The Lookout Station has provided support to The Guardian for a story about the new rivers that suddenly appeared in Argentina, due to deforestation, soybean fields and climate change.
The Lookout Station provides support for the media houses to produce stories that focuses on climate change and forestry, using new storytelling techniques and formats. The story on the new rivers in Argentina with The Guardian is our second effort in the series, followed by the first one on wildfires in Portugal with Euronews.
The story focuses on a new watercourse that emerged as the consequence of the loss of forests due to climate change and new agricultural developments in the area. The Guardian developed a drone video to potrait the devastation and impacts on the local communities living in San Luis, in particular the town of Villa Mercedes in Argentina. The story was published on its print edition in the US on 1 April 2018 and the online edition on the same day, which can be accessed here.
The story was discovered through the film that the local scientists had produced in 2016 to voice their 'warning'. One of the scientists who have led and directed the film is Esteban Gabriel Jobbágy from the Institute of the Applied Mathematics in San Luis (IMASL). We've asked a few questions to understand how their communications efforts have influenced the local government and the community as well as his vision towards the importance of communicating science.
The local scientists joined forces to produce a film to explain the new river that appeared in San Luis with scientific insights.
You have produced this compelling visual story about the new river that emerged in San Luis, Argentina. Why do you think communicating scientific point of view is important?
As a systematic way of explaining our world, science can help make sense of surprising natural phenomena like the formation of new rivers in San Luis. These explanations, which are always provisional and subject to improvement, help society take the best possible decisions. But this can only happen if we communicate science in a clear and compelling way and we admit its limitations.
How did the governments, researchers and local communities react to your film when that was published?
The documentary had an impact that went beyond our expectations. The local community start caring about the problem and had a better understanding of its causes and associated risks. With this picture, pressure on the government to find solutions was stronger and more clearly focused. Government realized that science could help, and ask researchers for it. Researchers are now more engaged with the problem, not only as a valuable curiosity but as real and urgent problem as well.
What do you think is the mission for the scientists in the 21st century?
Scientist can step back (at least a little bit more than the rest of the society) from conflictive issues and look at them through multiple, and in some cases very sophisticated lenses applying logical reasoning. This allows us to see what alternative options are out there and anticipate what consequences they may have. By communicating this to governments and the general public, targeting both and not just one, we help society take the more intelligent and fair decisions.
As an Agronomist and Ecologist, Esteban Gabriel Jobbágy has always focused his research on managed ecosystems and the trade-offs between increasing their productivity and protecting their natural attributes. After his PhD in Duke University, he moved back to Argentina and established a team dedicated to understand the interface between Hydrology, Ecosystems and Agriculture. Based in San Luis, on the dry edge of the Pampas, his team is providing new insight on deforestation and agricultural expansion trends in South America, its impact on soils and water resources and their remediation and management options. Esteban has published more than 150 articles in international journals and is the chief editor of Ecologia Austral, the main journal of the field in Spanish.