Spotlight: Lou del Bello

Lou is an environment and climate change journalist based in Delhi. Before moving to India, she worked in Italy, UK and Kenya, focusing on the impacts of climate change on the natural world, human society and the economy. Her writing has appeared on Nature News, New Scientist, BBC Future, Undark, Bloomberg environment and more. She runs the independent newsletter Lights On, on climate and energy in India.
Find her on Twitter.

We spoke with Lou about her experience on reporting on energy/pollution.

Tell us a little bit about your journey as a science journalist. What has been inspiring? What are some challenges?

I started my journey as a junior environmental journalist in Italy, scouting my region for under-covered stories, with a small cassette recorder to tape my interviews (that’s how long ago that was!). During that time I met some of the quirkiest and most interesting characters of my entire career. Hearing their stories sparked my curiosity and love for the profession. I’ve never thought of myself as an adventurous type, but looking back I realise how sticking to journalism, even when the challenges seemed insurmountable, led me on a life of adventure, spanning many countries and countless stories.

Moving to your new newsletter- Lights On. What was the motivation behind that? 

When I moved to the UK to study science journalism, in 2012, my focus shifted from environment to science, and later to the intersection between science and development issues. While a lot of science journalism is all about reporting some interesting findings from a paper, I have always been passionate about how science and environment intersect with policy and society, because that’s what ultimately makes these ideas matter in real life.

Lights On was born with this idea in mind – exploring how climate change and energy transition interact with the South Asian society and have an influence on global policies too. A key tenet of my work with the newsletter is to help decolonise the climate change narrative, which at the moment is pretty much focused on what happens in the West or on how the West sees the developing world. International media have bureaus all over India but not a single climate journalist – it’s time to challenge this stale canon and put South Asian voices at the forefront.

In your interactions, you probably deal with a range of stakeholders including academics and advocacy groups. How can the scientists/activists interact meaningfully with journalists to facilitate better reporting and awareness among the public?

The way a source chooses to engage with the media in a meaningful way can make or break any story. In my work with Lights On, I often rely on senior sources who want to stay anonymous to get a better understanding of an issue – but the majority of interviews will put a name to the voice. This means it’s also in the expert’s interest to be able to convey the message with clarity. My advice is to always try and avoid (or explain) any technical terms or jargon and be patient with a journalist that may ask the same question several times, they are just trying to understand. More importantly, keep your message relatable: use plenty of examples that connect one way or another with people’s everyday lives, show why your subject matters.

In the context of COVID-19, there have been calls for building back better and energy policy is likely to play an important role. What are the key trends/indicators you are following closely?

The COVID-19 crisis was compounded by a diplomatic fallout after the military standoff at the border with China. This is already having impacts on the clean energy sector. The situation will affect how India plans its green recovery while at the same time weaning itself off of its dependence on Chinese components, which at the moment underpin much of the solar industry in the country. Whether the government will enable manufacturers to ramp up the production of solar modules while keeping prices as low as they are today is one important process to watch.The government has also recently put 41 coal mines up for auction, hoping that private businesses will help save Indian coal, which is currently in crisis. The outcome of this move will carry a lot of weight on India’s energy transition efforts.

Any words of wisdom for up and coming journalists?

Journalism is a challenging path, and most of the time not a lucrative one. We all start out wanting to make a difference – so my advice is always to remember this when things get tough. One challenge that I personally and many of my peers have struggled with at some point is a lack of self confidence, and comparing ourselves to others that we see as more accomplished: the media bubble can be very vain and hostile. My suggestion is to spare yourself the heartache. Just do your best work every day and make yourself proud, everyone’s path is different and only if you are confident and happy with yourself will you eventually get where you want to be.

Check out Lou’s work on electric vehicles, tree plantation and air pollution.

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