Just how does the media cover the climate emergency and what treatment will it get as we approach the general election? Toxic News? Covering Climate Change, edited by John Mair, John Ryley and Andrew Beck attempts to tackle these important questions post COP 28, with the help of 25 journalists, commentators, and academics who analyse the questions from various perspectives.
Climate emergency: why do audiences switch off?
The challenge is laid out in the book’s preface by Tom Heap, TV and radio reporter, best known as a presenter of BBC One‘s Countryfile:
“Climate change should be the most gripping story around. So why does an audience turn off, whether in print or broadcast?”
Heap goes on to offer some answers but concludes:
“I don’t have a prescription here; it’s more of an observation. But it’s worth remembering, when it comes to climate action and covering it, none of us has the monopoly of virtue.”
With 25 contributors there is some overlapping, which I suppose is understandable.
Polling specialist Professor John Curtice gives a view into public opinion admitting that most people in Britain are concerned about climate change. Quoting from a July 2023 survey which found that almost eight out of ten said they are ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ concerned, but he suggests some proposals for reducing carbon emissions are more popular than others, leaving scope for the issue to become divisive at election time.
The point is taken up by Professor Julian Petley who reminds readers that in the June 2023 Uxbridge by-election:
“The perceived unpopularity of London mayor Sadiq Khan’s expansion of the London ultra low emission zone to the outer boroughs was successfully mobilised by the Tories in order to engineer the victory of their candidate, albeit with a majority of only 495 votes, reduced from 7,210 in 2019.”
The measure of course has little to do with the climate emergency but is an important public health issue, but this did not stop the government announcing rolling back on some of its net zero policies.
Climate scepticism and Brexit
Petley also detects a considerable overlap between Conservative Brexiters and climate sceptics (once climate deniers) and how Brexit supporting right wing newspapers are supporting the government’s weakening of its climate policies.
The electoral lessons of Uxbridge were not lost by Greater Manchester’s mayor Andy Burnham who announced in mid-December that public investment in buses and taxis would bring clean air to Greater Manchester more speedily than charging drivers to use the roads (as in London and elsewhere).
Another contributor, former Times executive Liz Gerard is pessimistic: “Our newspapers look out of touch, out of date and out of ideas.” She concludes:
“Tackling climate change is the number one issue for younger generations. But it’s the older generations who vote and buy newspapers”.
Contributors are: Robin Aitken, Matthew d’Ancona, Andrew Beck, Malcolm Bradbrook, Zoe Broughton, Maggie Brown, Philip Collins, Paul Connew, Professor Sir John Curtice, Professor Stephen Cushion, Jon Fuller, Dr Alan Geere, Liz Gerard, Professor Philip Hammond, John Mair, Isabelle Marchand, Dr Steven McCabe, Professor Chris Paterson, Professor Julian Petley, John Ryley, Raymond Snoddy, Belinda Tyrrell, Dr Elke Weissmann, Christian Wolmar, Peter York, and Ted Young.
Toxic News? Covering Climate Change is published by Bite-Sized Books.