I was on the phone to my mum last night and, no surprise, conversation drifted towards the weather. “What’s going on, Andrew?” she asked. I emailed her a link to Jason Samenow’s article in the Washington Post – Red-hot planet: All time heat records have been set all over the world during the past week – published on the 5th July. It answers the question in no uncertain terms: our planet is warming up, rapidly, everywhere. In some parts of the world, particularly in the Northern hemisphere, temperature increases are simply terrifying. Samenow reports:
“In Northern Siberia, along the coast of the Arctic Ocean – where weather observations are scarce – model analyses showed temperatures soaring 40 degrees above normal on July 5, to over 90 degrees”.
The Washington Post has done something that the UK press is signally failing to do: it is explaining the hot weather we are experiencing this year in the context of global warming.
“These various records add to a growing list of heat milestones set over the past 15 months that are part and parcel of a planet that is trending hotter as greenhouse gas concentrations increase because of human activity”.
Compare this to the BBC’s reporting of the UK heatwave, which consistently fails to make any reference to global warming – literally zero in most cases. ‘Dad, husband, and Head’ Chris Reilly summed up the bewilderment many of us are beginning to feel as we struggle to process the complete disconnect between BBC reporting and the intense temperatures we’ve been experiencing this summer. In reaction to the linked BBC report above – UK weather: Heatwave to continue for another two weeks – a report whose accompanying photograph shows a young women on a deck chair relaxing in the sun, Chris observes:
“Given the record temperatures and drought conditions reported on in this piece, you’d be forgiven for thinking that our public service broadcaster might also mention climate change even as a vaguely possible connection… but no. Not a single word”.
The failure on the part of the Corporation to report the most important ecological event in human history and help the general public make sense of ‘what’s going on’ is journalistic negligence of the highest order, and a violation of at least the first two of its public purposes detailed within its Royal Charter:
- To provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them;
To support learning for people of all ages.
It is also in clear violation of its most fundamental general duty, also stated in the Royal Charter, namely ‘acting in the public interest’. It is absolutely in the public interest to know why we are experiencing such hot weather, to appreciate that it is part of a global trend, and to fully understand the implications for our lives and the lives of future generations.
Given the gravity of the situation, and the truly awful consequences of failing to keep the world within 2 degrees of warming, we should all know, at the barest minimum, the following:
- That the planet has warmed in excess of 1 degree of warming since Victorian times;
- That greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide (CO2) but also methane – are the culprit for the warming;
- That there is a time lag built into global warming – i.e even if all carbon emissions halted completely tomorrow, the world would continue to warm for a period (to the tune of another half degree or so). In other words we can guarantee at least 1.5 degrees of warming even if we halted all emissions tomorrow. That means we really need to be taking CO2 out of the atmosphere i.e. negative emissions.
- That 2 degrees of warming is the upper limit of global warming – exceed that and it’s pretty much game over;
- That we have a carbon budget and if we exceed it, the planet will exceed the 2 degrees upper limit;
- That we are not on target – by any stretch of the imagination – to keep within 2 degrees of warming;
- And that if we continue on our current trajectory, the planet will exceed 2 degrees in a matter of decades.
But facts such as these are not enough to break the basic biological frames that determine our actions. We’ve grown up associating the sun, Summer, hot weather, etc., with warmth, relaxation, bbqs and ice-cream – all the lovely things that the BBC’s image of the woman on the deckchair conjure. But that is no longer the reality. So we need a new frame, and one that begins and repeats a quite different set of connections; we need to reframe global warming. Graphics such as the one presented by the Washing Post that show a red planet help to reframe the issue as dangerous and life-threatening. That’s a start but we need to be seeing this kind of imagery all the time in our news and weather bulletins, repeated by our politicians, regurgitated in pub conversation and school playgrounds, but we’re not. As independent journalist Jeremy Hance tweeted:
“Why this image isn’t on the front page of every newspaper in the world, I’ll never understand. We keep ignoring the biggest story in the world
We can also start insisting on a different language. Our children are not ‘picking up the bill’ in terms of the consequences of global warming, as is so often described – yes, BBC environment journalist Roger Harrabin, I’m talking to you! No, what’s actually going to happen if our planet gets too hot is that our children are ‘going to die’, ‘be killed by’, ‘starve as a consequence of’ global warming. This is a very real prospect, and our media need to start reporting that possibility over and over again.
So I think it’s time to take the BBC to task. It has a responsibility to its licence fee payers – you, me – to tell us what’s going on. It’s not doing that at the moment with respect to global warming, to its shame.