High Country News, a non-profit magazine that covers social and ecological issues in the Western United States, is experimenting with 'speculative journalism' as an alternative way to report on the climate emergency in the region.
Its latest special issue gives readers a window into the world of 2068, with possible scenarios ranging from high-level climate change deniers being hunted down by international task forces to Montana's Glacier National Park trialling virtual reality headsets to show visitors where glaciers used to be.
1/ Our special issue, entirely dedicated to #sciencefiction, is out today. We used last year’s Fourth National Climate Assessment as our guide. See the notes after each story for reference, & read all of them here: https://t.co/VDG6RDkMA4 pic.twitter.com/HUo2R9wWga— High Country News (@highcountrynews) August 19, 2019
Brian Calvert, editor-in-chief, High Country News, said repeated coverage of data and statistics of the climate emergency has resulted in the facts no longer speaking for themselves.
This is why he decided to try a new way of reporting, especially in the publication's coverage of the Fourth National Climate Assessment findings published last year by the US Government.
"Most reporters who work on climate science or climate issues struggle with the same thing, which is how do you get the information to people in a way that is useful," he said.
"We thought that writing this issue would be a way to engage people's imagination with the scientific research that's been done on climate change."
Although the stories were fictionalised, writers consulted researchers and scientific experts on the plausibility of the scenarios.
One of the 'reports', for example, looked at a struggling ski resort's attempt to use soldier flies to deal with human waste due to growing water scarcity. However, the flies eventually swarmed the ski slopes, forcing the resort into bankruptcy amid a wave of lawsuits.
Paige Blankenbuehler, author of the piece, looked in depth at the ecology of the flies and considered the unintended consequences of human interference with nature to create that specific vision for the future.
A similar technique was used in ‘The Really Big One’, a Pulitzer Prize-winning feature on the potential impact of an earthquake on the American Northwest, to help convey the scale and consequences of such events.
"Climate change is going to be so huge that our empirical institutions, like science and journalism, have a hard time grappling with it and are easily outmanoeuvred," said Calvert.
"There is a place for journalism to be more imaginative and for storytellers to use the tools of scientific inquiry and journalistic methodology to write other kinds of stories.”
Get to grips with solutions journalism reporting techniques at the Newsrewired conference on 27 November at Reuters, London. Head to newsrewired.com for the full agenda and tickets.