The missing piece in the climate change puzzle: the media

Systemic stories

​Donnachadh McCarthy

01 May 2018

Donnachadh McCarthy attended our Future Stewards climate change Quest in Delhi in August 2017. He has launched a campaign for the global media to take the climate emergency more seriously.

Most of my fellow participants on the Future Stewards Quest in Delhi were focused on effecting change via the three key pillars of business, civil society and government. I argued that, while this work is vital, to make the urgent breakthroughs we need on climate change, we must engage the crucial missing fourth pillar: the global media.

Many media providers are not only failing to advocate for action on climate change, they are actively subverting the cause. For example, in 2016, Media Matters reported that the combined climate emergency output by the top four networks in the US, on nightly and Sunday news bulletins, totalled 43 minutes.

And on the opening Saturday of the COP23 meeting in Bonn, the Guardian (one of Britain’s leading newspapers on climate reporting) featured 37 pages of adverts and editorial promoting high-carbon lifestyles.

Mainstream media, and the associated advertising industries, have a profound influence on public opinion. If they advocated for climate issues, they could mobilise millions more people to take positive action – and pressure policymakers and businesses to do the same. This would provide a vital counter to lobbying by fossil fuel-related industries, which currently prevents too many climate initiatives from gathering momentum.

In Delhi, most of the other Future Stewards saw the importance of engaging the media as a key partner, but they are naturally preoccupied with their much-needed work in other areas. So, when I returned to London, I decided to launch the Climate Media Coalition.

Our goal is to incorporate global media as the key fourth pillar in the global strategy to reduce carbon emissions.

To achieve this objective, we are calling for the media, marketing, advertising and public affairs industries to:

1. Provide leadership in the transformation of society to a successful low-carbon economy.

2. Encourage debate on the best and fairest ways to urgently reduce carbon emissions at the levels of government, business and the individual.

3. Promote the need for an urgent switch to low-carbon living, rather than advertising high-carbon lifestyles.

4. Commit to their own operations becoming carbon-free within 10 years and to report annually on respective environmental performance.

5. Only cover climate-sceptic science that is peer reviewed and in proportion to its presence in peer-reviewed journals, i.e. about 5 per cent or less.

6. Adopt ethical fossil-fuel free advertising policies.

7. Adopt ethical editorial policies ruling out the promotion of fossil fuels.

8. Integrate the need for a renewable energy economy into financial affairs reporting.

As the founder of the cycling campaign group Stop Killing Cyclists, I have experienced first-hand the power of the media to help effect practical change. We staged ‘die-ins’ - holding vigils at spots where cyclists had been killed, where we lay on the ground with our bikes, which captured the attention of the media in London. This contributed to a groundswell of support for the installation of a network of cycle lanes across the city.

Our aim with the Climate Media Coalition is to mobilise a media climate movement on a global scale. If you would like to get involved, please get in touch:

Donnachadh McCarthy is a former Deputy Chair of the UK’s Liberal Democrat Party and has been an environmental campaigner since 1992, when an extraordinary twist of fate took him from working as a ballet dancer with the Royal Opera Ballet, to spending time with the Yanomami people in the heart of the Amazon, where he woke up to the destruction we are wreaking on the natural world. 

Photo credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen