L.A. Times journalists Sammy Roth, Tony Barboza and Ruben Vives discussed climate change reporting with students Saturday during the Fall “URL,” a virtual event open to all HS Insiders.
The reporters spoke about their careers covering climate and environmental justice, including the Times’ recent extreme heat investigation. The investigation found that extreme heat deaths are six times higher than reported.
Reporters shared advice for students on how to localize a global issue like climate change. They said amplifying stories from individual communities can demonstrate the significance of climate change.
As high school reporters, Roth said examining a school’s ecological footprint and illuminating environmental activism is a good starting point. Barboza said it’s important to think about adjusting small areas of everyday life to become more eco-friendly.
“I would encourage people to really think about that idea of what could be done better,” Barboza said. “Where could we have less of an impact on our planet?”
The investigation found that extreme heat disproportionately affects people experiencing poverty and chronic illnesses. In Desert Hot Springs, most of the victims are homeless, elderly and low income.
At a mobile home park in Desert Hot Springs, the park owner wasn’t doing proper maintenance during regular power outages with no air conditioning, Vives said.
During the pandemic, regular public cooling centers like malls with air conditioning were not available for heat relief. Unlike past heat waves, the coronavirus blocked any escape from the heat.
“You were forced to deal with the heat in a way that we hadn’t dealt with before,” Vives said.
The investigation also reported on how the victims’ families were coping. Communities of color often face the brunt of extreme heat due to red lining, a discriminatory practice of denying financial services based on race.
When Vives spoke to families who lost their loved ones to extreme heat, they said they felt a lot of guilt.
“‘What could I have done more?’ is all that sits with them now,” he said.
Sammy Roth, who reports on energy for the Times, said renewable energy policies can sometimes pose affordability problems. Although renewable energy like wind, solar and hydropower reduces fossil fuel emissions, they pose a plethora of new challenges.
There can be environmental consequences to renewable energy in terms of destroying habitats of endangered species. Renewable energy policies also risk exacerbating the issue of economic inequality.
“How do you pass policies that create this transition without making energy more expensive for people who can less afford it?” Roth said.
Describing a recent story he pursued, Roth explained that issues related to energy are not black and white. Although California subsidizing solar panels is public good, critics say incentives favor those who can afford to maintain solar panels, and can be “good for the wealthy at the expense of the poor.”
Dilemmas of renewable energy expand beyond climate change into racism, economic justice and politics.
“To me, [energy] is really valuable to spend time on because we need to do this transition, but how are we going to do it?” Roth said.