Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

A monumental effort is required to tackle climate breakdown – it is time the media stepped up to the plate

In the Second World War, Britain’s media was a crucial part of the war effort to save the country from fascism. Now it must meet its responsibility to tackle the climate emergency

Donnachadh McCarthy
Tuesday 23 July 2019 18:50 BST
Extinction Rebellion protesters lie in road in attempt to block Fleet Street in London

The first of the Extinction Rebellion three demands calls on the government to declare a climate & ecological emergency and to work with the media to tell the public the truth of the depth of the crises. Despite the Paris Climate Agreement, carbon emissions continue to race towards 450ppm by 2030, a level that will tip us into civilisational collapse and potential extinction, according to David Attenborough and the secretary general of the UN.

Ian Dunlop, the former chair of the Australian Coal Board said in June that to have a 90 per cent chance of avoiding a 2C rise in temperatures, we needed to stop all carbon emissions immediately. Parallel to the climate emergency, we are losing nature at a horrific rate. Sixty per cent of all wildlife that was on the planet in 1970 has already been wiped out.

We have therefore set up a unit within Extinction Rebellion whose purpose is to constructively recruit the Fourth Estate as the fourth pillar of the climate movement, adding to the existing civil society, business and governmental areas of climate and ecological action. All too often the media promote and normalise high-carbon lifestyles, business activities and government actions. In addition, for far too long, too much of the UK’s print media has promoted non science-based climate scepticism.

Added to this, we recognise the difficulty in that much of their advertising revenue comes from promoting high-carbon aviation, beef, cruise-ship, automobile and oil corporations. This has resulted in a lethal culture of complacency in society, in the face of the unfolding disasters.

Our broadcast and newspaper owners & editors have an immense responsibility to help protect Britain and the wider world. By empowering the public with the necessary information, they can enable government, business and society take the unprecedented civilisation-deep changes necessary to avoid human and ecological extinction. It is thus crucial that we develop a media funding-mechanism not dependent on destroying civilisation. A tax on the social media corporations might be one way of funding a wider fossil-fuel free media.

As well as creating specific sections tackling climate & ecological breakdown, they must ensure that all editorial departments, are trained in the relevance of these issues to their areas of expertise, whether it is the financial, travel or leisure sections etc. They need to commit to only using 100 per cent recycled paper and being net zero carbon by 2025. Following Policy Exchange's “extremist” smear attempt on Extinction Rebellion’s amazingly peaceful style of protesting, we are calling on all the media to boycott all think tank reports that refuse to declare their donations, as they can be used anonymously to disempower peaceful earth-protection movements by high-carbon corporations.

Last week marked important progress in our media work. BBC3 on Wednesday evening broadcast a documentary following three young activists in the lead up to our spectacular Rebellion in April. Then on Thursday, following a massive XR action outside the BBC headquarters in December, a senior BBC management team met a delegation from Extinction Rebellion, where we set out the case for how they needed to fulfil their public service role in this existential emergency.

And finally, on Friday, we staged a moving Requiem for a Dead Planet peaceful action, outside the national headquarters of The Metro, the Daily Mail, The Evening Standard and of course The Independent, calling on them to declare a climate and ecological emergency and to act accordingly.

In the Second World War, Britain’s media were a crucial part of the war effort to save the country from fascism. Lord Stern, the former chief economist at the World Bank, has stated that the climate emergency is worse than the First and Second World Wars and the Great Recession combined!

It is therefore, with love and desperation, we are calling on the media to immediately step up to the plate and be in service to our kids and future generations by devoting a war-time scale effort to protecting Britain, humanity and the wider natural world.

Without their full backing, humanity literally might not make it. But we also know that if they acted collectively and adopted the role they brilliantly took on in the Second World War, literally no force could stop Britain delivering the Extinction Rebellion vision of a net zero carbon economy by 2025 and in doing so, show the world that we actually might have a chance.

Donnachadh McCarthy FRSA is the co-ordinator of Extinction Rebellion’s Media Tell the Truth Circle

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in