Why the climate crisis which is putting human civilisation itself at risk must remain front-page news
COMMENT | JULES KORTENHORST | In addressing climate change, “winning” slowly is the same as losing. We have only one chance to fix this problem before it becomes an existential threat, and the window for action is closing fast.
In addition to being time-sensitive, the climate challenge amplifies every other crisis we face, from the coronavirus pandemic to global inequality. Communicating its urgency in a clear, fact-based, and responsible manner thus has become crucial. Without hard-hitting, accurate, and compelling reporting and analysis of the problem, voters will not understand it, let alone demand solutions from the policymakers who can mobilise the resources needed to confront it.
Owing to the sheer complexity of the climate challenge, we need experienced, committed, and knowledgeable journalists covering all facets of the problem full-time. As an issue that will affect everything on the planet and all aspects of our own lives, climate change is not just some niche newsbeat. The transition to clean, carbon-neutral energy implies an overhaul of the entire global economy – a transformation that will affect how we work, consume, and care for our families.
Already, almost every important news story today must be understood within the context of the climate crisis, which is changing the rules of the game everywhere and for almost every area of life. The journalists best suited to cover the challenge thus will be “systems” thinkers, women and men who excel at drawing connections and then explaining them well. The task calls for a technological perspective, to trace the links between the electric grid, mobility, buildings, and industry, as well as an ecosystems perspective, to identify the links between extreme weather, crop failures, global supply chain disruptions, and financial risk.
Of course, many fine journalists already are covering the climate crisis. It is they who have spread public awareness of the issue and done the hard work of exposing the false and fraudulent arguments advanced by climate-change deniers and backed by the fossil-fuel industry. But there are still plenty of climate-related issues that warrant deeper coverage. When it comes to climate journalism, the more the better. As the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg says, everyone is needed, and everyone is welcome.
Established journalists who focus on other topics need to understand how their areas of expertise fit into the climate challenge. Veteran climate reporters need to support newer journalists, by “passing the mic,” as the climate journalist and activist Bill McKibben has done with his New Yorker column. And influential voices online – whether they are making videos on TikTok or building audiences through Substack or Clubhouse – need to use their platforms to spread the word.
Against this background, the launch of Canary Media (www.canarymedia.com), a new energy and climate media platform, comes right on time. Supported with seed funding from RMI, and featuring experienced journalists, Canary Media aims to be a leading independent newsroom at the forefront of the clean-energy transition.
In today’s media landscape, credible independent climate journalism is becoming more important by the day. The watchdog organisation Media Matters for America reports that corporate television coverage of climate change in the United States decreased by 53% in 2020. Clean energy, a sector that is expected to receive $11 trillion in investment by 2050, is still an informational void compared to other industries. Now more than ever, we need foundational public knowledge about clean energy – its business models, technologies, and the policy and regulatory issues it entails.
As awareness of the climate emergency continues to grow, support for climate journalism will need to grow with it. Without compelling and accessible coverage that reaches a broad global audience, the scale of the challenge – and of the opportunity it represents – will not be recognised in time, and the transformation we need will come too late. We need to cut our emissions by at least 50% by 2030 to hit net-zero targets by 2050. Failing that, we will need to start preparing for worst-case climate scenarios. Human civilisation itself will be at risk.
Business leaders who understand this are already moving toward the net-zero future, where they will secure a significant first-mover advantage. As a recent report from the World Economic Forum explains, fortunes will be made and lost according to who takes the climate challenge seriously.
We need more leaders to recognise the urgency of the crisis and the opportunities offered by the clean-energy transition. Effective climate journalism is an essential tool for building this understanding. The climate crisis is, and must remain, front-page news.
Jules Kortenhorst is CEO of RMI.
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2021.