Yesterday I joined ten thousand people to march against climate change on the Global Day of Action. The march was one of hundreds of protests happening all over the world.
It’s always hard to know whether or not marching has any effect. People who think it doesn’t make a difference often point out that a million people marched against the Iraq War and were ignored. All I can say about that is that the Government at the time also chose to ignore the Pope, the United Nations, the Archbishop of Canterbury and most of the population of continental Europe, so at least the marchers were in good company.
Now governments around the world are ignoring the millions of people around the world who want to see real action on climate change. Of course, they couldn’t ignore us so easily without the enthusiastic help of many mainstream media outlets. Otherwise, how could the message of overwhelming scientific consensus on an urgent problem have become diluted into a “debate”?
Mainstream newspapers like the Times and the Telegraph are happy to give space to the idea that there is still substantial doubt on the reality of climate change. Meanwhile, Channel 4 gives airtime to geocaust deniers like Martin Durkin.
Ofcom ruled that Channel 4's decision to broadcast The Great Global Warming Swindle, a factually inaccurate programme denying the reality of climate change, was not harmful to the public. Why? Because "the discussion about the causes of global warming was to a very great extent settled by the date of broadcast". In other words, the documentary couldn't mislead the public because the public should have already made up its mind that anthropogenic climate change is a reality and would therefore be well placed to discount the fake documentary's wrongheaded claims. So, in a bitter irony, the programme's wild inaccuracy was reason in itself to clear the broadcaster of wrongdoing. (This didn't stop the Telegraph giving Durkin space to respond to his many critics.)
But things are slowly beginning to change. Yesterday's march was at least reported by some of the mainstream media, including the BBC and the Times. Most reports seem to have made the link between the London march and the talks in Poland, although the tendency was to ignore the other protests happening around the world at the same time. In Bangladesh, thousands of protestors broke their country's anti-protest laws to speak out about climate change; in Poland, Greenpeace activists climbed a 150-metre-high smokestack to protest against coal before pitching a protest camp outside the talks in Poznan. I've given just two examples, but protests happened in more than seventy countries.
It's a shame that British media didn't join the dots between all the separate protests, but at least they sent reporters to cover the London event... right? Well, perhaps not all of them. It's clear that Simon Alford of the Times didn't actually brave the cold for the whole event, or he would have known that Michael Meacher cancelled at the last minute and wouldn't have inaccurately reported that Mr Meacher gave a speech; but I have to praise him for fighting through the crowd of reporters surrounding "student Jon Roberts, 26", who was obviously a very busy man that day. It's heartwarming that so many reporters took the time to talk to Mr Roberts when they could have stayed in a warm office cutting and pasting a press release.
Sarcasm aside, it's clear that the mainstream media is still failing us on climate change. When it comes to drumming up doubt over the reality of climate change, newspapers and television have often summoned the ingenuity to turn overwhelming consensus into "debate", looking far and wide for any respectable-sounding figure who can feign doubt. But when it comes to reporting the global opposition to the current lack of effective action, suddenly the media isn't prepared to look beyond London for the story and isn't prepared to do any more "reporting" than Ctrl-X, Ctrl-V.
The mainstream media could have played a valuable role in speaking unpopular truths and drawing attention to an urgent problem; but in most cases, newspapers and television followed popular awareness of climate change rather than creating it. As concerned citizens, we can't rely on the mainstream media to tell us the things we need to hear. We can only hope that people working in one of the most competitive industries on earth will be willing to cut and paste what we push under their noses.