by Erin Schutte
I spent last week in Copenhagen, Denmark at the Bella Center as world leaders made an attempt at coming to an agreement on climate change. Each day, eight Yale undergraduates and I excitedly joined the masses of people and wore our COP15 badges printed with our name, photo, “YSEC” (the Yale group that we were affiliated with), and a very clear “NGO” across the bottom (the status of the Yale Delegation). As an official COP15 observer inside the Bella Center, I rubbed shoulders with thousands of diplomats and journalists as the world watched on in curiosity about the evolving issue of climate change. I was quite skeptical about the way the hoards of media would portray this politically and scientifically challenging issue to the public back home, but my expectations were exceeded as I saw extraordinary efforts by the press to urgently and clearly convey the difficult matter to people who might not have understood before.
Anyone who has watched the news lately knows that COP15 made news headlines comparable to those of the Olympics, War on Terror, or elections in Iran. This was due to the magnitude of accredited press from all over the world inside the Bella Center—by November 30, the UN had already received over five thousand press requests and then suspended registration after that point. It was hard to miss the frenzy of cameramen, broadcasters, and reporters rushing to and from events, trying to capture any shot, quote, or footage they possibly could. Every minute there would be uproar of voices, flashes of cameras, and an entourage of delegates, mostly likely a president or minister leading the way through the main hall of the center. It was like paparazzi on the red carpet at the Oscars.
I was amidst the mob of press awaiting Al Gore’s exit after he gave a speech in the conference center, and it was a vicious scenario as distinguished publications and news stations elbowed their way towards the front of the pack and encompassed Gore in hopes of hearing any comments he would make. Some figureheads attempted to avoid this situation with the press, but I was surprised by how many leaders were open to giving updates about progress in negotiations, as well as general perspectives about the future of our world.
These politicians, diplomats, and scientists realize that the press is the important link between their actions at the conference and their constituencies. Without journalists and broadcasters reporting from Copenhagen, public knowledge would be at a minimum, and any actions taken would have no sway on population. Climate change is a complex issue for scientists and politicians to understand, let alone the average citizen. Yet the press is responsible for raising the awareness and knowledge about climate change. In my opinion, the media gave an accurate representation of the missions, challenges, and outcomes of the conference, and as a result it brought climate change to the forefront of discussion and debate at the local level. Some of my favorite coverage of the conference came from The Economist and Brian Walsh of Time Magazine.
I believe that the thorough coverage by the press of this conference will be the biggest contributor to how the outcome of the conference will be interpreted. The pushing and shoving amongst reporters to cover every aspect of the conference directly results in more informed constituencies, which in turn creates a stronger call for action in small communities as well as at a national level.
Erin Schutte is a sophomore Political Science and Modern Middle East Studies double major.