I ended up presenting a checklist: “Five things the media has to do in order to get on the right side of history”, rather than delay actions we know – without a doubt – to be absolutely necessary.
It listed five demands we should be making of, as yet, not-so-green media outlets.
Get rid of climate science denial!
This first point should perhaps be the most obvious, yet it isn’t. As a journalist, you are not obligated to pander to or debate climate deniers. You have the facts, they have conspiracy theories. You are right, they are wrong.
And yet, the day children all over the world went on a school strike to demand change for their future, Swedish public service decided to publish several climate science denying articles.
”We welcome every approach to this burning issue,” was public service television SVT’s reply when Dagens ETC questioned how this could possibly happen.
No, no, no.
There is a scientific truth.
What remains are people who deny, confound, and ultimately delay action.
Fires in California. A new coal mine in Australia. Swedish insurance companies report that last summer was so hot that furniture actually melted. Hawaii registers 415 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
There is a pattern in this cluster of news events. But it is rare, far too rare, for that pattern to be addressed in the media.
In October 2018, northern Sweden had record temperatures. Why?
”It just got really warm! That happens every now and then,” said one meteorologist on SVT.
There is a clear and documented trend.
The climate crisis increases the risk of extreme weather.
But if nothing is put into context… Well then, this is what happens.
Use language that describe our new reality!
Recently, The Guardian updated its style guide to ensure that the paper uses language that accurately describes the impending reality of the climate crisis, rather than simply “climate change”. At Dagens ETC, we took this to heart immediately. In opinion pieces as well as news articles, we’ve stopped using terms like “global warming”, replacing it in all cases with “global heating”.
Symbolic? I think not.
Any and all media outlets have an obligation to use relevant terminology in the face of an ongoing climate crisis. This is not a distant problem that our grandchildren will be able to handle with some new technological solution that they, incidentally, will also need to invent.
Holding on to outdated terminology does not offer a true representation of the reality we find ourselves in. It might, however, offer a false sense of security to those who would very much prefer the world to continue down the path it is on.
Focus on who is actually destroying our planet!
Media coverage of climate issues tends to focus on the individual, having you ask yourself whether you should stop flying or eating meat. But surely, the task of investigative journalism should be finding out why the aviation industry is consistently exempt from political interference and why it has spent decades refusing to invest in more sustainable fuels.
The current focus is individual rather than structural, and it means that something gets lost.
That thing is the real culprit. The actual perpetrator.
There is a reason why you might know approximately how big your own carbon footprint is, but not that 100 companies are responsible for 70 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions since the 80’s. Journalism has been passive in relation to these corporations as well as to the politicians that allow them to continue with impunity.
These first four demands forced me into my conclusion. I asked myself, why is it that journalism is so passive in relation to those who destroy the planet? How come media outlets struggle to put the interests of their readers, viewers, and listeners ahead of those of the fossil economy?
The final demand had to be:
Stop making money from fossil-fuel advertising!
Dagens ETC is a green newspaper. We prioritise the climate issue because it is more important than any other issue. We simply cannot publish advertisements for the fossil fuel industry. This is a decision we have had to grow into, and one which maybe we have taken too long to reach.
But effective immediately, Dagens ETC is removing all fossil-fuel advertising.
Our subscribers will never again see an ad for such goods or services in our paper.
We have to do this. Everyone at Dagens ETC – the owner, the board, the head of marketing, the journalists – are in agreement. A restrictive advertising policy means we take a financial hit, but I am also convinced that this will prove to be a wise decision in the long term.
This is in the interests of our subscribers, our reporters, our climate friendly advertisers and our credibility.
Imagine this text accompanied by an ad for, say, cheap flights to the Maldives. It is just not feasible.
Many other newspapers receive much more money from fossil-fuel advertisers than Dagens ETC does. I am humble to this. The media industry is extremely tough and it is difficult to survive.
But the climate crisis affects every single one of us. If a newspaper starts publishing daily updates on ppm of carbon dioxide or takes on specialized climate reporters, then that’s great.
But what does that mean if their journalism is drowned out by fossil-fuel ads? And how far can journalism go when it – as well as the owners’ dividends – is bankrolled by forces that have everything to gain from blocking a shift in public opinion?
I see no other option for Dagens ETC or, really, for any other media outlets.
It is a matter of credibility, and a conversation that needs to be had right now.