Climate change: why The Guardian is putting threat to Earth front and centre
Journalism tends to be a rear-view mirror. We prefer to deal with what has happened, not
what lies ahead. We favour what is exceptional and in full view over what is ordinary and
Famously, as a tribe, we are more interested in the man who bites a dog than the other
way round. But even when a dog does plant its teeth in a man, there is at least something
new to report, even if it is not very remarkable or important.
There may be other extraordinary and significant things happening - but they may be oc-
curring too slowly or invisibly for the impatient tick-tock of the newsroom ot to snatch
the attention of a harassed reader on the way to work.
What is even more complex: there may be things that have yet to happen - stuff that can-
not even be described as news on the grounds that news is stuff that has already hap-
pened. If it is not yet news - if it is in the realm of prediction, speculation and uncertainty
- it is difficult for a news editor to cope with. […]
For these, and other reasons changes to the Earth's climate rarely make it to the top of the
news list. The changes may be happening too fast for human comfort, but they happen
too slowly for the newsmakers - and, to be fair, for most readers.
These events that have yet to materialise may dwarf anything journalists have had to cov-
er over the past troubled century. There may be untold catastrophes, famines, floods,
droughts, wars, migrations and sufferings just around the corner. But that is futurology,
not news, so it is not going to force itself on any front page any time soon.
Even when the overwhelming majority of scientists wave a big red flag in the air, they
tend to be ignored. Is this new warning too similar to the last? Is it all too frightening to
contemplate? Is a collective shrug of fatalism the only rational response?
The climate threat features very prominently on the home page of The Guardian on Fri-
day even though nothing exceptional happened on this day. It will be there again next
week and the week after. Yow will, I hope, be reading a lot about our climate over the
One reason for this is personal. This summer I am stepping down after 20 years of editing
The Guardian. Over Christmas I tried to anticipate whether I would have any regrets
once I no longer had the leadership of this extraordinary agent of reporting, argument, in-
vestigation, questioning and advocacy.
Very few regrets, I thought, except this one: that we had not done justice to this huge,
overshadowing, overwhelming issue of how climate change will probably, within the
lifetime of our children, cause untold havoc and stress to our species.
So, in the time left to me as editor, I thought i would try to harness The Guardian's best
resources to describe what is happening and what - if we do nothing - is almost certain
to occur, a future that one distinguished scientist has termed as "incompatible with any
reasonable characterisation of an organised, equitable and civilised global community".
It is not that The Guardian has not ploughed considerable time, effort, knowledge, talent
and money into reporting this story over many years. Four million unique visitors a
month now come to The Guardian for our environmental coverage - provided, at its
peak, by a team including seven environmental correspondents and editors as well a
team of 28 external specialists.
They, along with our science team, have done a wonderful job of writing about the changes
to our atmosphere, oceans, ice caps, forests, food, coral reefs and species.
For the purpose of our coming coverage, we will assume that the scientific consensus
about man-made climate change and its likely effects is overwhelming. We will leave the
sceptics and deniers to waste their time challenging the science. The mainstream argu-
ment has moved on to the politics and economics.
The coming debate is about two things: what governments can do to attempt to regulate,
or otherwise stave off, the now predictably terrifying consequences of global warming
beyond 2 °C by the end of the century. And how we can prevent the states and corpora-
tions which own the planet's remaining reserves of coal, gas and oil from ever being al-
lowed to dig most of it up. We need to keep them in the ground. […]
This was the starting point for the group of journalists who met early in January to start
considering how we would cover the issue. […]
In addition to words, images and films, we will be podcasting the series as we go along,
to give some insight and transparency about our reporting and how we are framing and
We begin on Friday and on Monday with two extracts from the introduction to Naomi
Klein's recent book, This Changes Everything. This has been chosen because it combines
sweep$^1$, science, politics, economics, urgency and humanity. Antony Gormley, who has
taken a deep interest in the climate threat, has contributed two artworks from his collec-
tion that have been exhibited before - the first of many artists with whom we hope to
collaborate over coming weeks.
Where does this leave you? I hope not feeling impotent and fearful. […]
Please read what we write. Real change can only follow from citizens informing them-
selves and applying pressure. […]
1sweep: here: wide-ranging treatment of a topic
Adapted from: Alan Rusbridger: Climate change: why The Guardian is putting threat to Earth front and centre,
In: The Guardian