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Ignoring climate doomsday

The media has played a major role in dulling popular perception of the imminent, deadly dangers posed by climate change, says PAUL DONOVAN

THE LATEST dire warning about the threat posed by climate change came recently from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which told of how the world has 12 years to stop temperatures rising above 1.5 degrees.

The effects, if this happens, will be catastrophic, bringing more droughts, floods, wars, water shortages and thousands of environmental refugees.

The delay in taking action to confront climate change, will also see the cost rise inexorably.

Most would have expected this bombshell of a report to hit the headlines, well not in the British press. Three papers put the story on their front page, the Times only thought it worthy of mention on page 13, whilst the Daily Mail failed to report it at all.

The Evening Standard editorialised on the report, without actually reporting what it said.

The broadcast media was better, with the BBC and ITN giving it lead story billing on news bulletins, with much analysis throughout the day.

The non-reporting of the IPCC report is merely the latest example of how the British media has failed over the years to convey the real danger posed by climate change.

Terror threats or atrocity stories always get top billing. Not so much the natural events that usually result in far more death and devastation. Indeed, for a long time it seemed that there was a conscious effort to not link such natural catastrophes to climate change.

The BBC has been a particular offender in failing to report the true gravity of the climate change threat.

For many years in the name of balance, the BBC reported both sides of the story. So although 95 per cent of scientists were saying that climate change was happening and would have devastating consequences, unless addressed, the small minority, often backed by the fossil fuel industry lobby, who denied that narrative, were given equal billing.

The BBC were recently rebuked by Ofcom for breaching broadcasting guidelines in an interview on the Today programme with climate sceptic Nigel Lawson. In the interview, Lawson claimed “official figures” show that “during this past 10 years, if anything … average temperature has slightly declined.” The statement was later refuted by the Met Office. The Ofcom ruling stated:"Statements made about the science of climate change were not challenged sufficiently during this interview, which meant the programme was not duly accurate."

The BBC ties itself up in its delusional views of balance, but the simple truth of reporting is that, if it is raining outside, the reporter really needs to go out and get the facts, not report one person who says it is raining while someone else who says it isn’t.

The combined effect of this failure to report the true danger posed to humanity by climate change has been immensely damaging.

There have been many authoritative reports published over the years, but every time the danger has been played down with the constant caveat that there is another side — it may not be happening.

This has enabled politicians to put the issue on the back burner. Those like former Prime Minister David Cameron have sought to win green votes, with stunts like riding with huskies, only once in power to talk of “getting rid of the green crap.”

The issue has been one that can be dealt with when the economy can afford it. So, in the good times, measures to combat climate change can be undertaken. But in bad times, they must be dropped.

The media has helped produce the mood music for the self-delusion, thereby doing an immense disservice to humanity.

Time is of the essence on climate change, urgent action has been required for at least the past couple of decades, but the indolence encouraged by the media coverage has partly ensured that that action has not been taken.

The latest IPCC report’s dire warnings were intended in the main to get through to the politicians. The actions now required to deal with climate change require major decisions on switches to renewable energy and sustainable transport systems. In reality, we are probably talking about a complete change of economic model, if the planet is to be saved.

An economy not based on consumption and waste but preserving and reusing what we already have. A world where people need to drive and fly less and probably go vegetarian.

A world where fossil fuels stay in the ground. These are unpalatable truths for many industries, especially those involved with fossil fuel extractions, but they need to be faced and acted on by politicians in power today.

The media has a duty to report this often unpalatable reality to people across the world. The failure by many to even report the most recent IPCC report does not augur well. But going on failing to report the true nature of the climate change threat will be a huge dereliction of duty on the part of our profession if it continues.


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