Reporting on Tropical Forest Carbon: The power of words and photographs concerning the Peruvian Amazon and Costa Rica

Our final event of the spring speaker series was a conversation among three reporters exploring unintended consequences of tropical forest carbon offset projects, held on March 29th, 2021.

Uptake of carbon dioxide by vegetation reduces accumulation of the gas in the atmosphere and slows climate change. One ton of every four tons of greenhouse gasses produced from burning fossil fuels is absorbed by plants. But ongoing global warming influences how effectively plants continue playing this essential function. The socio-political contexts and power structures that govern forests are also critical factors influencing their success in mitigating climate change.

Science journalist Daniel Grossman and photographer Dado Galdieri collaborated on the Pulitzer Center-supported project Carbon Chronicles. Reporting on carbon uptake in tropical forests in Peru and Costa Rica, the two will highlight how they communicate scientific concepts for a public audience. Blanca Begert, 2020 YPCCC-Pulitzer Center reporting fellow, will share how her social science background and her past research on a contested conservation project in Peru contextualizes her upcoming reporting project on carbon offset initiatives in Amazonia.

The event was sponsored by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the Pulitzer Center for International Crisis Reporting.  YPCCC and the Pulitzer Center are entering the fifth year of a partnership to support quality reporting on climate change from around the world.

Below are three take-aways from the conversation.


3 Lessons from Reporting on Tropical Forest Carbon

  1. Political Ecology is an important tool to understand the emerging field of carbon finance. By focusing on power relations between local and international actors, the capitalist economy, and historical development, political ecology offers a more nuance and holistic way to view carbon finance projects. This framework is what encourages journalists to take a deeper dive into the issue, such as by interviewing local people personally effect by these projects.
  2. Complex but engaging reporting is difficult, but an adventurous narrative helps. Daniel Grossman described that his story about the technical effects of peatland development was enhanced by the adventure they went on to collect the data. You have to “bring people into the story, and make them want to keep reading it” says Daniel.
  3. Impactful photography puts the environment first, then aggregates in the scientific and human concepts. By creating a composition like this, viewers can place themselves in the photo. Further, it represents how each part of the photo acts as a character in a complicated scene. For instance, the framing and coloring of a volcano in one of Dado’s photos were specifically meant to convey sadness.