Monthly Archives: January 2019

The Climate Crisis and the Role of the BBC

By Fred Miller

One of the reasons we are in the climate emergency, is that people are not being informed about the seriousness of climate change: the level of threat it poses, the policies causing it, and the policies needed to reverse it.

As a public service broadcaster paid for by our licence fees, the BBC has a role in presenting important facts to its viewers and listeners, so that people become better informed about it.

That is why Extinction Rebellion and other environmental campaigners have recently focused on the BBC.

The BBC has had to be dragged screaming and kicking into compliance with its duties as enshrined in its charter. It was accused of giving a platform to utterly discredited and unscientific view-points that denied that climate change even existed. After legal challenge, it now has a better approach to who it interviews on the subject.

But John Fuller, an environmental campaigner, has exhaustively documented the BBC’s continuing failings, including the underplaying of the climate catastrophe that we face.

This has been likened to us not mentioning Hitler in the lead up to the Second World War, and then announcing that we are at war. In this situation, of course people would resist the idea of war, because they would not understand the existential threat they faced.

The BBC is not joining the dots between climate change, our economic system, our policies and the material basis of our lives. This is akin, in my view to condemning slavery, but at the same time, promoting it and its economic products. If economic products are not being made in net carbon zero ways, and a restorative manner (in other words leaving a net benefit for wildlife, e.g. in housing and farming), then those economic activities are part of the problem: they are destroying our planet. It is that simple. And we have lost more than half of our planet now.

So I think we – environmental campaigners – need to help the BBC to report that we live on a planet in which continued economic growth and further increase in fossil fuel use, will destroy our climate and ecosystems; and that we need this living planet for our own survival. Let’s make the connections clear, and ask challenging questions. We need to show how these things are happening.

When increased aviation, new roads, or HS2 are discussed, it does not take Einstein to ask: hang on, won’t that increase our greenhouse gas emissions, and make it more difficult to stay within the carbon budget set by our own Climate Change Act, and also to observe our commitments made at the 2015 UN climate conference in Paris? Or have you, Minister, got a plan to capture and sequester all the extra CO2, or develop hydrogen fuelled trains, running on renewable energy? Or how about planning work and commuting patterns that create more local jobs so we do not need to get to Birmingham 20 minutes quicker ?

To be fair, climate change is mentioned by the BBC: the IPCC report in October, and the UN talks in Poland, for example. But the issue is reported in a compartmentalised way. Programmes on the environment, including Attenborough’s, are having an effect on the mainstream, but there is a log-jam in the understanding. The pennies are not dropping. These issues: climate change, plastic pollution, species extinction, are not marginal issues. They are existential. They threaten out own future. We can’t eat polluted food for example. We die in heat waves.

After an item on climate change, the next item on the news is often about how we can secure more economic growth and trade, or how it is a good thing to send space tourists into orbit. It is as though journalists and editors do not think this place is the same one on which climate change is happening. And the different journalists have different territory. Yet, why can’t economic growth, or gas guzzling elite space antics, be challenged properly as causers of climate change and ecosystem breakdown.

Journalists have a way of putting on different ‘HATS’, and posing questions as though they were arguing from the other side of a binary debate. This is a fair enough way of challenging politicians governments, or anyone being interviewed. But I would dearly love them to put on the ‘HAT’ of our planet and its living systems, just once in a while, rather than NEVER. In fact, why not do it a LOT, rather than never, because it is the most important issue they will ever discuss surely…..?

Is this lack of journalistic enquiry due to ignorance or inability, or is it unwillingness to admit that they have got it so wrong for so long? For twenty five years, the evidence and the causes of climate change have been utterly clear. Yet mainstream discourse has acted in a parallel world, in which the fantasy of perpetual growth was believed. It must be hard to admit you have got something so utterly wrong.

It may be inconvenient, but the economy happens to be on a planet: our planet. And like a cuckoo in the nest, our economy is pushing out the natural systems.

At the moment, the BBC acknowledges the scientific evidence for climate change and the need to cease the burning of fossil fuels, and at the same time it actively supports the burning of ever more fossil fuels through economic growth.

The BBC promotes wasteful consumption of digital technology in its ‘Click’ show on BBC news channel, which is an advertising platform for those products. It even has a trailer for the Click show, which shows piles of electronic waste, alongside a commentary that says: ‘we hate our old technology”, basically encouraging you to throw away and buy the latest smart phones etc.

In its ‘Travel’ Show, the BBC encourages the consumption of air miles, with never a flicker of discussion about the impacts of travel and tourism.

And the BBC has pensions invested in fossil fuels.

If we supported the abolition of slavery, and at the same time imported sugar cane from slave colonies, would it not be similar? Wouldn’t the journalists mention that this sugar comes from slave colonies, and that this contradicts our abhorrence of slavery? On its current record, the BBC would not have the independence to do that. It would not have the ability to think on an ethical level.

And yet this powerful organisation, with influence over what people know and think, is paid for by us all, and is supposed to act in our interests. You could not make it up!

We surely need a new method of governance for our public broadcaster….based on a set of ethical principles. The scientific evidence for human threats to the planetary (ecological) boundaries, would form a major part of the physical reality that they need to convey. And an ethical framework, needs to be explicit, of values, in which we condemn slavery and human rights abuses, and the destruction of the planet’s life that we rely on. The UN sustainable development goals would be a good place to start.

We need economics editors to be reading and getting informed about bio-regionalism, and Kate Raworth’s ‘Doughnut Economics’, for example.

The BBC needs to be asking much better, difficult questions that are rooted in the context of a living planet, and human equality.

Can people who currently manage the BBC undergo the culture-change that is needed?


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