1 Mar 2019
On Monday, Britain was hotter than some popular holiday destinations. If you read the news reports, you might have got the impression this is something to celebrate – a triumph over the tropics and an excuse to spend an afternoon in the sun.Headlines talked of the UK “basking” in 20–degree heat. Weather forecasters looked ahead to “wonderfully warm” days. Front pages shone with colourful photographs of flower-filled parks and sunbathers.This record-breaking “Fabruary” is unlike any we’ve seen before – but this is no cause for jubilation. This is the beginning of climate breakdown, and for the sake of our future we need to talk about it.
After years of calling out the media’s climate silence, we are starting to see incremental improvements. The BBC’s report on yesterday’s temperature record initially failed to mention climate change at all and invited readers to send in photos of themselves “enjoying the sunny weather” – but editors later added a section drawing the crucial link to the climate. This came after hundreds of people hit back to a tweet on social media.
Things have begun to shift at the BBC, particularly since Ofcom ruled that Radio 4 had breached broadcasting rules by failing to sufficiently challenge Lord Lawson when he made false claims and played down climate change on the Today programme. Last September, the corporation issued new editorial guidelines telling broadcasters “you do not need to include outright deniers of climate change in BBC coverage, in the same way you would not have someone denying that Manchester United won 2-0 last Saturday”. After decades of scientific consensus on manmade climate breakdown, this was a long time coming.
Last summer’s unprecedented global heatwave marked a turning point too. The likes of the Times heralded a “glorious summer” and described those of us making the link between the sweltering heat and climate change as “doomsters”, and writing in the Sun, Rod Liddle launched a vicious attack on climate scientists. But by mid-August the Sun was screaming “the world’s on fire” on its front page, and even the Daily Mail was running op-eds warning such extreme weather could become the norm if ministers fail to take action.
But it shouldn’t take out-of-sync seasons and extraordinary weather events for the press to take this climate emergency seriously.The vast majority of the public recognise what is happening. Polling by YouGov suggests 70 per cent of people in the UK believe the climate has changed in their lifetime, and nearly three-quarters of us are concerned about climate change.
But too many of us keep these fears to ourselves – and the result is government complacency. Research has found that 70 per cent of people in the United States rarely or never discuss global warming with friends or family, and I’ve heard nothing to suggest the picture is any better in the UK.
Climate breakdown might feel like a conversation-killer – but it’s fast becoming the elephant in the room. As long as we fail to talk about the frightening shifts happening all around us, the Government can pretend there’s no demand for radical action to prevent climate catastrophe. In recent years, ministers have all-but banned onshore wind energy, dismantled support for renewables and embarked on a whole new fossil fuel industry.
But as is so often the case, our children are starting to talk about this taboo. Last month young people around the country went on school strike – joining rallies across the country with uncensored placards and banners, declaring that their futures are threatened and demanding bold action to save them. It’s time for politicians and the media to follow their lead, and open up the public debate we desperately need – not about whether our climate is changing, but what we’re going to do about it.