Debate: Is journalism growing or killing the Green Movement?


We’re in the midst of a climate crisis, however, if you only follow mainstream news you might not have noticed this.

This blog believes that the environment is not being debated fairly in the media, and the most circulated papers in the UK are not addressing the issue adequately. Its only really the left leaning press, primarily The Guardian and The Independent, that see the environment as a high priority issue. The BBC are one of the big sinners, which is disappointing considering that one would expect good and honest journalism from them. An example of this is that despite having a Science Correspondent in the Arctic when the low level sea ice was recently announced, they have more or less become silent on the issue of climate change. Additionally, shockingly their Environment Editor, Richard Black, is leaving the organisation and a decision has been taken not to replace him.

A panel discussion event, organized by Greenpeace’s blog Energydesk and held at the Frontline Club in Paddington last week, discussed whether ‘our journalism is up to the debate on energy and climate change’. The discussion was chaired by Guardian Editor, Alan Rusbridger, and the experienced panel included: Dr Alice Bell of Imperial College; Angus McCrone, Chief Editor of Bloomberg New Energy Finance; Ben Webster, Media Editor of The Times; David Kennedy, Chief Executive of the Committee on Climate Change; Tom Burke CBE, environmental campaigner and founder of E3G. The following views were expressed:

Dr. Bell felt that we needed to respect scientists a great deal more and should point the finger more at journalists on this issue. She cited Leo Hickman’s live blog ‘The Eco Audit’ on the Guardian, as an example of good environmental journalism and something she would like to see more of.

Angus McCrone, said that his agency Bloomberg featured a lot of coverage on how renewables such as wind, solar and biofuels, are faring and added that readers and organisations payed a lot of money to access that information (Bloomberg is a subscription site). He did agree with the view that the people who paid attention to the information however often did so because they wanted to make money out of the data, not necessarily because they cared about climate change itself.

Ben Webster when challenged about the issue of The Times’ coverage of climate change, quickly made the excuse that environment stories simply weren’t sexy enough and did not sell enough papers, and went further to say that this wasn’t the fault of the media but an issue with the Green Movement needing to reinvent the way it talked about the issues.

David Kennedy pointed out the fact that the UK are legally committed to an 80% CO2 emission reduction by 2050, and we ought to have a responsible debate about that commitment in the media.

Tom Burke did not think the media was a ‘broken filter’ but is a mirror to society. He added that now that the environment is ‘mainstream’, he feels the Green Movement is failing to capitalise on the opportunities this provides.

Though I can’t disagree with the fact that the Green Movement itself is largely to blame for it’s own failure to grow more, my response to Ben’s claim that environmental stories are not sexy enough would be that it is up to journalists themselves to make their stories appealing and interesting to their readers and find their trigger point – climate change offers plenty of opportunities for this.

However I agree with Alice that there is not enough respect in journalism for the expertise of scientists. Many Daily Mail columnists seem to believe they know a lot more about climate science that scientists who specialise in the field.

I also agree with David, when he says that we need an accurate and honest debate about the fact that the UK has committed to certain climate targets, and the debate should center around HOW we reach those goals and not whether we should be attempting to reach them.

Additionally, I would also state that because the UK media’s coverage of environmental issues has been so poor, this has hindered the growth of the Green Movement in the UK. A recent report by the Guardian concluded that climate scepticism is covered more in the UK and US media than other countries. The paper with one of the largest circulations in the UK, the Daily Mail, currently adopts the view that it does not believe in the science behind man made climate change. This has resulted in a series of articles discrediting climate science. At this point it’s important to point out that the majority of the world’s scientists, more precisely 98%, are currently saying that climate change IS happening and that it IS man made. If you follow Carbon Brief, an organization that fact checks the accuracy of the media’s reporting of climate change, you would notice that the Daily Mail is constantly in the firing line. However if you don’t, unless you read other news sources that contradict the Mail’s facts, you would not know that they’re not reporting accurately on climate change. Based on the Daily Mail’s large circulation therefore, a lot of people are being fed incorrect information on climate change. Surely, this paper should be held accountable for writing outright lies?

Another example of poor reporting on climate change in the UK comes in the form of the BBC, again, not because I’m on a witch hunt against them but because I’m convinced that if they were to report honestly on this issue others would follow. To give an example, the UK recently underwent a month of extreme rainfall resulting in flooding and the displacement of a large number of families with huge financial implications. The BBC failed to make a link between this extreme weather and climate change, despite the fact that scientists are increasingly convinced that climate change is driving extreme weather. And just this week, they reported on the high rise of food prices due to extreme weather, both in the US and in Europe, and again failed to mention the magic word.

As the media continue to drive their number one headline – the financial crisis – they’re failing to tell us about a current economic success story – the green economy – which continues to expand and create jobs despite lacking proper backing by the government.

The media should concentrate on the urgency of our climate crisis and its consequences, and highlight what simple actions people can take. For instance, these could include how it could financially help people to become energy independent by installing solar panels or other micro renewables, or investing in energy efficiency such as insulation. They could also point out that the reason for our increasing energy bills is not due to other investments in renewable energy, as some media sources are claiming, but the greed of our energy companies.

If we were to receive honest reporting on both the science of and solutions to climate change, then that might actually spark a green revolution in this country.

What do you think? Get involved in the debate – either comment below, tweet me at alorenzen, comment on our Facebook page or email: agreenerlifeagreenerworld@gmail.com

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