Climate change is not a Jewish thing, or a Christian thing or a Buddhist thing, although the future of severe climate change impact events on Jews, Christians and Buddhists worldwide, in addition to Muslims and Shintoists and atheists is going to be telling. And who will tell the story? Jews? Christians? Buddhists? You?
Climate change and global warming issues should resonate with all of us, and Jewish reporters have often been on the front lines of climate reporting, including George Monbiot, Andrew Revkin and Joe Romm, among dozens of others in the English-speaking world. And at the New York Times’ recently reorganized Climate Desk under Alaska-born-and-raised Hannah Fairfield, veteran Times reporter John Schwartz covers national climate issues along with a team of top-notch journalists there.
Since global warming is a particularly vexing and complicated issue, it attracts reporters of all faiths unafraid to battle entrenched climate change deniers in many countries and those who populate the current Republican Party under the administration of American President Donald Trump.
Even New York Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. is getting into the act now.
Sulzberger is completely behind the new hires at the Climate Desk and is adamant that his newspaper will continue to focus on climate change, including more photo essays about rising sea levels impacting cities worldwide, and environmental rules, regulations and other policies rolled back during Trump’s first few months in office. In addition, a recent issue of the Times glossy Sunday Magazine was dedicated to the future of the Earth’s climate.
“This [climate] journalism [we do] is unrivaled in its sophistication and imagination,” Sulzberger wrote in a recent message to readers. “The support of our subscribers is what allows us to pursue such ambitious stories all over the globe.”
So who is Hannah Fairfield, the new climate maven at the Times? Her back story is interesting.
Born and raised in a rural Alaskan village named Fort Yukon, with a tiny population just 600 people, mostly Gwich’in Athabascans whose ancestors have lived in Alaska for over 10,000 years, Hannah spent the first 4 years of her life there and then moved with her missionary parents to the big city of Fairbanks to attend school, finishing high school in 1992.
Her father was an Episcopalian missionary priest, first in Fort Yukon and then in Fairbanks, a university town where the University of Alaska-Fairbanks is located. In Fort Yukon, her parents lived in the Episcopalian mission church house and offered what services the church could, including baptisms, weddings, burials and more. They were one of the few white families in the village and the children cherished their time there.
Think things like being in Fairbanks at 60 degrees below zero for three weeks in the winter of 1989! Think life in a subsistence village of rural Alaskans whose ancestors go back centuries! Think boat trips on the Yukon in the summer, fishing for salmon, and yes, eating salmon! Lox!
Fairfield’s parents went to Fort Yukon in the 1970s to minister to the indigenous Indians there and attend to their religious and community needs.
Hannah left Alaska when she was 18 to attend college in what Americans call ”the Lower 48” and graduated in 1996. Then it was on to Columbia University for two separate master’s degrees before landing her first job at the New York Times, as a graphic designer, a position she held for 17 years until she was selected inhouse for the Climate Desk gig.
So what does Alaska mean to this very well-placed climate journalist, Hannah Fairfield? And how has her experience growing up in a Christian missionary family in rural Alaska shaped her views on nature, God and global warming?
Although a happy and dedicated New Yorker now, and loving it, they say back in Alaska that once you live there you can never really let the place go in your heart and mind and soul — and in your view of the way the world works. Ask any Alaskan, past or present. It’s that kind of place. The Last Frontier.
I know this feeling because I lived in Alaska for 12 years in the 1970s and 1980s — mostly in Juneau but with two long winters in Nome as well — and although I left the state in 1991, I still keep Alaska close in mind and worldview and my experiences there in fact led me to find a home later on in the global community of cli-fi writers, dreamers and climate activists.
So with Hannah’s deep rural Alaska credentials, I am looking forward to a long and successful 10-year reign as climate maven for the New York Times. You don’t have to be Jewish to care deeply about the fate of the Earth. It’s an interfaith thing now.