What happens when an illegally logged tree falls or poachers kill endangered brown bears in the forest, but there’s no journalist to report it?
That’s the situation in the Republic of Georgia, which faces challenges that include poaching, deteriorating air quality, habitat disruption from new hydropower dams, illegal logging and climate change. The effects cross national borders and affect economic and political relationships in the Caucasus and beyond.
I researched environmental journalism in the Republic of Georgia as a Fulbright Scholar there in the fall of 2018. I chose Georgia because many of its environmental and media problems are similar to those confronting other post-Soviet countries nearly 30 years after independence. As I have found in my research on mass media in other post-Soviet nations, journalists risk provoking powerful public and corporate interests when they investigate sensitive environmental issues.
But when the media don’t cover these problems, Georgians go uninformed about issues relevant to their daily lives. Eco-violators operate with impunity, and the government and Georgia’s influential private sector remain opaque to the public. At a time when government hostility to journalists is rising in many countries, Georgia illustrates how environmental damage, pollution and ill health can spread, and go unpunished, when powerful interests are unaccountable to the public.
Levels of press freedom, autonomy and media sustainability have fluctuated since Georgia became independent in 1991. The latest constitutional change greatly strengthened Parliament and eliminated direct election of the president, whose office is primarily ceremonial.
The governing Georgian Dream coalition has become increasingly anti-press over the past two years. Georgia’s mediascape is fairly diverse but dominated by its two largest television channels. The 2019 World Press Freedom Index ranks Georgia 60th out of 180 countries, a substantial improvement from 100th in 2013. However, it notes that media owners still often control editorial content, and threats against journalists are not uncommon.
In addition to my own observations during 3 ½ months based in Tbilisi with visits to other cities, my findings draw on input from 16 journalists, media trainers, scientists and representatives of advocacy groups and multinational agencies whom I interviewed or who spoke to my media and society class at Caucasus University.
Source after source bemoaned what they saw as generally shallow, sparse, misleading and inaccurate coverage of environmental topics. In their view, the legacy of Soviet journalism as a willing propaganda tool of the state lingered. Tamara Chergoleishvili, director general of the magazine and news website Tabula, put it bluntly: “There is no environmental journalism… There is no professionalism.”
One major complaint was that journalists lacked knowledge about science and the environment. “If you don’t understand the issue, you can’t convey it to the public,” said Irakli Shavgulidze, chair of the governing board of the nonprofit Center for Biodiversity Conservation & Research.
Another concern was that journalists often failed to connect environmental topics with other issues such as the economy, foreign relations, energy and health. Sophie Tchitchinadze, a United Nations Development Programme communications analyst and former journalist, said the Georgian media was just starting to view itself as “an essential part of economic development and equally important to social issues.”
Lack of access to information was also a common complaint, despite transparency laws entitling the public and press to government documents.
For example, when Tsira Gvasalia, Georgia’s leading environmental investigative journalist, reported on the nation’s only gold mining company, she was unable to obtain full information on possible government actions from the local prosecutor, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture or the courts. “The company has a close connection with the government,” she noted.
Georgian citizens weren’t much help either. In the small mining town of Kazreti, Gvasalia saw thick layers of dust on roads and bus stops from uncovered trucks transporting ore to the company’s processing facility. When she asked residents how pollution affected their everyday lives, people were “very careful. Once I mentioned the name of the company, everybody went silent. … Everyone worked for the company,” she said.
In my sources’ view, environmental coverage was not a priority for Georgian journalists and media owners, especially at the national level. Lia Chakhunashvili, a former environmental journalist now associated with the nonprofit International Research & Exchanges Board, observed that covering the environment “is not as glamorous as being a political reporter or on TV all the time or having parliamentary credentials.”
“If the environmental sector becomes a priority for the government, journalists will try to cover it better,” Melano Tkabladze, an environmental economist with the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network, predicted.
What coverage exists is weakened by misinformation, disinformation and “fake news.” Much of it originates from Russia, which briefly invaded Georgia in 2008 to support two breakaway provinces seeking independence, and vehemently opposes Georgia’s efforts to join NATO and the European Union.
Tabula’s Chergoleishvili asserted that Georgian journalists could not distinguish fake news from legitimate sources. As an example, Gvasalia described planted reports on Facebook that claimed a hydroelectric project would “elevate local people” and provide “great social benefit.” “Seventy percent of this needs to be double-checked,” she warned.
Although Georgia’s media sector remains politically and economically vulnerable, I see two encouraging signs. First, young journalists are increasingly interested in covering the environment. Second, Georgian leaders strongly desire to join the European Union, where multinational eco-issues such as curbing climate change and building a pan-European energy market are priorities. This step would be significant for Georgia, given the trans-border nature of environmental problems, the country’s progress toward energy self-sufficiency and its strategic location.
In the meantime, more support for independent fact-checking could improve Georgian environmental coverage. Some already occurs: For example, FactCheck.ge, a nonpartisan news website based in Tbilisi, critiqued a claim in 2016 by Tbilisi’s then-mayor, who had campaigned on a promise of bolstering the city’s green spaces, that the city had planted a half-million trees.The larger truth, it reported, was that many planted saplings were extremely small and closely packed. A large fraction had already dried up and were unlikely to survive.
Another partial solution would be for environmental nonprofits to offer the Georgian media more press tours, trainings and access to experts. However, eco-NGOs also have agendas and constituencies, so this type of outreach can’t substitute for informed professional journalism.
Covering the environment is challenging and can be dangerous in any country. But fostering environmental journalism in emerging democracies like Georgia is one way to hold government officials and powerful businesses accountable.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. It's written by Eric Freedman, Professor of Journalism and Chair, Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, Michigan State University). You can read the original article here.
Sign up for our newsletter. Every week, we will send you the best stories about the world of doing good.
Last week, David Gilmour, lead singer of the legendary band Pink Floyd, announced he would be auctioning off 126 guitars from his personal collection. The news wasn’t only exciting for guitar aficionados, but climate activists alike since Gilmour pledged to donate all of the income from the auction to a climate crisis charity.
The final amount after the auction was finalised was 21 million dollars, all of which Gilmour is donating to Client Earth, a non-profit organisation that is using legal action to battle climate crisis.
Gilmour said: “ The global climate crisis is the greatest challenge that humanity will ever face, and we are within a few years of the effects of global warming being irreversible. I hope that the sale of these guitars will help ClientEarth in their cause to use the law to bring about real change. We need a civilised world that goes on for all our grandchildren and beyond in which these guitars can be played and songs can be sung.”
Not everyone can donate 21 million dollars as Gilmour did, yet every penny towards our fight against climate change counts. If you, too, want to have a small contribution towards protecting our planet, consider donating to Cool Earth below. Cool Earth works with local rainforest communities and halts deforestation, protecting the very trees that are natural carbon offsetters.
On June 20th, the Amsterdam City Council joined over 600 local governments around the world, including London, Auckland, Prague, Milan, Quebec City, and declared climate crisis. The Netherlands branch of the climate activist group Extinction Rebellion had demanded that the city recognizes the climate crisis by way of a protest, a funeral procession for the city of Amsterdam, three days prior to the decision.
The declaration came after Sylvana Simons of the political party Bij1 gave a speech about the urgency of the climate crisis and the need to acknowledge the city’s duties. Simmons said:
“We are in an unprecedented ecological disaster. The climate crisis is already the end of the way of life and the lives of many people. Young climate change leaders, Extinction Rebellion activists and concerned citizens throughout the world are right to make themselves heard and demand that politicians take the necessary measures to combat the climate crisis. By declaring a climate emergency as the first Dutch city we send a clear signal that Amsterdam hears them and will do everything in its power to deal with this crisis. ”
Following the city's recognition of the climate crisis and a motion by Jaspar Groen, a councillor with the green party GroenLinks, the municipality has also proposed a climate clock showing Amsterdam's carbon emissions and how much the city has got left in its carbon budget.
There is no denying that the plant-based and animal product free food sector is rapidly growing. Every day, there is news of a well-known chain releasing a plant-based alternative to their traditionally meaty offers, or a big food conglomerate investing in plant-based options, or a new exciting company that is producing some sort of meat, dairy, or poultry alternative.
Proveg is an international food awareness organisation raising awareness about the benefits of a plant-based diet for the planet, animals, and the humankind. The organisation has been very instrumental in making animal-product-free diets mainstream and has started a startup incubator programme in 2018. The programme, first of its kind, supports emerging innovative startups with the goal of reducing animal product consumption. Here are five exciting startups from their equally exciting list of cohorts.
The first lab-grown meat product might have been a burger but the clean meat field has grown a lot since 2013 when Mark Post and his team served the $300,000 burger. That cultured meat is the next big thing is news to approximately no one but this doesn’t mean we can’t still be excited about the budding innovations. To me, ClearMeat is one such exciting cultured meat prospect. Based in India, ClearMeat is on its way to produce the world’s first chicken mince and move on to products such as tandoori chicken and chicken tikka masala from there. Chicken is the main source of animal protein in India and as the country's population steadily grows and the people's economic power with it, chicken consumption also seems to be growing rapidly. ClearMeat’s goal is to provide sustainable, healthy, and affordable meat alternatives to a growing population.
I love a good mushroom. They’re easy to cook, delicious in and of themselves, and have many species that are different but equally tasty — one might even say they’re magic. Mushlabs is employing the magic of the mushrooms and applying it to producing sustainable sustenance in an ingenious way. You might be thinking portobello burgers and mushroom mince, but instead, Mushlabs takes the roots of mushrooms and uses fermentation to produce a protein-, fiber-, and micronutrient-rich ingredient. The production process of Mushlabs uses indoor farming systems that employ vertical stacks to grow plants. Because they are stacked, vertical systems take up considerably less land and, because they are controlled environments, require less water. This makes the potential negative environmental impact of Mushlabs proteins comparably lower than it’s animal counterparts and even plant proteins. Mushlabs might soon be the answer to the questions vegans get the most: “But where do you get your protein?”
3) Legendairy Foods
Numerous people in numerous labs are on the journey to produce meat without the slaughter and intensive farming of animals but the animal farming industry doesn’t end with just meat. Although plant-based milks are on the rise even with non-vegan consumers, dairy is still very much part of the majority of people’s diet. Legendairy Foods is aiming to give people dairy milk without the destructive environmental and ethical consequences. Through a fermentation process, LegenDairy Foods transform microorganisms and sugar into milk protein and then on to dairy products. Dairy milk without cows. From anecdotal evidence, cheese seems to be the one thing people feel like they can’t give up when the topic of going vegan comes up. To me, real cheese without real cows seems to be the perfect solution to that.
Russian startup Greenwise, produces plant-based meat alternatives — meat and jerky — that are structurally almost identical to meat. Their products look, feel, and chew like real meat. Amongst the five companies, Greenwise is the one that I actually got to taste the products of and I can attest to their claim. Their plant-based meat comes in dry form and you can cook it any way you like. It absorbs the taste of whatever you decided to cook it with very well, be it broth spices or a sauce. I think GreenWise is making way in a relatively underdeveloped side of plant-based meat production. A side that is quickly growing with companies like Beyond Burger taking off in terms of media and consumer attention. That is, producing plant-based meat for meat eaters. The products of Greenwise are made to replace meat in dishes without having to compromise on taste or texture. They appeal to a fast-growing consumer base of environmentally or ethically conscious people who want to reduce their impact but not ready to give up meat.
5) Better Nature
I first discovered tempeh as a delicious protein source upon moving to the Netherlands. Tempeh is a soy product (although it can be made with other beans as well) that is made by fermenting cooked beans into a cake-like solid block. It’s a rich source of B12 (a vitamin everyone and not just non-meat eaters often lack), protein and dietary fibres. Tempeh originates from Indonesia and is a staple in SouthEast Asian cooking, thus thanks to the large Indonesian community in the Netherlands it’s very easy to find here, you can find it in almost all supermarkets. However, I was surprised to learn that it’s not at all this common or well known in other parts of the world, even the most cosmopolitan ones. Better Nature wants to change this and be the company responsible for making tempeh mainstream. They are taking this ancient food and applying contemporary scientific methods to it in order to make it even tastier and richer in protein and vitamin B12. The result is an affordable and nutritious food product that is at the same time much better for our planet compared to animal proteins.