We are still not taking the climate crisis seriously – and the media must take responsibility

Part of the reason we have been so slow to get on top of it all has been the level of misinformation and deliberate obscuring of the issues

Mike Berners-Lee@MikeBernersLee
Tuesday 09 February 2021 15:54
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<p>‘The real question is: what will it take for humans to solve these challenges, which are technically within our reach?’</p>

‘The real question is: what will it take for humans to solve these challenges, which are technically within our reach?’

On this first day of Independent Climate, I want to stand back and have a look at the situation we are in and see what this tells us about what we most need from our media to help us navigate our way.

I hope there is something in here for the editors to chew on – and perhaps something for us all to judge this new venture by, as it gets established.

The first thing to say is that despite decades of crystal clear messages from science that climate change – the climate crisis – is a huge deal, global emissions continue to rise just about exactly as if humans had never noticed there might be a problem (with the exception of the Covid-19 crisis).

This tells us we need fresh new approaches. We need something with dynamism and energy that most humans haven’t usually had – so far – when we’ve talked about climate. We need Independent Climate to be incredibly fresh and irresistibly engaging.

Part of the reason we have been so slow to get on top of it all has been the level of misinformation and deliberate obscuring of the issues.

We are in the middle of a multifaceted ecological crisis – and to stand a chance of navigating our way through it, we need the clearest view of what is really going on that we can possibly get.

From the media, we need absolute dedication to the truth, however convenient or otherwise. And we need media that can make it seriously embarrassing for any business of politician that misleads.

I don’t just mean calling out lies. I mean loudly calling out anyone who, in any way, tries to create inaccurate impressions of what is going on.

We need media we can trust, and which upholds that standards of truthfulness that have recently been so badly eroded on both sides of the Atlantic.

One of the great frustrations of most news, most of the time, is the way climate and environment get covered as a “standalone” issue.

I have wanted to scream at the radio or TV so many times, hearing how the climate crisis is covered in one breath – followed by a piece on airport expansion, at which point climate is seemingly forgotten.

I’ve seen the same partitioning in company CSR departments, which appear to operate in isolation from corporate strategy. Asset managers offer an ethical fund – allowing ethics to be absent from the main portfolio.

And it is all too easy for all of us, at the shops, to be turning off our environmental radar whenever it really matters – or becomes inconvenient.

The climate emergency is just one of the many environmental challenges we face as a consequence of having become such a powerful species – without having yet developed the wisdom and stewardship capabilities to go alongside our technical genius. And it doesn’t work to deal with it in isolation.

So, while this new venture is called Independent Climate, we need that to be shorthand for “Independent Everything That Matters About The Planet”.

If we stand back a bit further to look at the situation humans find themselves in right now, we notice that the technical solutions to climate, biodiversity, pollution, heading off disease threats, meeting our energy needs, feeding the world – and all the other interlinked environmental threats we face – all more or less already exist.

I don’t want to underplay the challenges of implementing them, but it is clear the technology is not the bottle-neck on the transition to a sustainable world.

The real question is: what will it take for humans to solve these challenges, which are technically within our reach?

The answers lead, inescapably, to deep questions about our economics, our politics, how we run society, how we educate, how we go about solving problems, how we think – and even whether the core values we are operating from can allow humans to thrive on this one, beautiful, small planet.

Climate relates to everything we think, say and do. So we need Independent Climate to reach into every corner of our lives.

Finally, I hope Independent Climate will strike the right balance of fear and opportunity; one that genuinely reflects the truly stark catastrophe we are careering towards, as well as the opportunity that we probably still have to live better than ever – if we can achieve the huge systemic rewiring that humanity so urgently needs. 

Good luck, Independent Climate. We need you to be the best!

Mike Berners-Lee is an author, environmental consultant and a professor at Lancaster University.

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