … If a legislator is reading this article, what are some ideas that they could pick up and run with?” Xia said. “Each person I interview, I ask, ‘What is your call to action? The L.A. Times is about to write this paper for environmental rights. What is your call to action?’”

Ultimately, Xia believes we should focus on responsibility and courage.

“We all have the responsibility to do something about this … and that responsibility takes courage,” Xia said. “We have to have the courage to take action. Responsibility and courage are two words that ground you more than hope in this journey of communicating climate change issues and the climate crisis.”