In just a few weeks UN delegates return to the table at the 2010 climate conference to be held in Mexico with the hope of making progress on fair, ambitious and legally binding climate treaty. Though the outcome of this meeting is as of yet uncertain, one thing at least is clear - the climate movement has blossomed, growing into a powerful, positive force for action that reflects a broad diversity of stakeholders.
If the climate movement in the past was defined by iconic images of polar bears floating on ice and desperate pleas to world leaders, this year it is being defined by a myriad of outspoken voices who are moving into action - from those in the poorest communities already suffering the impacts of climate change, to those working to protect our last rainforests or cutting CO2 emissions by installing solar panels on their rooftops.
Yes, we are still worried about that polar bear, but she is now part of a mosaic of a thousand faces representing a broad array of causes - both social and environmental - that have come together under the umbrella of our modern day climate movement.
I was invited to speak recently at the European Journalism Centre's Climate Action Conference on behalf of TckTckTck - our global alliance of over 250 NGOs - to describe what is happening on the "front lines" of the movement.
There was much to cover. This month, on the heels of a UN intersessional meeting in China, a wave of action commenced with the 10/10/10 Global Work Party, described as the world's largest day of climate action. On October 16, World Food Day, Oxfam's Sow the Seed initiative drew attention to the impact of climate change on food production, and on October 17, the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) drew attention to the links between climate change and growing poverty on nearly every continent.
The climate wave did not go unnoticed by international leaders. Statements of support came from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the UN's climate head Christiana Figueres, and Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and a leading human rights advocate, amongst others.
Yet, the press has largely failed to connect the dots about this new convergence in the climate movement, which now encompasses both poverty alleviation and the surge of energy investments around the world. So, with approximately 100 journalists in the audience, I focused on the role of the media in shaping perceptions about climate change and the "paradigm shift" that is now underway. The big message: the climate clock is till ticking, but instead of counting down to Doomsday it is clocking a global "race" towards a low-carbon future.
Race to the Future
I pointed out that a number of large developing nations are seeing the competitive advantages in improving energy efficiency and investing in a green economy. China invested nearly $35 billion last year in clean energy projects (nearly twice the U.S. investment), installing wind power at a rate of one new turbine every hour.
Earlier this month, South Korea announced that it would invest $36 billion into renewable energy over the next five years. Indonesia, Southeast Asia's largest economy, is aiming to become the world leader in geothermal energy.
Last year more than 50% of all new electrical power installations in the EU came from renewables and there's now a roadmap for Europe to achieve 100% renewable electricity supply by 2050. Around 40% of new power installations in the US in 2009 came from wind. As HSBC noted in September,
"...looking through the fog of the carbon war, a new climate is starting to emerge, driven as much by resource scarcity and industrial innovation as by the raw realities of global warming... it is also self-evident that mounting pressures on energy, land and waterresources require a step change in economic behavior, offering growth, employment and trade benefits for those countries to take the lead in climate business."
More and more, we're seeing references to a "new industrial revolution" - it's the new zeitgeist. Get with the program or get left behind. As China's climate negotiator put it, "Countries with low-carbon industries will have a developmental advantage. Some people believe this is a global competition as significant as the space race in the cold war."
But when it comes to climate reporting, I told my journalist audience that the media is lagging behind, far too obsessed with the deniers vs. believers circus. The media frenzy around hacked e-mails of climate scientists led to accusations of conspiracy and fraud which ricocheted formonths around the denialist echo chamber. Likewise, a few citation errors in the IPCC report were trumpeted as the final nails in the coffin for the climate movement, despite the fact that not a single investigation (even those in which climate skeptics have participated) has found any evidence thatscientists "fudged," "manipulated" or "manufactured" data, and the fundamental conclusions of the IPCC still stand. The scientific process, it turns out, actually works. So why the imbalanced journalism?
Journalists: Do No Harm
An recent editorial Nature suggests that the problem lies with a market-driven need for news programming that entertains. It talks about the discrepancy between the "steady accumulation of evidence that points in the same direction" versus the "noise of spurious dissent" which drowns it out. The uncertainties in climate science are described as footnotes, albeit crucial ones, to the main narrative.
Maybe the real news about climate is too scary to be entertaining, or maybe it's just a boiling frog sort of story. Maybe the good news about people, businesses and governments who are getting on with solving the problem is boring compared to the scandal of the day.
Thinking about this in the context of the US midterm elections, where climate skepticism has become a badge of honor for candidates supported by the ultra right-wing Tea Party movement, I came to the conclusion that journalists should tear a page out of the book of the medical practice...
Hippocrates gave physicians a cardinal rule - "do no harm." I asked the audience whether journalists should adopt the same creed. Journalists have a duty to educate, to get to the truth of the matter by digging deep into the best available facts, science, and expertise. There are, of course other codes of journalistic practice such as the need to provide "balanced" reporting. But genuinely balanced reporting should be done in service to the truth, not as a forced attempt to provide "another side" to the story, when in fact none exists.
My take-home point was this: in 10 or 20 years time, the journalists who recognized the new climate zeitgeist and found ways to talk about it intelligently are the ones who will be remembered. Those who succumbed to "climategate" and other non-stories will be relegated to unflattering footnotes in the history books of the future.