“Climate change: Has journalism failed?”

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Courtesy: The Hindu

Politicians would not be able to make hard choices on an issue such as climate change, if the media fails to build public opinion on this extraordinarily important challenge facing the world, said Alan Rusbridger, former Editor-in-Chief of Guardian News and Media on Tuesday.

Climate change is an issue on which politicians find it difficult to make decisions and journalism has to step in with even a campaign to make people consider it, he said, delivering a lecture on “Climate change: Has journalism failed?” organised by The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy here.

Taking as an example his own decision in the last five months of his editorship of The Guardian to aggressively pursue climate change, Mr. Rusbridger said the newspaper launched a campaign to persuade investors in fossil fuel companies extracting resources such as oil and coal to “keep it in the ground.”

The media even in advanced countries such as the United States and the U.K. was either shrinking its coverage of climate change, or adopting a false sense of balance which did not bring out the horrific dimensions of the problem, more so for future generations.

The Guardian therefore chose to base its campaign to convince institutions such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to withdraw their investments in fossil fuel companies, on a set of assumptions: that man-made climate change was happening, a simple set of three numbers on the threshold of temperature rise that earth could survive and the buried reserve of carbon emissions, would drive home the message effectively.

The three critical campaign numbers framed by the activist Bill McKibben and used by The Guardian are: To stay under 2 degrees Celsius rise in earth’s temperature, only 565 gigatonnes (GT) of carbon dioxide can be emitted, but there is already 2,795 GT – fives times more – ready to burn.

Through its mixed campaign and reporting that utilised interactive graphics, videos and involved top poets and actors, its website got 6.1 million views and 4.9 million visitors. The newspaper was able to get 2,20,000 persons to sign a petition urging the two organisations to disinvest from the fossil fuel companies.

During a questions session that followed the lecture, agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan said a rise in average temperature of 2 to 4 degrees Celsius would lead to enormous crop losses, since the duration of cultivation would be shortened.

The lecture was attended among others by leading citizens, including CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat, former Madras High Court judge Prabha Sridevan, and advocate Sriram Panchu.

The Chairman, Kasturi and Sons, N. Ram, who introduced Mr. Rusbridger to the audience, said the lecture, which was the third organised on climate change by The Hindu Centre fo
r Politics and Public Policy brought up the question of journalism’s role in such serious global problems.

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