Mother Jones' environmental policy reporter Kate Sheppard discusses connecting policy with the everyday and preaching to the choir with ecopolitology's Dave Levitan.
[Our ongoing series “Communicating Climate Change” with Dave Levitan will often feature conversations with journalists and other communicators who face the challenge of writing on climate issues. We have previously featured former New York Times climate reporter and Dot Earth blogger Andy Revkin as well as Climate Progress blogger Joe Romm. - Ed.]
Kate Sheppard covers energy and environmental politics in Washington, D.C., for Mother Jones. Prior to joining Mother Jones, she wrote for Grist in Seattle, and her work has also appeared online at the Washington Post and New York Times, as well as in the Guardian and elsewhere. You can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard. Links and emphasis are mine.
Dave Levitan: You went to Copenhagen, and participated in what was a brief deluge of coverage for climate change and related policy issues. How do you keep people’s interest or attention when there isn’t such a large and visible event to pin stories on?
Kate Sheppard: Well, usually I'm covering what’s going on with day-to-day politics in Washington. And even if what's happening right now is going really slowly, there are almost constant updates on what’s happening on policy, and new perspectives on where that debate is going. So that is one way to keep people—especially people who are really focused on politics or policy—involved, is to just keep following that day-to-day.
I think for a wider public who might not be quite as tuned in with what’s happening here in Washington, it's about making the connections between the policy and climate change and their everyday lives.
What does the clean energy future mean for you as person who is a homeowner or a driver, or a parent concerned about public health – it's about connecting those things I think to what people experience every day. Climate change itself is something that’s big and far away and somewhat nebulous, but there are a lot of implications for politics and policy and everyday life.
DL: I’ve noticed that lacking in a lot of coverage of climate policy, and I’ve written about this here – do you try and get in explanations of WHY cap-and-trade, or WHY a focus on clean energy jobs, what it means in the larger view?
KS: I think in a lot of articles I do attempt to make that connection. And a lot of times covering the policy debate it’s about covering the individuals and the personalities that are played here as well, and sometimes stories focus more on that than on the direct outcomes. But I think making those connections wherever possible is really important.
And to some level a lot of the political stories people just care about because they follow politics closely and they want to see who is doing what, here in Washington especially. And an angle I feel I approach it from is looking at the impediments to acting on this problem. So, what industry groups, or lobbies or people or ideas are standing in the way of doing something about what is recognized to be a significant challenge?
DL: Can that sort of thing create any backlash? Do you get differing responses when you write about the types of people who are standing in the way?
KS: No, I’m writing to an audience that generally is concerned about the issues and wants to do something about climate. I probably wouldn’t have much success at getting the head of ExxonMobil on the phone. But I think our readers connect with pointing out who is standing in the way. Continued...