Averting Climate Catastrophe: What can the BBC do to implore public urgency?


Fact is, the on-going battle to protect the earth’s biosphere is in reality a battle to save the human race and everything we have built from catastrophe. Climate change is the number one existential threat we face today. The scientific consensus is that rapid climate change is happening, and it is caused by man-made industrial processes. These industrial processes pump out billions of tonnes of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses to feed our consumer society and the ever-increasing demand for economic growth under Capitalism’s guiding hand. We cannot keep these unsustainable practices going, the research has been done, the data has been analysed, and the facts are presented as clear as day to the public. The science states that unless drastic action is taken, the Earth is going to continue to warm up, climates around the world will change and this will have dire consequence for the human race.

Millions of climate refugee’s escaping rising sea levels from costal regions. Wars being fought over increasingly scarce fresh sources of water and fertile land. Resources essential to modern-day life becoming harder and harder to find. Geopolitical unrest and the destabilisation of governments in the worst affected areas. Acidification of the oceans making them more hostile towards life. Relentless deforestation destroying biodiversity, decreasing atmospheric CO2 absorption, and encouraging ever increasing desertification. (Interactive.carbonbrief.org, 2019) The list goes on, but needless to say, the science dictates rapid out of control climate change is going to have a massively detrimental effect on human prosperity, climate change is anthropocentric in nature and preventing catastrophic climate change should be our number one priority.

Yet where is the urgency? Where is the collective will of the people to force our politicians and businesses to take the necessary action to combat climate change? Why do we continue to put ourselves in a precarious position and continue to undermine the prosperity of future generations? Where does the distrust in science and scientists come from? Ultimately, why do we continue to doom ourselves when it has clearly been demonstrated that is what we’re doing?

In this body of work, I attempt to address these issues by analysing the media representation of climate change and how this effects public urgency. My method will be a library-based literature review as I believe this will allow me to gain the most insight as to why we are in the situation we are in. I will start off by looking at the scientific evidence surrounding climate change and demonstrate that human activity is the cause. This will be followed by a review and analysis of how climate change is reported and disseminated in the media. Lastly, I will suggest what changes can be made by the BBC to help implore climate justice and restoration.

State of the Climate

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP); it is the principal UN organisation for assessing and evaluating science and data relating to climate change. The role of the IPCC is to provide regular assessments to politicians and world leaders of the scientific foundations of climate change, what impact/risks climate change presents, and what we can do to adapt and mitigate these complications. (IPCC, 2017)

There are five measurements that can be used to ascertain the current state of the climate which are as follows: atmospheric carbon dioxide levels which currently sit at 409ppm, the highest levels in 650,000 years. Global temperature, which has increased by 1°C since 1880, furthermore 17 of the 18 warmest years have occurred since 2001. Arctic ice minimum which is currently subsiding at 12.8% each decade; in 2012 arctic summer sea ice shrank to the lowest levels on record. The size of ice sheets, which satellite data shows that we are currently losing 413 giga-tonnes of polar ice sheet mass each year. Lastly, sea levels which are currently rising at 3.2 millimetres per year, global average sea level has risen nearly 178mm over the past 100 years. (Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet, 2018)

Since its establishment, the IPCC has produced five Assessment Reports (AR) and is currently in the first stages of its sixth cycle. AR5, which was completed between 2013 and 2014, had several key conclusions which included that the warming of the atmosphere and the oceans is unequivocal; sea levels have risen since the 1950’s at a rate unprecedented in historical records. That it is clear that there is anthropogenic influence on the climate. It is extremely likely (95-100% probability) that human activity has been the primary driving cause of observed warming since 1950. The more we disrupt the climate, the more we risk severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts. Additionally, the longer we take to start reducing CO2 the more expensive it become to fix and mitigate. Finally, we have the means and technology now to limit climate change and create a more sustainable and prosperous future. (IPCC, 2018)

Most recently, the first section of AR6 was released October 8th, 2018, titled ‘Summery for Policymakers”. Describe as: “An IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.” (IPCC, 2018)

Figure 1: Carbon Dioxide emissions to the present day and possible future pathways of limiting global temperature rise at 1.5°C.

It is a damming report which highlights the anthropocentric nature of climate change and outlines advice for world leaders to take heed of if we are to meet the goals the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) set out in the Paris Climate Agreement (PCA). The PCA was ratified on December 12th, 2015 and has the long-term goal of mitigating the affects of climate change and to limit global warming to below 2°C. As we can see from figure 1, for us to do this there needs to be a drastic and rapid reduction of CO2 emission starting within the next 5 years. (Unfccc.int, 2018) AR6’s summery report for governments around the world makes several poignant observations and recommendations if we are to meet the goals set out by the PCA. Firstly, that human activities are estimated to have caused between 0.8°C and 1.2°C of global warming since pre-industrial temperatures and that we are likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052, which essentially gives us 12 years to avert dangerous climate change. Furthermore, warming from anthropogenic emission since the industrial revolution to the present will persist for centuries to millennia and continue to cause long-term changes in the climate system. Climate related risk for natural and human systems will increase as we approach 1.5°C, but the risks are less precarious than a 2°C rise. (IPCC, 2018)


Secondly, global sea level rises are projected to be about 0.1 meters lower if we keep to the target of 1.5°C compared to 2°C, by 2100. Sea levels are expected to continue rising well beyond 2100; the rate of this rise depends on our how radical our reductions are in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. Any reductions in these emissions will lead to slower sea level rises and give greater prospects for the adaption in ecological and human systems of small islands, low-lying coastal areas and river deltas. On land, limiting global warming to 1.5°C as opposed to 2°C will lower impacts of biodiversity and ecosystems, including species loss and extinction. It will also have a less severe effect on terrestrial, freshwater, and coastal ecosystems thus retaining more of their functionality for human use. Restricting global warming to 1.5°C will also curb increases in ocean temperatures and the associated rise in ocean acidity and decline of oxygen levels, consequently reducing the risk to marine biodiversity, fisheries, and ecosystems. Most adaption needs will be lower at 1.5°C compared to 2°C; climate related risks to human health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, geo-political tensions and economic growth are all forecast to increase to more dangerous and destabilising levels the closer we approach 2°C. (IPCC, 2018)

Thirdly, all modelled pathways with no or limited overshoot of 1.5°C require global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050. This would require radical and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure and industrial systems. These changes would have to be unprecedented in scale. Most importantly, to do all this we need to employ mass Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) schemes which sequester CO2 from the atmosphere, to the order of 100-1000 GtCO2 (IPCC, 2018)


Lastly, AR6 Summery for Policymakers makes it clear that in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eliminate poverty we need to reinforce global response to climate change. Avoiding an increase of more than 1.5°C will have less of an impact, would require less adaption, and cost less as opposed to 2°C. Sustainable development is key, it enables the fundamental societal and system transitions that help limit global warming to 1.5°C. Sustainable changes will help us develop climate-resilient communities and industries that also help us mitigate climate change and reduce poverty. (IPCC, 2018)

So that’s the state of the climate as it is and the IPCC’s advice for keeping average temperature rises below 2°C. So, what is the cause for this unprecedented rapid climate change? “Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.” (Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet, 2018)

Figure 2: This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric Carbon Dioxide levels has increased since the industrial revolutions.

The scientific consensus resoundingly supports the anthropogenic nature of climate change, the evidence overwhelmingly points towards human activity as the main drive behind climate change in our age. We know this because climate scientists agree that the main cause global temperature rise is caused by a process called the ‘greenhouse effect’ (see Figure 3). The greenhouse effect is caused by greenhouse gases which include carbon dioxide (CO2), water vapour (H2O), nitrous oxide (N2O), and methane (CH4). Scientists focus on CO2 predominantly though as it is a by-product of human industrial processes, mainly from burning fossil fuels in the form of coal and oil.

Figure 3: Correlation between anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions and rise in average global temperature.

Figure 4: The mechanism of the greenhouse effect and relative distribution of energy by watts per square metre (W/m2).

The greenhouse effect was first hypothesised in 1824 by Joseph Fourier and is the process by which the Earth’s atmosphere heats up the surface of the planet. Energy from the Sun, in the form of ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared radiation is received by Earth. About 51% of this energy reaches the Earth’s surface where it is absorbed and then radiated back out towards space. This is when the greenhouse effect takes place; naturally occurring CO2 and other greenhouse gases absorb that radiating energy, thus heating up the atmosphere and in-turn this heats up the Earth’s surface. Under natural parameters, the greenhouse effect is essential for life on Earth, the problem occurs when human activity produces artificial sources of greenhouse gases, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels (another cause for the rise of CO2 levels is deforestation, trees are a significant CO2 sink, and the more we urbanise or turn land over to agriculture, the less CO2 is sequestered from the atmosphere). (Earthobservatory.nasa.gov, 2018)

We know that the greenhouse effect is a naturally occurring mechanism necessary for life on Earth, Figure 4 shows the correlation between the rise in anthropogenic CO2 emissions and surface temperature. It is clear that as we burn fossil fuel and conduct other processes critical to modern life, global atmospheric CO2 increases, and this leads to global surface temperatures to rise. As we disrupt the natural levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere through industrial and everyday burning of fossil fuels, we turn this life supporting greenhouse effect into a mechanism ruination and chaos for human civilization. (IPCC 5th Assessment Synthesis Report, 2018)

Media Representation of Climate Change

The scientists who work at the IPCC do not hold the media’s portrayal of climate change and aspects of uncertainty in high-esteem. Australian climate professor, Will Steffan, said that “When the science on climate change is so clear, why is it still portrayed as uncertain in the media? There’s a big divergence between what is known with a high degree of certainty and what is reported.” (Lloyd, 2010) To further exacerbate the situation, there is vexation among climate scientists globally about the amount of space that is given to climate change deniers in the mainstream media, in the name of balance, or as some call it a ‘false balance’. Professor Stephen Jones of the UK has criticised the media for giving more time to different types of climate sceptics than the science would justify, and by doing so, suggest there is more controversy among the scientific consensus then there actually is. Within the media there are huge digression in the amount of time given to climate sceptics and how they are manifested depending on a wide variety of variables such as the type of media (print, broadcast or online), ideological leanings of news outlet, whether the article or piece is news or opinion, and the media landscapes of different countries, societal factors and the presence of lobby groups. (Painter, 2013)

Public opinion is that “there is seen to be a lack of consensus in scientific opinion, partly because this is frequently the way climate science is presented in the media. Many focus group participants thought that the scientists are often in disagreement with each other or change their mind over time” (Shuckburgh, Robinson and Pidgeon) The media has a role in the ‘construction of uncertainty’ in the public psyche, most people only have a vague understanding of the science behind climate science and they believe that any information provided is not fact as it is ‘contested’ and not the scientific consensus. It has also been shown that politicians are often the most quoted when it comes to climate change and as they are one of the least trusted groups this has led the greater withdrawal from this subject (Glasgow Media Group, 2012)

In 2013, the RISJ published a paper titled ‘How the media report risk and uncertainty around science’ which in part goes over the challenges for scientists and journalists when communicating the science of climate change. Generally speaking, news stories about climate change are by their nature, specialist, and contain language and ideas that are not well understood by the average member of the public. Part of the problem lays with trying to address the concepts of ‘risk’ and ‘uncertainty’, the concepts can mean different things to the public and experts, and additionally to different academic fields. What’s more, is that “many ‘risk’ stories like climate change, nuclear proliferation, population growth or the spread of diseases are slow-burn, creeping issues that do not easily fit the value of newsworthiness, or what some academics call ‘first order journalistic norms’ like personalisation, dramatization, and novelty”. (Boykoff and Boykoff, 2007) Roger Harrabin, an environmental analysist for the BBC has done research on the of news stories and has said that “novelty, drama, conflict and personality are the main drivers of news coverage, even about some science issues.” During his research, Harrabin looked into various health issues and found that there was a disparity between the media’s exorbitant coverage of low-level health risks such as that of the SARS virus or vCJD, but which carry the novelty factor, and coverage of mundane but high risk, high impact health issues such as obesity, smoking, and alcohol consumption. (Painter, 2013)

Academics have highlighted the shortcomings of the media and journalists when it comes to reporting the ‘risks’ and ‘uncertainty’ of climate change. The criticisms can be broadly classified under four domains, which are: Not making it clear where the mainstream certainty and uncertainty on scientific issues lie – this was really evident when the media didn’t report the scientific consensus resolutely on the possible (now categorically dismissed) link between the MMR vaccine and autism. (Boyce, 2007) Highlighting worst-case scenarios rather than a range of risks -journalists are often not good at including admonition or qualifiers about ranges of outcomes. When reporting on the E. coli outbreak in Europe in 2011, Peter Sandman advised officials to ‘proclaim’ uncertainty as journalists will often only report or quote the most confident sounding thing and drop maybes (Sandman and Lanard, 2011) Not distinguishing between numerators and denominators – a journalist’s job is clearly to cover rare and exceptional events, but the danger comes when they do not make clear how rare these events actually are. For example, the Daily Express headline ‘daily fry-up boosts cancer risk by 20%’ and then the article fails to mention that it is a 20% increase on a very small number. (Painter, 2013) Not distinguishing between ‘absolute’ and ‘relative’ risk – earthquakes, for example, are low probability, high impact events which many experts argue that it needs to be explained to the public that the relative risk could have significantly increased, but that the absolute risk could remain small. A headline proclaiming, ‘Chances of earthquake doubled’ (relative risk) could produce panic, whist a headline ‘Minimal chance of earthquake’ (very low absolute risk) could produce complacency. (Painter, 2013)

Several studies have shown the different ways this ‘uncertainty’ manifests itself between different media outlets in the same country, as well as how it manifests between different countries. Within the UK these different attitudes are driven by ideological differences when reporting the link between climate change and the increase in extreme weather, and the uncertainties involved (Ward, 2008)25 A Swedish study conducted by academic Ulrika Olausson showed that Swedish news papers were hesitant to show any kind of scientific uncertainty that may provide opportunity to sabotage the will for collective action. (Olausson, 2009)

‘Framing’ in the media is the practice of highlighting specific facets of a complex issue, in this case the science of climate change, and promoting them to make them seem more pertinent to the issue than others. This has the effect of “providing a perspective from which the reader or viewer can interpret a problem by stressing some aspects of it or by ignoring or downplaying other aspects and can deeply influence how persuasive consumers find that information.” Framing can be provoked through linguistic discourse and tone of voice or by non-verbal means such music, imagery, gestures, who is disseminating the information, and so on. There is a plethora of influences on how a journalist or broadcasting network might frame climate change for consumption such as editorial practice, news criteria or conscious/unconscious ideology. (Moser, 2010)

Communication analysts have spent a great deal of time assessing the dominant frames of climate change stories, and what they have shown is ‘disaster’ frame is the most frequently applied. The disaster frame “emphasises general or specific adverse consequences or impacts from climate change such as more intense hurricanes, species death, ice melting, or sea level flooding, and effects on humans such as population displacements, food shortages or health problems.” (Painter, 2013) For example, climate scientist Professor Mike Hulme determined that during the reporting on IPCC 2007 WG-1 and WG-2 Fourth Assessment Reports in the UK media was ‘alarmist’ and was dictated by the rhetoric of catastrophe, fear, disaster and death; over 75% of news articles and broadcasts were portrayed in this way. (Hulme, 2009) Hugh Doultan and Katrina Brown of the University of East Anglia looked at 150 articles on climate change from the mainstream media in the UK which were published between 1997 and 2007 to examine which of the five framing discourses (optimism, rationalism, ethical, disaster, and opportunity) were the most prevalent. They found that stories framed as disaster was the most common making up 70/150 articles studied, conversely articles framed as optimistic or opportunistic was five each. (Doultan and Brown, 2009) The research shows that the media tends to fixate on the melodramatic depictions of climate change, the cataclysmic end-of-the-world scenarios, as opposed to IPCC’s 2007 WG-3 report, which was barely expressed in UK print media which included policies for mitigation and opportunities going forward. (Hulme, 2009) Whilst the above findings are from UK media, studies done in the US (Boenker, 2012) and Norway (Ryghaug, 2006) found that the ‘disaster’ framing was by far the most prominently used out of the five possible framings.

Communication analysts see the deluge of climate change stories framed as ‘disaster’ as a clear and present threat to collective action against climate change. It is known that “alarmist or fear-based messages are more likely to induce apathy or paralysis through powerlessness or disbelief than motivation or engagement – particularly if not accompanied by an action strategy to reduce the perceived risk.” (Painter, 2013) This creates a feedback loop of inaction. We are told we are doomed so what can the public do that the powers that be can’t do, we accept our collective fate instead of taking collective actions.

UK Media & Climate Sceptics

Despite making up only 0.87% of the world’s population, the UK is a world leader of scientific output, only outproduced by the USA and China. (Scimagojr.com, 2019) The UK is an eminent player in international politics and has pushed for action on climate change both at the UN and EU levels. In 2008, the UK became the first nation globally to pass legislation to cut greenhouse gas emissions and set the earnest target of 80% reduction by 2050. (Legislation.gov.uk, 2019) In spite of this, it is only second to the USA when it comes to the congregation of climate sceptics influencing public opinion and the distrust that the public have of the scientific consensus on climate change.

In a survey of 13,000 people from 13 different countries the UK had the second highest distribution of people who believed that climate change is not anthropogenic in nature. 42% of the US population believes current climate change is naturally occurring, followed closely by the UK in which 34% of the population believes this. If you compare this to other nations in the survey, such as Hong Kong, Mexico or Germany, whose percentages stand at 6%, 8%, and 13% respectively, there is clearly a divide. (AXA and IPSOS, 2019)

The mobilisation in the US and UK of climate change deniers and right-leaning media outlets has been greater than in these other countries. For example, in the UK in 2009 the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), a climate denying think tank was set up by Nigel Lawson, former Conservative Chancellor of Exchequer, under Margarete Thatcher, to be vocal against the issue of anthropogenic climate change. Indeed, he and other prominent members of the Conservative Party in the UK have been instrumental in growing grass-root movements against acting on climate change. (Painter, 2013) These grass-roots movements have been effectual, studies have shown that in the UK the perceived uncertainty around climate change has increased since the mid-2000’s (BBC, 2010)35 A study which used interviews from 1,000 individuals from the UK showed that 44% of respondents thought that the dangers of climate change had been greatly exaggerated, compared with 27% on the rest of the continent. The same study also found that only 51% of individuals trusted scientists to tell the truth about climate change in 2011, down from 68% in 2006. (Shuckburgh, Robinson and Pidgeon, 2012)

An analysis of 29 newspaper articles taken from the Guardian, Daily Mail, and The Telegraph shows that the use of the ‘uncertainty’ and ‘implicit risk’ language was most predominant. Uncertainty language was used in 26 of the 29 articles, prevalent in 90% of the articles. Implicit Risk language used in 24 of the 29 articles, prevalent in 84% of the articles. Explicit Risk language was used in 9 of the 29 articles, prevalent in 33% of the articles. Opportunity language was used in 0 of the 29 articles, prevalent in 0% of the articles. IPCC Concepts were present in 13 of the 29 articles, prevalent in 45% of the articles. However, these concepts were only explained in 2 of the articles, which equates to 7%. (Painter, 2013)

Five articles in the study had the presence of a climate sceptics voice, with four of those being in the Telegraph and one of them in the Daily Mail. The most significant difference between all the papers was when uncertainty was the dominant tone, 24% of the Telegraphs articles were primarily uncertain, whilst just 9% for the Guardian. This is due to the Telegraph giving a greater platform to climate sceptics. As with other countries, the alarmist disaster framing is the most used in UK newspapers whilst the opportunistic frame being the most sparsely used; adjectives such as ‘catastrophe’ and ‘devastating’ were used abundantly. (Painter, 2013)



Figure 5,6,7: BBC climate change headlines taken from BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/news on 14/03/2019

The BBC has its own shortcoming when it comes to reporting climate change. Above is a sample of BBC news stories relating to climate change from over the past decade. The headlines alone contain words such as “extreme”, “kill”, “poverty”, “impact”, “warns” and immediately the story is framed as disastrous. Delve into the stories behind figures 5,6,7 and you are hit with “Deaths caused by extreme weather could rise from 3,000 a year between 1981 and 2010 to 152,000 between 2071 and 2100” (BBC News, 2019), “Mr Zheng warned of more droughts, rainstorms, and higher temperatures, which would threaten river flows and harvests, as well as major infrastructure projects such as the Three Gorges Dam.” (BBC News, 2019), and “They say that up to 325 million people will be living in countries highly exposed to natural hazards by 2030” (BBC News, 2019) The language used in the articles is dominated by Risk, and there is no mention of opportunity or solutions to the problems at hand. These are alarmist and fear-based frames, which as mentioned previously, creates a feedback loop of apathy towards climate change through induced powerlessness. (Painter, 2013) In these articles, anthropogenic climate change is presented in line with the scientific consensus and the language of uncertainty is not noticeable. I think where journalists are struggling is not making it clear where the mainstream certainty and uncertainty on scientific issues lie and highlighting worst case scenarios rather than a range of risks. For example, the story for figure 5 right at the end said. “Experts from South Korea’s Seoul National University warned that the study’s results “could be overestimated”. (BBC News, 2019) It goes on to talk about variables and the ability for humans to adapt. I think the complex variables within climate change make it almost impossible for journalists to actually talk about the specific scientific uncertainties and the range of potential outcomes within the parameters of a digestible article that people will read, so they are compelled to write articles that are going to get read, which more often than not falls into disaster framing as that’s what we humans are drawn to. Lastly, the articles heavily quote scientists and experts in the fields and don’t feature quotes from politicians, which as mentioned earlier are one of the most untrusted groups.

However, the BBC (as well as others) have been guilty in the past of giving ‘false balance’ due to being too adamant with Editorial Guidelines on Impartiality. In 2011, Professor Stephen Jones of Imperial College was commissioned by the BBC Trust to carry out a review of BBC practices in relation to reporting news stories, such a climate change. Jones made the point that “overall, BBC science content is of a very high calibre, has improved over the past decade and outstrips that of other broadcasters both in the UK and internationally.” Nevertheless, two significant areas of improvement were as follows: Firstly, to reduce the ‘over-rigid’ application of the Editorial Guidelines on Impartiality. For example, the science of climate change is ‘non-contentious’ and so the BBC should avoid giving ‘undue attention to marginal opinions.’ Secondly, to broaden the range of science stories and to create more proactive, rather than reactive, stories. He also recommends growing and improving BBC contacts with the science community. (Jones, 2011)

Fortunately though, his review of the BBC found “no significant factual inaccuracies in the coverage that they analysed.” (Jones, 2011) The BBC are getting their facts straight and they know what the consensus is on climate change, and they have been given some great advice on how to improve their science reporting. Which makes it even more dumb founding when in on November 11th, 2017 BBC Radio 4 gave a platform to Myron Ebell, director of the Centre for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, whose principles are founded on “limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty.” Mr. Ebell went on to deny that climate change is a problem and that “The predictions made at the beginning of the era of global warming alarm have so far proven to be wildly inaccurate and they’ve all been much higher than predicted.” This is of course nonsense and “Many of Mr Ebell’s claims are demonstrably false. For instance, his assertion that the projections of global warming over the past 20 years have been “wildly inaccurate” is completely untrue.” (Ward, 2019)

Years after getting advice from Stephen Jones they are continuing to make the same mistakes when reporting climate change. A slither of hope appeared September 2018 when the BBC admitted it got it’s reporting on climate change “wrong too often” and that “You don’t need a ‘denier’ to balance the debate.” Hopefully going forward the BBC, and other outlets, will show strength with the scientific community and push the agenda for environmental reform. (Carrington, 2019)

How does the BBC go about solving the problem of apathy and inaction towards climate change? Well, first and foremost, it should go without saying…we need to hold fast the line of reason and facts that build the foundations upon which we go forward and try to heal our collective attitude. We need to continue championing the scientific method and the scientists who apply it, and we need to stop giving a platform to charlatans and ignorance which only serves to hold our species back and deny the rights of the natural world.

Mass media has always been a powerful tool for education and for influencing public opinion, and the BBC has been one of the biggest producers of media and is one of the most influential; broadcasting and reporting from over 200 countries worldwide it is widely recognised and has the ear of millions of people. How can the BBC produce media for mass consumption that will implore public urgency to act on climate change?

I believe the BBC could achieve this relatively easy, cheaply, and effectively by having paradigm shift on how it reports on climate change and science. Keeping its promise not to give a platform to climate sceptics, it could reframe the climate change story from alarmist catastrophe with the associated language, to one of hope, opportunity and progress and the language that goes with it. The disaster framing has led to nothing but apathy, and the guilt and the shaming has done nothing more than to disenfranchise people from nature and the science community. (Jacquet, 2017) The future is full of opportunity and the future is bright for humanity and the Earth if the public and politicians can start fighting climate change with the gusto that it deserves. The BBC should tell their journalists to start focussing on new science and technology that are going to help us cut back on greenhouse gas emissions such as electric engines, vertical farming, carbon capture and so on. Start telling people about green jobs that help build a sustainable future. Give more space to interviews with scientists and entrepreneurs such as Boyan Slat, the teenager who started Ocean Cleanup, a huge project to clean up the vast amounts of plastic from our oceans. (The Ocean Cleanup, 2019) It is important that we keep some articles as a ‘alarmist’, so it is still known that this a is problem, but if we keep 75% of the framing as opportunity and talking about people taking positive action and fighting this existential crises, then that should inspire more of the public to do the same in their own way, whether that is creating green sustainable business’s to making a conscious effort to reducing household waste and consumption. Another key task for the BBC journalists to do is to foster trust between the public and the scientific community, and then by extension of that, get the public to support pro-science politicians. They need to do away with the language of uncertainty, because whilst there is uncertainty within the details of climate change, there is none when it comes to the matters of fact and causes of climate change. The adjustment of framing from ‘alarmist’ to ‘opportunistic’ should help remove any language around uncertainty because the opportunist frame by default acknowledges the fact of anthropogenic climate change as an opportunity to act and make something of it.

This role of the journalists at the BBC going forward; to mend the broken bridge of trust between the scientific community and the public so that scientists are once again revered for their knowledge. Keep promoting the scientific consensus and don’t fall back on giving deniers are platform. They must also do their part to help the public reengage with the subject of climate change, to be inspired to seize the opportunities and to support the politicians who are going to make the changes needed to create a sustainable and prosperous future.


Theodore Roszak said in his book ‘Voice of the Earth’ that “Environmentalists are among the most psychologically illiterate people you will ever meet. They work from a narrow range of motivations: the statistics of impending disaster, the coercive emotional force of fear and guilt…they overlook the unreason, the perversity, the sick desire that lie at the core of the psyche. Their strategy is shock and shame.” (Roszak, 2001) That is to say, that environmentalists, journalists, and scientists bombard climate change deniers with reason, facts, and statistics and then shame and demean people who do not agree. Jonna Macy in relation to that said this approach “by itself can increase resistance, deepening the sense of apathy and powerlessness.” (Macy, 1983)

We must use the power of the media wisely as we move into the future. We need to combine the scientific facts with our understanding of human psychology. We know that hostility breeds hostility, you can’t fight fire with fire. Hope and opportunity must be given to the public in order to invoke the change we need to see. We mustn’t dehumanise people and call them stupid or vile, we have to nurture in people what we want to see. The only way to get people to change their mind is on an emotional level, you have to get them to emotionally connect with the problem and the truth. You have to give them a narrative, a story, something which allows people to connect and form a shared identity which includes protection of the Earth and its ecosystems.

“We may know intellectually that we are in desperate straits, but emotionally we are unconnected to this knowledge” (Melamed, n.d.)


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