Talking to Ostriches
Updated: Apr 30, 2021
If you are short of evidence that we are no longer buying newspapers to get the real news, take a look at this morning’s front pages in the UK. If you are short of evidence that newspapers have become entertainment not journalism, take a look at today’s headlines. Clearly newspaper journalists, at least, know that they won’t sell what they write if they focus on serious matters like climate change up front. If you need convincing that when we sit down for a cup of tea and a read of the paper, we would rather think about anything, absolutely anything, rather than the big issues that really face us as a society, have a look at today’s UK newspaper headlines.
Yesterday was Earth Day - a big day for the environment. After four years of Trump’s denial, Joe Biden, the new President of the United States, committed his country to halving US emissions by 2030. This made a big headline in only one UK paper this morning –it was the Metro. ‘The planet’s had enough hot air, IT’S TIME TO STEP UP’, it thundered. There were headlines in a couple of other papers but the rest of them focused on stories about the treacherous Dominic Cummings and his text-leaking, little Prince Louis’ third birthday, the ubiquitous David Cameron lobbying scandal and (vain?) hopes that we can all go to Spain on holiday. You could be forgiven for thinking that yesterday everything in the environmental garden was lovely – except for a few pesky greenhouse gases.
I was always taught as a journalist that the most widely-read news stories are those that affect people the most closely. So – a murder in my street or my town or my country is more newsworthy than one in Tanzania. Stories about climate change seem to be the perfect illustration of this rule – so why aren’t they on the UK front pages? Somehow, it’s still ‘out there’ rather than ‘in here’. Somehow we are dismissing the increasing numbers of floods and heatwaves here. To my knowledge, there have been no deaths of climate activists in the UK as there have in Latin America, Africa and the Philippines. Here, we are still quietly imprisoning climate activists and taking other measures to silence them or portray them as extremists.
Communicating with ostriches is always a tricky challenge! For the environmentalists, which needs to be all of us, there are complex challenges. How can we help people who are already tired and struggling in these pandemic times to do three things: first to believe that this is a genuine challenge, secondly, not to get overwhelmed or tired by the complexity of what faces us, thirdly to recognise without panicking that everyone of us can and must do something to work on the challenge.
Friends of the Earth are doing their best to make it easy for us. I am working my way through their 8 lazy ways to help the environment. If, like me, you get overwhelmed by the statistics and the complex science, I commend at least a look at some of their suggestions. They’re as easy to read as a tabloid newspaper – and much more environmentally friendly than the British press.