By George Monbiot in The Guardian
We have a fairly good idea of what certain politicians are attempting at the climate conference in Glasgow: to make a series of grand announcements, then convince us they have saved the planet. Words are politically cheap, actions are expensive. Confronting fossil fuel producers and other legacy industries invites a world of trouble. It offends the political instincts of most of those in power today, too many of whom owe their power to support from dirty business. Assuaging a bamboozled public, by contrast, comes naturally.
The role of journalists should be to stop them getting away with it. We should detect the failures, expose the corruption, unmask the deceptions. These duties, always vital, have never been more urgent. The possible collapse of our life support systems is the greatest crisis humanity has ever faced. If this threat were to materialise, it would render all other political issues – and for that matter, all other human ambitions, hopes, fears, dreams and nightmares – irrelevant.
Until recently, this prospect seemed ridiculous. The idea that Earth systems could tip into a state that renders most of the planet uninhabitable seemed like science fiction. But the more we understand about complex systems, and the counterintuitive ways in which they behave, the more plausible it appears. As governments keep failing to act in ways commensurate with the scale of the threat, it begins to seem more likely than not that this unimaginable catastrophe will occur.
You might have hoped that such a prospect would dominate the public conversation everywhere. It’s true that, in the weeks approaching the summit, some of the media have begun to ramp up their environmental coverage. But it’s a fair bet that as soon as the delegates have gone home, they’ll revert to their customary mixture of indifference, minimisation and denial.
The Guardian is the UK’s only major media outlet that has consistently given a platform to people challenging business as usual: the economic and political systems pushing the planet towards disaster.For several years, following a wave of sackings at other newspapers, I was the UK’s only remaining environmental columnist. Things have improved a little more recently, but the most important story of all is still pushed to the periphery. Even during the disasters that hint at what might be coming – the heat domes and droughts in North America this year, the fires in Siberia and around the Mediterranean, the catastrophic floods in West Africa, China and northern Europe – most of the news media merely glanced up for a moment before returning to their core business: the court gossip that passes for political journalism.
If I sound angry about my sector, it’s because I am. Across my 36 years in journalism, I’ve seen opportunities to avert this existential crisis slipping through our fingers like sand. If you were to ask me which industry has done more to frustrate environmental action – fossil fuels or the media – I would say the media. Without the social licence granted to them by media companies, fossil fuel corporations and other destructive industries would not have been able to fend off demands for change. Governments would have been forced to act.
So time is now short. We need to do in ten years what we could have done in 40. We need massive popular movements pressing reluctant governments to treat this existential crisis with the urgency it deserves. And nothing will change unless we know what is happening and understand what we face.
The Guardian will not allow the threat to the living planet to fade from public life. It will keep building on its team of uniquely experienced environmental journalists, to explain the issues, expose the vandals trashing our home, disperse the smokescreens behind which governments hide, and lay out a vision of a better world.
With your help, we will hold governments to account, while equipping you with the facts and arguments you need to navigate this great crisis. We will continue to bring you urgent, independent climate journalism that’s open for everyone, so millions more can benefit.
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PICTURE CAPTION: Rainbow Warrior passing Dumbarton Rock this week. Picture by Tom Gardiner