A view from home – looking at climate media coverage from outside the climate bubble

A few weeks ago I returned to work as a Policy Adviser on Climate Change after 14 months out of action, having had my first child. While I was pretty strict about not working while I was off, I am too much of a climate geek to stay away completely and did avidly follow developments (or the lack of them) in the climate world via news and social media. (As an aside, who knew how critical smartphones and IPads could be in enabling new mothers to stay in touch with news and politics? A few years ago I would have been condemned to hours of rubbish daytime telly whilst feeding my son, and I felt profoundly grateful for the technology that allowed me to stay in touch and vaguely keep my brain moving.)

So here a few thoughts from me (in 3 parts) about where we are as a climate community from someone who has been, over the past year, an interested observer rather than an active participant. Let’s be honest, I may have got the wrong end of the stick on some stuff in which case, I’m sorry…

Climate change is off the radar for those outside the climate bubble

Somehow we have got to re-win the argument in the public sphere that climate change is unequivocally happening. I can’t believe we ever lost this one. The media is so schizophrenic about climate change now that it’s no wonder people don’t know what to think. And, having mixed with a range of people outside the climate and development world over the last year, I would say most people aren’t thinking about climate at all.

Given the enormous, overwhelming evidence of climate impacts and rock solid science I am amazed that some journalists are loath even to mention climate change. I am astounded to still hear sterile debates about whether climate change is happening; or reports treating it as a slightly ludicrous unproven theory. There are some excellent reporters (Richard Black you will be much missed) but overall, balanced reporting about the real issues –adaptation to inevitable impacts, financing a clean energy revolution and the need to stop propping up fossil fuel industries- is scarce and often found where only those on the left or policy geeks will find it.

Image

Two are unsure and one is sceptical
Credit:http://www.skepticalscience.com/graphics.php

I’ve seen a great report on climate impacts jammed up alongside a report on oil drilling that totally ignores climate change. I’ve heard scientists berated and treated with mild contempt. An NGO does a brilliant exposé on how climate sceptic think tanks are funded by fossil fuel industries and it gets a brief piece in the Guardian and online news wires and then disappears. So infuriating in the light of how long and sustained the damage around the leaked UEA emails was for climate science.

Its not just hostility, it’s also the fact that you just don’t hear or see much reported on climate change at all. When I was deep in the heart of the climate community I lived and breathed it, and information and articles were constantly circulating. Outside the email lists in the world of being a mum living near London there was just hardly anything getting through mainstream media – you honestly would not think we were facing the climate crisis of all climate crises where millions will die or be displaced, where economies will collapse and nothing will ever be the same again.

Believe me, the climate message is in no way getting through to the average person in the UK. We must act as a community to change this or our policy context will only deteriorate further.

At some point as a community we shut our ears to scepticism and bunkered down as if it would all go away, but it has only got worse. While many organisations (Greenpeace for one) have courageously and tirelessly worked to expose sceptics and deniers, I don’t think we have pulled together enough as a development and climate community to challenge the state of affairs.

I have often found it so hard and depressing that I have switched off the radio, not looked at vicious and rabid comments at the bottom of an article and avoided papers that don’t hold a pro-climate views. When actually I should be ringing the BBC every time they broadcast something anti-climate (because you can bet that deniers do every time something pro-climate is on). I should be taking a deep breath and bothering to comment on articles and blogs – not exhaustively and not getting into crazy tit-for-tat discussions, but at the least giving an indication that there is another view and standing with others who are courageous enough to engage already. Its time, for me at least, to face some of this stuff head on.

Next time I’ll post something on the UK political context for climate action…

Comments

  1. I’d like to defend the guardian up to a point their webpages have piles of stuff on them. There was a great article by Andrew Brown on his blog a few weeks ago. I’ve put a link to it on my blog. What is infuriating though is the same paper describes or has adverts for foreign holidays (involving air travel) ; and if I hear the word “eco-lodge” again….

    At the same time we have to accept we have failed to make the case for climate action and have to bring in peak oil which has an immediacy for western consumers that just isn’t there with climate change alone unfortunately.

  2. PS much to my amazement David Cameron did mention it at the UN.

  3. We in the christian community need to do more to get Climate Change further up the public agenda. COP 18 in Doha Qatar is coming up in a couple of months at the end of November but there is as yet nothing about it on the Environment/Climate Section of the Tearfund website so we should not be surprised if it is “off radar” for many in our churches and communities who do not make a specific effort to keep “up to speed” on climate issues – an equivalent time before Copenhagen it was on the front page of the website.
    I am disappointed that you single out Greenpeace for favourable mention – I for one consider that some of their recent actions eg the London Petrol Stations and blocking the road to Centrica should have no place in campaigning on Climate Change
    Tearfund are on the steering committee of Stop Climate Chaos and yet compared with Greenpeace there is very little from Tearfund in the news items.on the SCC website.
    Rather than lament what the media are not covering we need to be doing more to get the message out and to show that it can be done effectively without the use of the Direct Action to which Greenpeace increasingly seem to resort.

  4. Thank you for the comments. Neil, I do agree that the Guardian has some very good stuff, especially online, but it is generally found by Guardian readers, and keen people – therefore it has limited impact. And your points around peak oil are interesting – I’ll give more thought to that issue. Peter – I’ll take up your points regarding Tearfund’s campaigns area, and the SCC website with my colleagues in the campaigns team. I agree we all need to work hard to get climate up the agenda. We do have less focus on the international negotiations than previously – not because we think they are unimportant – far from it – but rather because they are currently gridlocked and we are working to try and change political conditions in capitals to unlock them again – it will be a long slog and I’ll post more on this is due course. Finally, my praise for Greenpeace was specificlly in relation to their work exposing the funding of climate sceptic think tanks and public figures and didn’t extend to other areas or direct action, which I think is a whole other area of debate. I’ll be posting more thoughts on other areas in due course…

Trackbacks

  1. […] a coda to my piece on my frustrations with climate change media coverage  I was as good as my word and complained to […]

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