Local news is vital: Can we survive the climate crisis without it?

Published 1:30 pm Friday, May 17, 2024

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Local news has its finger on the pulse of our communities. When city council acts (or acts up), when disaster strikes, when corruption or scandal needs to be scrutinized, local news steps up. From our kids’ sporting events to small town heroes, road construction detours to storm preparedness, they cover stories of interest and importance to our daily lives – stories that large media over look. 

Amidst the climate crisis, these stories could save our lives. 

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Heat waves. Super-storms. Forest fires. Floods. Reporting on climate events, disasters, and preparedness is essential, obviously. But local news has a bigger role to play in helping us apply climate solutions that make sense to the unique places that we live. 

In the beautiful valley where I live, nestled on the border of Canada in Northern Maine, agriculture, forestry, and snowmobiling are the three big industries. Last week, I stood in the cool shade of a potato barn talking to the farmer who also works as a trucking broker, getting local pallets of vegetables and other goods onto shared trucks headed to market. 

We spoke about how the hot, wet summer led to poor harvests for potato farmers. He mentioned that they stopped shipping spuds to market a month early. The rain and heat last summer led to too much rot in the barns.  

Across the street from his office, there’s a lumber mill that stood idle through our unseasonably warm winter. Without snow, the loggers couldn’t get their heavy equipment into the woods. Forestry hit a standstill – as did the lumber mills. Even if you live far away, you’ll likely see this reflected in the price of paper goods and two-by-fours and construction costs in the coming months. 

Just down the road from the potato barn is a bed-and-breakfast on the lake. Usually, it’s booked from November through April as downstate and out-of-state snowmobilers come on vacation. Not this year. With scanty snow, mass cancellations put the hospitality industry – hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, etc. – into such a dire downturn that they applied for state relief funds. 

My community needs to see how climate change is already impacting us. It’s here. It’s hurting us. It’s changing everything in this valley’s way of life. We can either suffer and collapse from it, or we can understand what’s happening and learn how to adapt. Local news can help us do it. 

A local newspaper has an intimate understanding of what our neighbors and local businesses need to know about the problems and the possibilities. For example, our local newspaper could do us a great service by translating the bewildering maze of subsidies, grant programs, relief funds, and rebates that already exist into plain speak. They could announce when the grant cycles open and close. They could help homeowners, woodlot owners, and local businesses know what funding and options are available to us. We need that help. 

A local newspaper can draw on its knowledge of how we live to help us with the steep learning curve that we face. Fox, MSN, and NPR can’t be that specific – but what Florida needs to know is different from what Northern Maine needs to learn. With rising temperatures in the summer, our traditionally temperate valley faces increased cases of heat strokes. No one has air conditioning. We’ve never needed it before. But with heat hovering at 90-100° F for weeks now, our elders and families need to learn the signs of heat stroke … and the ways that we can prepare for this. 

A local newspaper can report on climate solutions that make sense for the unique ecologies and social fabrics that exist in our areas. Our valley has three solutions to rising summer temperatures, each of which is hyper-specific to our community’s sense of itself. A local newspaper could help homeowners find the rebates that make heat pumps affordable, reminding them that the fuel savings we love on these machines come with a built-in emergency air conditioning potential. The paper could also report on the concept of centralized emergency cooling centers that could be organized in our community buildings, library, schools, or church basements – locations that either have natural cooling capacities or are putting in air conditioning. 

Here’s a heat solution that is utterly unique to our area, one that would make readers of our local newspaper sit up and smile. One of the world’s best, most energy-efficient cooling systems has been used in this farming community for centuries: the potato barn. 

As I stood in that chilly barn talking with a farmer, I wore a sweater, coat, and ski cap. It was over 70° F outside, a brilliantly sunny spring day. But a potato barn is dug into the earth. It taps into the ground’s year-round 50° F temperature to warm it in the winter and keep it cool in the spring and summer. It’s one of the key features of the renowned, highly sustainable Earthship Biotecture in the high desert of New Mexico. This historically French-Acadian farming community has known about this for hundreds of years. How can we adapt this technology to help us survive hotter summers?

Our local newspaper could research and report on that.  

What a local newspaper covers on climate is a matter of survival for us all. We need the intimate knowledge that they have of the places that we live. Your local community is special and distinct from my local community. Your local news is perfectly poised to deliver the stories, strategies, and solutions you need. Local news is an endangered species, threatened by corporate buyouts and mega-mergers. If we lose our local news, we lose the nuances, specificity, and responsiveness that only a local news outlet can deliver. And amidst the climate crisis, this kind of information is of vital importance to our daily lives … and to our future. 

(Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, has written numerous books, including The Dandelion Insurrection and the award-winning Ari Ara Series. She is the editor of Nonviolence News and the Program Coordinator for Campaign Nonviolence and a nationwide trainer in strategy for nonviolent campaigns.)