This week’s report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) outlines the potentially devastating and lasting impact of climate change. It’s challenging reading. Sir Patric Vallance, the UK Chief Scientific Advisor writing in The Guardian, calls the report an “unequivocal” warning that man-made climate change is “real, present and lasting.” According to Vallance, if we are to avoid the extremes that scientists are predicting that will come with climate change, then we need to transform “every level of society,” including “individuals, employers, institutions and international partners,” who must start working together to “understand the trade-offs, agree compromises, and seize opportunities.”
The climate crisis is of such magnitude that it will require people to collaborate and work together across disciplines. This spirit of collaboration, according to Sir Patrick, needs to draw on different experiences and traditions, so that we can collectively reach the goal of net-zero carbon emissions. According to Sir Patrick, tackling climate change “will require a systematic approach,” and an approach that represents a “whole systems challenge.”
We can’t rest on half measures, and if a whole systems approach is to be successfully developed and integrated into our way of life, it will need to bring people together who might otherwise see themselves on opposing sides of debates. We will need to see scientists working closely with industrialists; we need to see policymakers working closely with civic society organisations; we need to see educators working with consumer goods retailers; we need to see carers working with financial management experts; the old working with the young; the urban working with the rural, and so on.
The challenge of climate change means that we can’t keep working in our own silos, addressing the concerns and priorities of our own field, and remaining unaware of the impact that our decisions have on others. We’ve therefore got to break-out of our echo chambers and form integrated networks filled with people who are planners, thinkers, doers and carers, who can kickstart a complete response to the needs of the environment, as well as the threat to people of social displacement from this stressed natural world.
We very quickly need to become a generation of advocates and planners who are prepared to learn and seek to understand what the range of solutions will be as we aim for the goal of net-carbon zero. So, we’ve got to do the work and put in the effort so that we are prepared and able to comprehend what the combined repercussions and impact of climate collapse will be on human relationships, and the provision of safe and secure societies based on ecological responsibility and coexistence. A failure to learn and understand this will quickly result in the loss of our collective ability to live safe and peaceful lives. Climate crisis is the latest form of mutually assured destruction, which will annihilate many living beings, not only people, if we don’t act swiftly and decisively.
Therefore, our media systems must become part of any integrated solutions-based approach to climate crisis adaptation. If we are willing to attempt to reverse man-made climate change, then we can only do this with radical reform of our media. Without a media that is locally accountable, representative and responsive, then climate change action will simply stoke indignation, and any message about change will be resisted and not taken seriously. Look at the anti-vaccination worries that many people have with Covid-19, and magnify these problems one hundred-fold, and you’ll get a sense of how intransigent people will become if they continue to have very little power or control over the media systems that serve their needs and interests. This will become more acute as we face rapid and irreversible ecological change.
If we want equitable, timely and sustainable climate change solutions, then we also need media systems that are close to the people that they serve, and are driven by the needs they have. In order to find, discuss and embed solutions, we need a media model that is capable of handling the worst of catastrophising that will come with climate crisis. We need media we can trust and turn to. This extends both locally and across the world. The centralised and globalised commercial media platforms might invest in high-quality programmes that showcase a significant part of what climate change is about, but without a patchwork of mutually supportive, DIY and community-led media networks operating accountably and responsibly, then our media economy will continue to be seen as top-down information manipulators who have an agenda which serves their own interests.
Stoking the grievances of populations is easier, and more profitable, if control of the media is held by a few. Because the power to shape the story of climate crisis is held in the hands of only a few people and organisations, who are gatekeepers and shapers of public discussion, change will be much more difficult to bring about. This applies to state-backed public service media, as much as it applies to commercial media. The climate crisis will not be averted through top-down policy action and globalised commercial calculation alone. If there isn’t a democratic and civic counterbalance to the large-scale operators in the media economy, then new ideas will be stifled, argument and debate will be curtailed, and fatalism will be the norm.
This narrow control of our media is the situation we have at present, so more of the same certainly isn’t the solution. We’ve got to go beyond the inherited and assumed expectation of the role of media, as something that is simply about information or entertainment, and instead develop and foster a distributed and decentred media ecosphere that supports developmental learning and responsible social action. At the centre of this change is our concern for sustainable ecological action, but we can’t impose these values on people, they have to be persuaded through the evocation of civic duties and responsibility. It’s the difference between having a media that notes what we care about, and a media that allows us to demonstrate what it is that we care for!
We don’t need more persuaders or influences, behavioural scientists or marketing whizz-kids, we need people who have a story to tell, people who are willing to listen and explore those stories, and people who are willing to learn from those stories. There’s a place for mass-market entertainment, there is a place for national public service media, but there is a pressing need for an alternative layer of media that forms a network of independent and mutually supportive media advocates who embody collaborative practices, and who are dedicated to challenging all the interconnected issues associated with the Great Disruption: inequality, racism, sexism, automation, the loneliness epidemic, civic disengagement, exploitation, ignorance, and all the other social ills that plague us, and which need unpicking if we are to deal with climate crisis.
Community media needs to be given a role that is funded and backed by government investment, both locally and nationally, to prepare people for the challenges ahead. Public engagement through participation and development, learning and civic discussion, are going to be essential as we address the urgent need for change. Let’s use this opportunity to reform our media so that it is democratic, accountable and locally embedded within communities, at the same time as supporting the restoration of the living world for which we are only temporary stewards.