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August 05, 2019

Journalists of the world: the planet desperately needs you to raise the alarm

“Our house is on fire… I want you to panic.'' These were the words of Greta Thunberg at Davos in January this year. She was referring to the global heating of our atmosphere and oceans due to excessive emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, which is happening at a frightening rate. 

Our house is on fire and we face enormous challenges if we are to put it out before it’s too late. 

Here at Extinction Rebellion we demand the government tell the truth about the extent of the climate and ecological emergency. They aren’t doing this, and neither is the media that keeps us informed every day. 

The media has the power to be the alarm we all need to put out this fire. We look to them to alert us to the biggest issues facing us; what’s threatening us, what’s bad for us. We assume that if it’s on the news, it’s serious. And, worryingly, if it’s not on the news, then we assume it can be ignored. In saying so relatively little about the climate and ecological crisis, the media gives us permission to live within the bubble of denialism and sleepwalk faster towards self-destruction. 

So, what can be done to change this? The non-violent civil disobedience tactics central to Extinction Rebellion’s mission are a successful way to draw media attention to the “fire”. Eleven days of disruption in central London in April certainly shifted the public discourse on the environment. But the fire is still raging while the government changes effectively nothing and carries on with ‘business as usual’.  

At Extinction Rebellion, we are also engaging with UK media outlets more directly. A group of us within the movement felt motivated to form a separate team to actively put pressure on the media to help tackle the climate and ecological emergency. Earlier this month, some of the group met with a delegation of BBC executives for a positive discussion about coverage of the crisis. We have also staged two demonstrations outside national newspaper offices to highlight irresponsible coverage. We are urging them to take a number of steps to bring the climate crisis to the forefront of the public consciousness: to formally declare a climate and ecological emergency; to run climate/ecological emergency headlines, front page, above the fold, on all editions; to create dedicated Climate/Ecological Emergency columns/sections/programming; to commit to being net-zero carbon by 2025; to ban adverts that encourage high-carbon, high-consumption activities and promote corporations which fund fossil-fuel exploration and resource exploitation.

Things do seem to be taking a turn, but far too slowly. According to the UN, we now have less than twelve years to make radical changes or risk losing everything. We’re glad to learn that climate science training for editors, journalists, and presenters is being stepped up. However, the training must be extended to executives, commissioners, and all decision makers; otherwise, too much excellent material from sympathetic journalists who are trying to get their stories out there will continue to be rejected or kept off the headlines. 

Much more needs to be done. Extinction Rebellion are calling for the media to tell the whole truth about the dangers facing us - that there is an increasing possibility of near-term social collapse due to food supply-shocks from rising temperatures, droughts, and floods if we do not make radical changes now - and, crucially, that these changes be systemic and not simply personal lifestyle ones in order to avert the worst outcomes. 

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We understand it is difficult for everyone to face the truth of this emergency, including journalists. Facing the truth of the ecological crisis involves a distressing psychological journey consisting of profound grief and a serious reappraisal of priorities and values. It may take time for journalists and audiences to make the journey. But we are calling on everyone now to begin this journey with us, seeing as Extinction Rebellion isn’t just a social movement; it’s an emergency gathering of ordinary citizens from all walks of life who have come together to confront the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. We call on the media and the public to face this with us. All of us have a part to play in what’s to come as the ecological crisis deepens. 

So, to those in the media – we desperately need you to raise the alarm on the climate and ecological emergency. And it needs to be loud and ongoing - that means top headlines, front pages, every day, until we fully recognise the threat and are ready to take action.

Images: courtesy of Extinction Rebellion archives.