Source: Frontline Club
Event: Broken filter: Is our journalism up to the debate over energy and climate change?
Credit: Frontline Club, Greenpeace Energydesk, also Geoff Chambers for transcribing this.
Alan Rusbridger: Good evening, can everybody hear me? Are these mikes working? Thank you all for coming to this debate. The subject of the discussion this evening is whether journalism is up to the debate about energy and climate change. I was very happy to come along and chair this when asked to do so, and I was happy to do so, not because I know an immense amount about the subject - I don't - I'm a very generalist editor of a very generalist paper, but I do think it is probably the most important question of our age. And when Angus asked me, coming up the stairs, "Is this a sort of area of special advocacy?" my answer is: it feels as though it has been, in terms of the resources that we've put into this on the Guardian. About ten, twelve years ago we had one science correspondent and one environment correspondent, and I would look at the resources that we put into covering Westminster or football or culture, and I thought: this is somehow all wrong. And I think we've now got - I'm looking at James, but we've got about 8 to 10 people who now cover science and environment. They're all staggeringly bright, they've all got two or three degrees. We've built an environment side which is now very large, it has about 2.4 million users a month. It's growing at about 20% a year which is very nice. You don't often hear about growth in newspapers these days - and the way we've done that is to step outside our own comfort zone and link up with 20 other, 28 other experts, blogs, networks, of people who really know about the environment on four continents, and we've now built up a really sizeable body of people who cover it for the Guardian, and we've got about 100,000 followers on Twitter, so in terms of the investment that we put into it, it feels like a large investment.
But at the end of the summer I went to see - did anybody else go and see Ten Billion at the Royal Court? Which was this extraordinary evening that really shouldn't have worked at all. It was Stephen Emmott, a scientist, who is - I hope he wouldn't mind me saying - not a brilliant speaker. It was on the stage of the Royal, the Upstairs Room at the Royal Court, with a minimal set, it was just his study had been recreated on the set, and it's not a very interesting study. He didn't have very interesting props, the graphics were so-so, and it was basically just a lecture. And yet it was the most gripping and enthralling and frightening thing that I'd seen all year. And it roamed around land and population and water and warming, and although it was only a tiny audience - there were only about ninety people in the theatre each evening, it really packed a punch - and the critics came out saying this was the most disturbing thing they'd seen all year, and reached an audience that maybe had become a bit immune to it. And I think that, I went back to work the next day feeling a bit depressed because often it takes things like theatrical productions or films - the Al Gore film - to find fresh ways of dealing with this subject. And so the question is really a challenge to journalism tonight - what is it, if it's true that journalism is not quite failing to, to achieve the impact that this subject should have, why is that?
There are a number of possible causes that we might want to talk about tonight. It might be the economic state of the industry.
Nobody really needs here [inaudible] can avoid it, understanding that newspapers are in bleak times in terms of the current economic model, and so inevitably what gets cut back is specialists and time to ferret out expert subjects and to verify, and it's this feeling of what Nick Davies calls "churnalism", and sometimes it feels like an exhausted industry that is trying to put so much energy into making this transition into the digital future, that these important subjects aren't getting the concentration that they need. Yesterday the Times - I think it was yesterday - the Times announced that it is closing its really rather brilliant section Eureka because the advertisers simply didn't step up to the plate, and a spokesman for News International said the heightened issue of political consciousness around the environment and green issues appears to have receded in these austere times, so maybe there's a responsibility amongst people who advertise and help finance these experiments by publishers.
Maybe it's that the story is simply too repetitive. I thought the Independent did a brilliant job at one period when Simon Kellner was doing those very bold front pages in the tabloid Independent but maybe, I think he thought this: in the end you run out of novelty and ways of saying the same things about a story that essentially doesn't change very much except in the biggest terms of all. There's probably a Chomskian analysis of all this, that people who run newspapers are too embedded in a thought system - I'll leave that for others to develop if they want to develop that, and so you get this thing of this lack of novelty, the economic crisis, you have to sell newspapers, you have to find upbeat things to entice people in an age that you can't depress them, and that thing that Ed Miliband was talking about today, that sort of sense of powerlessness, that we've got no power to affect this thing, and that's not a great thing to read about constantly if you've got no power.
Or you could take completely the opposite view, and maybe Ben's going to advance this, that actually it's only the media that is doing anything about this at the moment. You know, the Times did publish this very good section for three years, which showed tremendous commitment, with something that was probably not going to work financially. The Daily Mail has done some great work on campaigning on things like plastic bags, I've mentioned the Independent already, and we all know that the BBC has had and has excellent commitment in this area. And so you could argue that it's only the media that is keeping this subject alive, and there was Ed Miliband today, a very good speech but I don't think he mentioned the environment at all, in the course of a very wide-ranging speech -and he's one of the better people on either side.
So that's the framework that we're going to cover tonight. I'm just going to introduce the speakers and they're going to speak - as it happens, they're speaking in alphabetical order. I actually l planned the way I wanted them to speak and then I worked out it was alphabetical afterwards, and they've all promised to speak for about five minutes together to begin with - we'll believe that when it happens, but I've got a little stopwatch here so I shall start waving it at them if they go vastly over five minutes, because we ought to get some interaction from you too. So I'm just going to briefly give a little three second - three minute - three second - and somewhere between three seconds and three minutes - thirty seconds just so that you know who they are if you don't already. Alice who's going to speak first is Dr Alice Bell. She's a senior teaching fellow at Imperial College London, she's a writer, she's very interested in these issues of science and society. She teaches, has taught science communication at Imperial, UCL, and is running a course on energy and climate change. I found out that she blogs on knitting - true? - and she tweets. If you're going to be tweeting about this - and incidentally the hash tag is #brokenfilter, if anybody wants to put points that we can take up at the end I will at some point try and boot up my iPad and see who's making what point, but you can also speak if you want, that's also allowed, so she tweets at @alicebell and she has nearly ten thousand followers which is pretty good. Do you have a separate knitting tweet?
Alice Bell: I think maybe most of that ten thousand are knitters.
Alan Rusbridger: Right, okay. This is Angus McCrone who is the chief editor of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, who has got - he was telling me downstairs he has about 200 people working on his team, which is an amazing number, not all of them journalists sadly, that includes analysts and researchers, and they're covering sectors such as wind, solar, biofuels, carbon. He writes and presents on a wide range of topics including clean energy investment project finance, public markets and policy making. I couldn't find you on Twitter but I did find BNEF - is that right?
Angus McCrone: Yes, that's right.
Alan Rusbridger :Which has 5,300 followers. Ben Webster here is the media editor of the Times. He's been doing that job since July last year. He's been on the Times since 1998. He's been on the newsdesk, he's been night news editor and assistant news editor, he's been a transport correspondent, and crucially from the point of view tonight, although he's going to talk about both the environment and the media, he was environment correspondent for a couple of years writing the Greenwash column in the Eureka magazine. Now he's got a rather curious profile on Twitter. I think you don't much like Twitter, do you?
Ben Webster: I like it as a source.
Alan Rusbridger: As a source, right. I think you've tweeted five times.
Ben Webster: That's very good.
Alan Rusbridger: He is ABWebster135, and considering he's only tweeted five times, he's got a remarkable 733 followers. They're very patient. This is David Kennedy. He's the chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change. He's worked on energy strategy at the World Bank. He's designed infrastructure and investment projects at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. He's got a PhD in economics from the LSE and I couldn't find you on Twitter but -
David Kennedy: We are #2050target.
Alan Rusbridger: Yes, I've got that, the Committee on Climate Change.
David Kennedy: I think we've got 3000 followers.
Alan Rusbridger: You've got 3300 followers, you're even better than you think. That's #@2050target. And then finally on the right, at least as I sit, is Tom Burke, environmental campaigner, founder of E3G which is third generation environmentalism, probably familiar to many of you as environmental policy adviser to Rio Tinto, visiting professor at Imperial College and University College, senior business adviser to the foreign secretary's special representative on climate change, recently been appointed to the external review committee of Shell, former executive director of Friends of the Earth and adviser to three Secretaries of State of the Environment.
Tom Burke: And not dead yet.
Alan Rusbridger: And not dead yet. And he tweets at Tom_Burke_47 if you can remember that, and he has 648 followers. So that's the panel. As I say, I'm now going to try and be reasonably strict with the timekeeping and ask Alice to kick off.
Alice Bell: Okay, so is journalism fit for purpose when it comes to energy and climate change? I don't know, so I'm sorry if you've come here to hear the academic from Imperial College give you an answer. I'm going to do the really annoying thing, and answer the question with two more questions. My two questions, firstly: whose purpose are we trying to fit to exactly, and secondly, is journalism really the thing we should be focussing on as a problem?
So first, whose purpose are we trying to fit to exactly? I think this is worth asking, because it draws our attention quite importantly I think to the politics of it all. And the public debate on energy and climate change is all about politics. I spend a lot of my professional life arguing that all science journalism is political, but I think it's more so, or at least more obviously so when it comes to climate science. I've never heard anybody say that energy policy isn't political. I think if you did you'd probably need to go and kind of take a hard look at yourself really. Not really going to address that one, but I definitely - energy and climate change is a political issue and we need to think about who's involved and whose agendas and whose framing we're looking at these through. We might if we're in a good mood, agree that we all want to make a happier, safer future for us all, but what this future looks like and how we get there is completely up for debate still, and sadly I think that there's also increasingly a debate over what us all might look like. I think that our political fights over climate change are not just going to be about, in the future is not just going to be about whether it's happening or not, but about the distribution of suffering that it causes, and I think that some of it will be sort of old political questions of rich and poor. More and more I talk to climate scientists and people in the field that I just think that that's the case.
It might be nice to imagine that scientists could simply pass their great knowledge on to the rest of the world and we'd just sit there and do what they say. It would be simple, it would make for an easy life maybe, but they don't know everything, and we're not going to quickly believe them either. Even when they can tell us something with quite a lot of certainty and we do believe them, which is largely the case with climate change, it doesn't mean we're going to act on it. We all do things that we know are bad for us. It's a very complicated process. And that's not to say equally that the solution is to think that we just need to argue that we should argue with scientists. I think examples of cases of false balance or merchants of doubt where we see arguments in science being subverted and manipulated and misused are examples of why we need to be careful about simply saying "Oh well, we just need to argue with the scientists." We need to have some respect for expertise and use it cleverly too. I give my students a difference between top down models for communication compared to more discursive ones, as something to play with when they start, when they first enrol in my course, but we all know that the world's more complicated than that.
Second question: is journalism really the problem? Greenpeace can organise an event like this, ready to point fingers at journalists, and I think it's right we should do that, I think that we should point fingers at journalists, I can recognise several in the room, I can point at them, and some of the criticism that Greenpeace suffered over the Arctic Ready campaign in the summer was that it took media as a target, and I think the response to that is that media is a valid target, it shouldn't have been criticised for that. But I also think that NGOs should take the chance to look at themselves too, if only because they're part of this media. For all that I'd like to see a continued role for professional independent journalism, we increasingly see direct communication to the public from activists, politicians, scientists, and more, and it's increasingly blurred. I think the starting of this Energydesk blog on Greenpeace from an ex BBC journalist is an example of that. I was looking at one of the blog posts on it this morning, and it links to an Exxon Mobil blog. I was rereading Carbon Brief. If you don't know Carbon Brief I recommend you google it, it's another blog in the field. I was rereading a post of theirs from a couple of weeks ago about Statoil blogs that are advertorially paid for on the Telegraph site. This is a very complicated process of who's communicating where.
So if you're worried about the state of public communication on climate change and energy, we need not just to worry about the Guardian or Boing Boing or the BBC - all very fine institutions with some excellent experts on energy and climate change, but Greenpeace too, the other NGOs, Imperial College, all sorts of different groups and individuals. And I think that, also I think the people who reacted to criticism of the Arctic Ready stuff, the people that reacted to that website was: "But Greenpeace lied". I think it's worth remembering that criticism and paying attention to it, although I'd also say that they needed to get some perspective. It's not like Greenpeace is the first to pull something like this. I actually teach a whole class on science [inaudible] web courses - hoaxes - to postgraduates at Imperial. There's a lot of history of it. A few years ago the Office of Fair Trading, the Office of Fair Trading, tried a similar game, working with Sense about Science to highlight misinformation around health. Other parodies like the pregnant man or the downloadable tan, which - do google if you want to see - they're quite interesting bits of art really, websites, they're deliberately trying to hoax and play with how credulous we can be about science and technology. They invite us to consider how much we just take on belief and don't research. So if Arctic Ready fooled you and you felt that you were lied to I think you need to ask yourself why you believed it. Still, I don't think Greenpeace should be casting the audience in the role of the fool. I don't think the Office of Fair Trading should have been doing it, either. I think the public discourse on energy and climate change just like in health, is shadowy, elitist and confusing enough already.
So in contrast, I wanted to add - and let me finish on a reasonably positive note - and I'd say that Leo Hickman's EcoAudit Lifeblog is an example of the sort of thing I'd like to see more of. Here he asked a question - it's from the Guardian Environment website - I'm not just choosing his because our Chair comes from the Guardian, I'm not just crawling, but that's where it is. He asks a question, shows answers that he's actively gone looking for, but also supplies a space for new people that he hasn't thought of to drop in answers. So for example he had one last week on the legacy of Silent Spring, and there was actually a podcast that I think I'd heard about from him but about a year ago, and I put in a comment "Do you remember this?" and then he lifted up from that and added in, because he'd forgotten about it. He has a respect for the expertise of his audience and therefore draws on a lot more expertise than you could initially imagine. It also helps, I think, build trust because you can see him thinking through an idea so when you get to, even if all you read is the conclusion at the end of the day that he's come to, you know that the rest of his thought processes is there for you to see. You can see his working. I'd love to see more of this in environmental journalism, and I'd like to see politicians, activists and scientists and others asking questions in public in similar interactive ways. Hickman's approach isn't as flashy as Arctic Ready, but I think it offered a more meaningful form of interaction than just a space to upload a photo or a point-and-click game. It asks readers what they know and think, not simply to perform jokes within a set framework. Maybe we all need a few more LOLcats in the climate debate, a bit more humour, a bit more subvertive art like the kind of stuff that the Yes Men do, I don't necessarily disapprove of these things existing, and I think they invite us to think, but I think that both politics and science, which the climate debate is, can be done with a respect for the public sphere as a source of inspiration for new directions to take, not just to be a space to amass support for preset routes.
I don't think we should game-ify climate change, because I don't think the rules of the game are things that we've agreed on yet. There's a place for privacy, even secrets, when it comes to a lot of work on climate change and energy. I'm not advocating just plain straight complete openness - I think it's too complicated for that. Many in the field are defensive for very good reasons - email hacks, undercover cops, there's just a desire for everyone to go away and let you work on something on your own in some peace and quiet for a bit. But that doesn't mean we should close off and defend our own ground, it would just be defensive. There's a lot more to climate change and energy communication than just rhetoric. There's a sharing and unpacking of information too, and I think we're better at that when we do it together. So my concluding line is to be bold, to be open, and listen, and collaborate.
Alan Rusbridger: I had seen a little advance text of that so I knew it was going to be good and I knew it was going to set the framework for the debate in advance. Thank you Alice, that was a brilliant overview. Angus.
Angus McCrone: Thank you, Alan. Well, I'm afraid I'm not going to be as structured as Alice was. I thought I'd mention three things, really. First of all, the outfit I work for - New Energy Finance, or Bloomberg New Energy Finance - is an interesting case study of what's going on in this subject area, and this [inaudible] being private sector and the big money really is committed to this subject. Then I was going to look at what the sceptics are saying, because I think the sceptics are - have some reasonable points, but they wear different hats on different occasions, and it's actually not helpful for the overall debate. If we could, sort of, narrow down the number of things that people are arguing about, then it would be very helpful. And, lastly, I was going to look at renewable energy, because there's some interesting things there, in terms of the importance of that sector, which I don't think are widely realised. And we can discuss why that is, but I think it's quite interesting.
So, first of all, New Energy Finance was a company that was started in 2004 by a guy called Michael Liebreich, who is a sort of ultimate private-sector entrepreneur, a hyperactive chap. He was going to set up a fund, but he soon - when he was researching that, he came to the conclusion that the thing that was really needed, in the whole clean energy area, was information. There wasn't decent information out there. So he set up a company which was going to do three things - news, data and analysis, in this area. And the business had a few venture capital rounds [?], grew very quickly. I joined about six years ago, and the first day I was there, I think, they were having their Christmas party, they were just celebrating the fact they had their first £1 million turnover year. And three years after that, we were bought by Bloomberg, and we now have 200 people, as Alan was saying. Not - they're not my personal team, I hasten to add - my personal team are much smaller. But I was at a drinks party recently. There were a couple of people from national newspapers there, and I won't mention which ones, but... We were talking about how - I asked them how many people worked for their organisations, and one said 60 and the other said 130, and I said "Well, we employ more than you do", and they'd never even heard of us, so... That was quite interesting.
But, I think, we - as Alan said, we cover wind and solar and biofuels and energy-smart technologies, and all the other renewable energy sectors. And also conventional power, and water. And we have analysts who, sort of, drill down in great depth into these subjects. And big organisations, private sector organisations, and governments and banks and so on, pay a lot of money for the research that we do. So that's how we make our living. And we're certainly not an advocacy company. We tell people the way it is. And if the message is not to their liking, then that's too bad.
But it seems to me that, on the whole climate change topic and clean energy topic as well, there are, kind of, six things that the sceptics are saying. And as I say some of those things have got a bit to be said for them. But the first one is "Climate change is not happening." The second one is "Climate change is happening but it's not due to human activity". The third one is "Man-made climate change is happening, but it's not worth doing anything about it". The fourth one is "Man-made climate change is happening, it's worth doing something about it, but not investing in renewable energy - that isn't the answer." I think personally that's probably the one that is the most - the most serious of the opponents, in terms of the strength of the argument. And then there's the - on clean energy, there's the "Renewable energy is too expensive" argument. And then there's the "Wind turbines are spoiling the countryside" argument.
On renewable energy, it's interesting that if you do actually crunch the figures, which is what we do all the time, it's not a niche. It's sometimes portrayed as a niche in some of the newspapers - even the best-informed newspapers. If you look at 2011, worldwide, for instance, there were 106 gigawatts of conventional thermal coal and gas generation installed worldwide, 106 gigawatts. Renewable energy 97 gigawatts. There's almost as much. And the most established one of that, large hydro, was only 15. So, wind and solar is the majority of that 97. So, this is a very big industry that's growing very, very quickly. In money terms, net investments in renewable power, including hydro, was $327 billion last year. That was more than conventional thermal power, if you exclude replacement plant. More by about $14 billion.
The other interesting thing that's going on is that costs are falling very, very sharply for the two main technologies, which are onshore wind and solar PV. We have a model which looks at levelised costs, so this is every single aspect of costs, starting off with capital costs and your debt costs during the lifetime of the project, your feedstock costs, and all the rest of it. And in the last three years, the cost of coal-fired generation's gone up by 37%, gas-fired generation by 32%, and meanwhile, onshore wind is down by 15%, and depending which PV solar technology you choose, the figures are anything from minus 47% to minus 54%. Now, there are a few renewable technologies that have become more expensive in the last three years, offshore wind being one of them, but on those two dominant technologies, the cost picture's been improving massively. And, as well as the cost thing, which is moving in favour of renewable energy and hasn't completely got there but has moved a long way, there are also obvious advantages in terms of carbon emissions, energy security, feedstock cost volatility - gas feedstock is just about the most volatile commodity there is, in world markets, so it's very difficult to plan. Disaster risk - we saw that at Fukushima - and water use is another big one as well. There are a lot of countries in the world that are water-constrained, and actually, wind and solar PV use virtually no water, whereas all the conventional technologies use a lot of water.
And, finally, the biggest issue, in a way, with renewable energy, is - I would argue - is grid integration, because we've got to appoint, where there's a lot of renewable energy established in countries - Denmark is probably the country with the biggest percentage, but even in the UK the percentage is rising pretty sharply, and the 2020 targets will lift it up a lot further. So the big issue is: how do you integrate it into the grid and make sure the lights stay on, and you can make it possible for all the different generators with the different technologies to make a living. So I'll leave you with that.
Alan Rusbridger: That was a pretty fascinating glimpse of the industry, from the industry point of view. Ben, I hope you're going to dip in the media.
Ben Webster: Yes, well; Alice spoke for 7 minutes 30 seconds, Angus spoke for 7 minutes 15 seconds, Alan asked people to speak for 5 minutes, I'm going to try to stick to 5 minutes to demonstrate to you that you do actually need journalists to cut out the waffle, stick to the question of the debate, and focus on that.
Alan told me, the first thing he said to me as I got on the stage was "You're going to defend the media." I'm not in the habit of taking orders from the editor of the Guardian. But on this occasion, I was going to do that anyway. I just want to make that clear, it's not as a result of you telling me to. Actually, the very simple answer is "Yes" to our question, Angus. Broken filter: "Is our journalism up to the debate on energy and climate change?" But that actually isn't the real question. The real question is: "Is the public willing to pay for that journalism?" In an era where people struggle to read beyond 140 characters, will they pay for longer-form journalism that people like me are paid to produce? Should we fill our pages with worthy stories about the environment, about climate change that people don't want to read, and demonstrably don't want to read? But we think that they ought to read, or people around on this panel think that they ought to read, because they're paid to pump that stuff out?
The big problem I think with climate change is that it's, from a national newspaper point of view, is that it relies - it's a very long-term problem, it's very difficult to see, and it's very difficult to say: "There is an abrupt change, a clear change today that you can very clearly pin on climate change, on man-made climate change." So the question is, when we make these claims in our stories, do the readers trust us? And I think that is actually, well I mean Alan's done a tremendous service to the industry on this side, because he's focussed on the issue, we're all having to rethink, it's a question of trust. Are, do the readers trust what we do? If they don't trust what we do, we have absolutely nothing. I mean, part of the reason I'm here now, and I'm writing about the media, is - actually, I'd much rather be writing about the environment, and I blame Alan for that - because last July, I was happily writing about the environment, and the editor said to me: "We're in a crisis. The Murdochs are going before the Select Committee tomorrow, and we don't have an environment correspondent because we fired him. Sorry, we don't have a media correspondent, because we fired him, so would you do it?" And I felt in the circumstances I should do it, because particularly for our company, it was an issue that we had to address properly and authoritatively.
I'm slightly concerned in this debate. I suspect that everyone in this room - put your hand up if you don't - reads the Guardian website. If you don't read the Guardian Environment website. Hands up if you subscribe to the Guardian.
Alan Rusbridger: What do you mean, subscribe?
Ben Webster: Pay. Pay on a daily basis. What's the percentage there?
Alan Rusbridger: Cheapskates, aren't they?
Ben Webster: Cheapskates. That's the problem, and that's the problem that Alan was referring to with Eureka. I'm slightly concerned, and I know your website is a wonderful resource, a wonderful resource for me when I was writing about the environment. You've got ten correspondents, and we had me and we had some science correspondents. And we actually increased the number of science correspondents last year. I'm slightly concerned that the environment movement tends to talk to itself, people in this room, your lot, the target audience. The target audience is people who haven't expressed an interest, people who don't. The target audience is not the 2.5 million readers of, monthly readers of the Guardian website. Green groups used to think, but the most enlightened, like Greenpeace now realise, that giving, gifting stories, if they get given something really interesting, something juicy, don't give it to the Guardian. It won't be treated, it won't get the same spread of interest. Few, more people will read it if you give it to someone else, so for instance, you know, you might want to give it to the FT, and your story will have more impact.
There is a problem I think with - I'm running out of time here - there is a problem with environment correspondents going native, and you know, some environment correspondents even sleep with environmentalists, as some people here know. There is success, the definition of success I think is when an environment story is not written by an environment correspondent, it's written by a political editor, by the Washington bureau chief, or by the defence editor, or somebody else. In other words, it's entered the mainstream. It's part of another debate too. Sorry for taking twenty more seconds than my time.
Alan Rusbridger: Some explosive claims there, we'll have to get the names out of him before we... Dave.
David Kennedy: OK. What I want to do is just tell you a very well-evidenced story in a nutshell which I hope a lot of you know already. And then tell you some of the challenges that I've had and my organisation has had over the last few years getting it out into the media. A couple of general challenges and a couple of specific ones, and when I talk about the challenges and the difficulties, then I'm not going to talk about your forthright interview style.
Okay so then, the story. I mean, my organisation has over the last five years has developed a story that's embodied in legislation, that story is that we should be aiming at an 80% emissions reduction in 2050 on 1990 levels. That's an appropriate UK contribution to global emissions reductions required to limit the risks of very dangerous climate change. Then if that's where you want to be in 2050, well, you can't start in 2049 or '45, we've got to start now being on that path, and that's where the carbon budgets come in. We've legislated carbon budgets covering the period to 2030. Those build in a 60% emissions cut over the next two decades by 2030 on 1990 levels, and we've got a very strong sense of what that means, it means investing in low carbon power technologies, it means moving to electric forms of heating and transport and energy efficiency improvement, so, that is the story in a nutshell, as I say, it's very well-evidenced, it is embodied in the legislation, I think it's generally accepted, and I'm looking now for lots of nodding heads, you said you were going to heckle me, you were going to back me up there and say it was very well-evidenced and researched and accepted at least by sensible people, that story.
So if I move on now then and say, well, what are the challenges we've had getting it out into the media and through the media to the general public? And obviously it's important to get a sensible story out there rather than some of the hysterical and very negative stories, so in a general sense, first of all, I think there is a very polarised way of setting out these things in the media. Either it's folly, it's silly, we shouldn't be doing it on the one hand, or on the other: it's imperative, we've got to do it or the world's going to end - very apocalyptic. I think what we need to do is find the middle ground, which is: "This is an economically sensible strategy" and get on with it. And I don't think that's a problem for the media actually, I think it's the problem for the government because we haven't got at the moment that narrative in the centre ground, around why this is economically sensible, so it's a big challenge there. It's for the government, but it needs to be then reflected in the media.
Second thing, Alan, you talked about selling newspapers. Over time I've seen a real shift in emphasis and interest in the papers. Even a few years ago, back in 2009 we had a report on aviation - really topical, really exciting, I thought - got me, at ten past eight on the Today programme, for the full ten minutes, but the Guardian said: "It's not interesting, we're not going to cover it." If I think about, a couple of weeks ago, we wrote to Ed Davey and the rest of the government a public letter around decarbonising the power sector, the crucial debate at the moment around the low carbon economy, and although it was picked up in the Guardian and the FT, some of the other big players said: "I'm gonna pass on that one. Either I haven't got time, or it's not interesting." There's the sexing up of stories and so on. One of Ben's colleagues took a three hundred page report across the whole economy and picked up one little thing, that we might want to over time think about rebalancing our diet away from red meat, and had as the headline on the Sunday Times: "Beef is off the menu from now on". We had a bioenergy review that we spent a year doing, and it was looking at the big issues - global population rising, a lack of land in the world, feeding this rising global population, sustainable bioenergy, and the Daily Telegraph wanted to make a headline about using chip fat to fuel our vehicles, which we hadn't written anything about, but that's the article they went with, around our report, so there is an issue there around getting space, getting coverage, getting responsible coverage, and it's getting more difficult over time. I think Ben asked me: "Do we still do our media briefings where we used to get 15 correspondents, the full set of people there?" No, we don't do them any more because most people dropped out. There's a few interested parties, either because they care about this, or because they want to show it to be a silly thing, but it is getting much more difficult.
Now on the specifics, I think we've heard about the science already. I think actually there was an assault on the science, and I think that has gone away a little bit, and even if you look at the Daily Mail now, although there are some articles which misrepresent the science, there's others which talk about the impacts of climate change which implicitly accept the science, and I'm less worried about that than I was a year or two ago, but there are some specific things. Now I was going to say nuclear doesn't get covered very well in certain parts of the press. There's a very well evidenced story that this is a cost-effective technology, and I was discussing that with my friend Tom Burke in the bar downstairs, and we nearly had an argument about it. I can see Doug Parr over there, John Sauven, Keith Allott so I'll take that one away and say: okay, there is a debate to have about nuclear. We'll find out about that, 'cos we'll see if there's a contract signed, and I hope we'll understand is that a cost-effective contract or not? But there's other things. I think we've heard about wind. A lot of stories that, OK, wind cannot reduce emissions, and there's a report recently, I think from the Global Warming Policy Foundation from a professor in Edinburgh. It's very clearly stated, and that's just indefensible, first of all, on the basis of evidence, but it's picked up and repeated in the media as though it is fact. It is not fact, and there's a lot of rubbish talked about both onshore wind and offshore wind. I mean, if we want to debate those, it's not about economics for onshore wind, you can debate the visual disamenity, the landscape impacts. If you're Donald Trump you can debate the visual disamenity impacts of the offshore wind as well, but it's not about the economics, and it's not about can you generate electricity through wind generation. Clearly you can, and you can tell a very good story about why it's cost effective.
Let me very quickly just move on to shale gas, again there's a lot of stuff talked about shale gas that absolutely has no basis in fact at all. It's seen - if you look at the Economist a few months ago the special edition, it's a golden age of gas, it's a game changer. The price of gas is gonna plummet, we should get off the low carbon path and get on to the gas path, which is a low carbon path, it was claimed in the Economist. It's clearly not a low carbon path, it's not a low price path, it's not a sensible path, but that doesn't resonate throughout the media - bits of the media that have picked that up, but not a lot of the media.
Affordability is the key issue at the moment on this whole agenda, so politicians, absolutely concerned about affordability. If we look at survey evidence, everybody says at the top of my list of worries: "Can I pay my energy bill this winter?" More than even the fear of unemployment, the risk of unemployment in the recession, it's right up there, but it's really important we get the facts out. Now the facts are, energy bills we would expect, because of low carbon and a programme we have in this country at the moment, we would expect energy bills to go up by about £100 for the typical household in 2020 relative to 2010. You read in the papers, well, it's not £100, you saw on Panorama, normally a responsible programme, that it's going to be hundreds and hundreds of pounds. The highest estimate reported, again in the papers, £3000, as though that's fact, the fact is that it's £100, so a lot of misreporting there, and the last one I'm going to finish with is competitiveness, and this story that, OK, if we're on the low carbon path it's going to drive our energy costs up. Nobody else is doing this, so were going to close the whole economy down, it's ridiculous, let's stop doing it. If you look again at the evidence on competitiveness, there are a small number of industries that we would worry about and there are policies in place to protect those industries, so it's a moot point to worry about competitiveness. So, let me finish with that, there is a very well-evidenced story, it's difficult to get it out there, particularly now because it's not seen as newsworthy, sexy, and sells newspapers, it is misrepresented, it's polarised, and there's a lot of specifics I've given you which I would like to see carried in a lot more responsible way. It's very important that we get the right messages out there that are fact-based, around what is essentially a very sensible economic strategy to be on, the low carbon path now, and over the next years in this country. Thank you.
Alan Rusbridger: That feels a bit like a case for the prosecution, so we'll come back to that at the end. But finally let's hear from Tom.
Tom Burke: As I listened to David I was brought back to mind of a phrase I caught quite by chance in a book by Macaulay the historian at the time of the Windscale enquiry when, as history has shown, all the arguments that we at Friends of the Earth put forward were right, but they went ahead and did it anyway. And there's this wonderful line which brilliantly sort of piece of British writing at it best in a way, and Macaulay said: "You must remember that argument is constructed in one way, and government in entirely another", and I'm afraid, ever since then, that was back in the late seventies and ever since then I've found that that remains consistently true. Winning the argument is a very, very long way from changing what governments do and you shouldn't kid yourself that it is, and in that sense I want to do something that's a bit unusual, I want to actually answer the question you put. I don't think the media is a broken filter, I don't think it's a filter, I think it's much more of a mirror, and it reflects things, some of which you like and some of which you don't like about the society you live in, and if you're in the business I'm in and in the business I think many of us in this room are in of trying to change the way society goes, the real value of what you see in the media is what it tells you about the society in which you live, and you should pay attention to that, and you should stop worrying about what's wrong with journalists and worry a lot more about what's wrong with the messages you're making, and actually focus on - I think Alice was absolutely right to say the real problem is with the politics. It's not with the communications. If your fundamental purpose in life as a right wing politician is smaller government, lower regulation, lower taxes, an ever expanding realm of personal choice for individuals and you think that markets are always wiser than governments, you can't have a problem called climate change, so it doesn't matter what the argument is. If you're on the left, and you think the sole purpose of government is to make the economy work well so that you can develop the resources in order to pay for public services and alleviate poverty at home and abroad, you can't put that core project at risk by dealing with climate change, and our real problem is that there is no political discourse about this issue. There are 500,000 people in all the political parties in Britain - 500,000. The Economist this week points out actually that, actually gets it wrong, it points out that there are more members in the RSPB -it doesn't go on and say, actually there are three times as many members in the RSPB as there are in all the political parties in Britain.
We do have a problem in the politics in that there is a hermetic realm of discourse between the editorialate, which isn't the journalists so much, but it is the editorialate, and those 500,000 people actually not even them but a few thousand of them which by and large mirrors each other and talks to each other about what they think is important and leaves out anything they're not talking about. So you talk about climate change when the politicians are talking about it, and then you drop it when they're not talking about it. So, our problem is much more with the politics, but we in the environmental community also have a bit of a structural problem. We actually can't deal with success. We set out - what it was now, thirty, forty years ago - to point out with a very clear narrative: "The environment's in trouble, you've got to do something about it" and you know, guess what, an enormous number of people have done something about it, and that's why Alan has ten people working on the environment, and we've really done something about it but we haven't changed our narrative from the - John'll forgive me, Greenpeace are still running David and Goliath as their core story, and you know the thing about the David and Goliath story - nobody knows what they were fighting about, but everybody knows whose side they're on - brilliant piece of communications. We haven't adapted in the environmental community our narrative to the fact that we're now mainstream. Once upon a time we were the contrarians, so we were news, now we're mainstream, and unless we sound like we're talking about the things that people care about, we're not going to get covered. So I think it's much more a problem about what's the filter that the environment community is imposing on itself, not what is the filter that the media is imposing. We're not translating that awareness that's now there into stories that actually relate to people in their daily lives day by day. And if you want to know what those stories are, pick up the newspapers, pick up, watch the TV. It's not that there's any secret about what stories they actually write and cover, it's just that we're not translating our messages into those kind of stories, and it's time we started to do so, and got off the backs of journalists. [Audience applause.] And that was, I'm told by the timekeeper, that was exactly five minutes.
Alan Rusbridger: Even more impressive, you should have been a journalist obviously. It would be really interesting just to know roughly who's in the audience. If I can ask you to categorise yourself in one of three categories, just so, I want to know, are you basically working in the environmental field, are you working in the media, or are you just here because you're interested? So hand's up anybody who's - who's sort of an environmentalist, professionally. Right, okay, so that's about (40%) a quarter? (30, 40 yeah) What about people who work in the media? (slightly smaller?) A third? A quarter? And people who are just here because it's interesting. Okay, so maybe a third a third a third. That's interesting. And can I just try and establish in terms of how you get your news on this subject. We found out that everyone reads the Guardian here, that's terrific. Some of you even pay for it, that's even better. But how many rely on old-fashioned newspapers for news on the environment?
Woman: What do you mean old fashioned newspapers?
Alan Rusbridger: The thing that is printed that is in your hand. Right, okay. How many TV and radio? (Bit more?) How many, newspaper websites? And how many of these new mediators, the people who are publishing digitally, so they could be NGOs, they could be universities and ... So I think from that newspaper websites are - was that your impression? Aye, yeah. Dominant.
So that newspaper websites - that's really interesting. Can I just get - I'd like to sort of open up just a little sort of dialogue between Ben and Angus because it opens up the subject of depth and what a newspaper can reasonably do. Ben was talking about the fact that people are not maybe, by and large, willing to read very long worthy pieces even if we think they should, and it's a familiar problem with journalists that, that journalists operate at a certain level of depth and you're there with 200 people working in incredible depths, and [to Angus] you're highly profitable, and [to Ben] you're not.
Ben Webster: Nor are you.
Alan Rusbridger: Nor are we. So there's a market for what you do, there isn't a market - we're struggling to find a market for what we do. Why is one more important than the other?
Ben Webster: Well, it's pretty obvious, isn't it? I mean Angus is - who are you're readers? I mean they're essentially people who want to make money out of selling people technology and ideas and -
Angus McCrone: And investors and policy makers and banks.
Ben Webster: So they're not really interested in saving the planet, they're interested in making money. I mean, they might be, you know, also interested in that too, but the primary reason why they read you is why people read the FT - they want to make money. OK, so I have to appeal to the general reader who's reading the Times because he wants to - it might be because he wants information that will help him make money, but also because he wants to know about the world that he lives in, and maybe make a difference by getting useful information.
Alan Rusbridger: I want to come on to the value of these two different people, but do you just want to say something about that business of the depth in which you can go, as opposed to a general newspaper?
Angus McCrone: I think that's exactly right, and you know, that is the big problem that newspapers don't necessarily get more readers if they cover these topics in greater depth. I think it's probably the most difficult problem that humanity's ever had to deal with as a whole, and one of the worst things about it is that it's not necessarily linear either, because every other problem that humanity has had to cope with has probably been something that you could intercept at different stages, and the penalty for intercepting it later was probably only proportionately worse than it would have been for intercepting earlier, but in this case there are feedback mechanisms that may come into play, so the penalty for intercepting the issue later may be enormously much worse than the one for doing so earlier, and that's very difficult for societies to get a grip on, I think.
Alan Rusbridger: Do you want to go further and make the argument, which would be cruel in our presence, but we're big boys and we can take it, that in a sense it doesn't matter what our readers think because actually it's the people who read you who have got the power to change, and actually public opinion is a sort of floating thing, that it's actually the people with the money who are going to solve this or not solve this in the end?
Angus McCrone: I don't think so really because, you know, we have not much influence over political parties and the political discourse, whereas you do. And what the politicians say mirror what the public is saying and also what the general media is saying, so I think the general media has got an enormous power to, either for good or ill, to influence the way in which the political discourse happens.
Alan Rusbridger: But why does that matter? I mean, how does that matter in influencing whether Siemens or Rolls Royce are going to, you know, invest in -
Angus McCrone: Well it affects the way policy is set. And that is very, very important in terms of what technologies become the future energy mix.
Alan Rusbridger: But you could say we're not making a very good job of it, but we're pumping out lots of this stuff about the environment and yet Ed Miliband stands up today and says absolutely nothing at all about it.
Tom Burke: I think focus a bit on the question you were asking Angus there. Look, all the people who make decisions in the companies that invest read the newspapers. Actually, they read the FT in particular, but they read quite a lot of newspapers and they're enormously influenced by them in a kind of casual way, not in a detailed way, but what's running, what's not running. And that influences the debate that goes on in investment committees, in boardrooms. And that influences it. Unless there's sort of a, another thing running that people have read then it tends to...
Alan Rusbridger: Why - just explain to me simply, surely it's whether they're going to make money out of it?
Tom Burke: Yeah, but they're sitting there with a lot of pretty complicated things to make complicated judgements, and spreadsheets that only give them a part of the answer, and they're looking at what the hell they think is going to go on in markets, in policy, and all sorts of other things, and they're making, kind of, pretty integrated judgements about these things based on mood, so in the run up to Copenhagen, pretty well everybody sitting around on a major board and its executive committee in pretty well all - certainly in Britain and probably in the U.S. too - thought governments were going to do something about climate change so they'd better think about how that was going to affect their business. Because it's dropped off the agenda after Copenhagen, now they don't think that. Now they think governments aren't going to do something about it. Now that's not the journalist's fault. I'm not suggesting remotely that's the media's fault, but that's how that process works in terms of influencing the opportunities that exist or don't exist for Angus and these people.
Alan Rusbridger: Yes. Could I ask the question of you, David, in a sort of slightly different way. You began by saying, painting a fairly unflattering portrait of some of the things that journalists do. We get it wrong, we sex it up, we ignore the important stuff, and yet then you were very forlorn when actually the journalists stop coming to your briefings, I mean, you might be delighted, you think these, these, why do we want these people at our briefings, why does it matter? Why do journalists matter?
David Kennedy: I didn't mean to come across as being too negative actually, but - you may be a bit over-sensitive there. I'm very pleased with a good deal of the coverage we get. I was picking some examples of where we could do better. Look, my ideal would be: everybody comes to my briefings, and then they repeat the story as I've told it to them in their newspapers, and we're falling away from that in two senses, they don't repeat the story and then they don't come to the briefing to hear the story in the first place. Now why is it important? I think we've heard that from the other people. In order to be able to make money , so the people who are reading the New Energy Finance, they have to believe that there are policies in place that will stay in place over time, in order for policies to be in place that will cost people money, that will push up electricity bills, there has to be a strong degree of political support. In order to get political support, then there has to be broader public support. It's very difficult for the government, with the electricity market reform, for example, to put its weight behind that when you get in the media a lot of stories that the electricity market reform is simply going to push up your electricity bill to no avail, there's no benefit to that. Now there is a benefit, it doesn't come across clearly, but the fact that the story is very much focussed on affordability and not the benefit makes it then very difficult to put the policies in place which will drive the investments that we've talked about.
Alan Rusbridger: Alice, can I just ask you, you were talking about the role that NGOs in the broader sense, that includes Imperial College and scientists and Greenpeace have just started their own, that's one of the things we're talking about tonight, is that Greenpeace have just started their own blog today, so in a sense they're doing what newspapers used to do. So, with all these new players in the market, again, you teach this subject, what do you think that journalists can bring to this that these NGOs and academics don't bring?
Alice Bell: Well I think as Ben so beautifully put it, they're often better than the academics.
Man: Better at what?
Alice Bell: Well, better at speaking, keeping to time, answering the question. I certainly feel that there's still a role for professional writers. But they may move, be located in different places, so increasingly you'll see journalists working in the, for CERN or something and reporting it, and I think there's problems with that in terms of being critical (?) because, well people like to talk about embedded science writers and things and I think we can worry about that and have conversations about that and well, there is still a role and they can work with them. The best journalist I've seen who has sort of dealt with the rise of the blogosphere, particularly in the science field can be quite a competitor to them offering stuff for free, scientists working for free or working, paid by the government really to be scientists but doing part of that work to blog or something. I mean they draw on that and abrogate it and curate it and build on it and improve on it and show how much better they are at it
Alan Rusbridger: I loved your description of how Leo Hickman works, because it's at the heart of what I sometimes describe as open journalism, this ability to not sit there in the newsroom and think that you function is as it was in the nineteenth and twentieth century, but that there are lots of people out there who are really smart, probably know more than you, and if you can just work out how to harness that you'll have something much more -
Alice Bell: But he's also a very good example of someone showing off how good he is, and how important he is, and how valuable he is, through that. There are lots of other journalists I can think of who do that too, and there I think is, you know, skill, or rather ... Maybe some of that will shift, and maybe some of it can be publicly funded because of that. Because you can have a science writer working in a university and actually somebody, you know, people who work at the Grantham Institute or something and a really good science writer, they're helping the science writer communicate their work in a positive way.
Tom Burke: There's a point that comes out of this again on this broader theme of what the sort of science, broader science pieces... One of the underlying questions about all of this that's very difficult for people is who do you believe? Who's authoritative? Well, Jim Hansen is as authoritative as anybody could be about the science of climate change. I don't know anybody who I would more believe on the science of climate change, but when Jim Hansen starts to talk about climate policy and about what you should do about it, he's actually, I think he's slightly wacky frankly, I don't think he's got a very good idea. Now I understand his impatience, his frustration, all of that, but boy, you don't have to have been in politics long to understand that if you stand up and say: we need a moratorium on coal without CCS, then all you're gonna get heard saying is "moratorium on coal". And you know at that point you're just dismissed. And then his science reputation is undermined by that. So there's sort of a quite complicated piece abut scientists getting outside of their boundary and then sacrificing the authority which is actually a really important piece of clarifying the kind of issues Alice is raising.
Alice Bell: And they will find it difficult, although I think the ones that feel that they have a lot of ownership over their communications so that the blog for example will then have a space to clarify things and learn things and show that they're learning and show that they're working with people.
Tom Burke: Sure, but it's an immediate thing that you give the same authority to pronouncements from Jim Hansen, he gets the same authority when he's talking about something he has no real authority on as her gets when he talks about something he has real authority on. Now discriminating that would actually be quite helpful in that context.
Alice Bell: We can critique that and, you know, argue against that, too yeah.
Tom Burke: Well you're an academic, of course you can argue against it.
Alan Rusbridger: I'm going to ask if you can have questions cos I'm just going to ask two more questions, and Damian, I can't follow this twitter feed and think at the same time, so if there are questions that are coming up through, you can speak. This proves Ben's point, Twitter's crap after all. I want to ask one question of Ben which was sort of slightly related to David's point about these people who aren't turning up at the briefings, and not talking about the Times, but as a working reporter, does this picture that people have of journalists who don't have time to think any more and do the kind of work that meant that maybe journalists could be trusted, is that true that your colleagues - don't talk about the Times but other papers - are like hamsters on wheels now?
Ben Webster: I'm sorry, I can't talk about other papers because I don't work on other papers, I work on the Times, and I can tell you on the Times that I don't think that. I think there is a - I do have time, I do have time, so it is my fault that often - I don't wish to bleat about the fact that in my two years working on environment I didn't get on the front page more often. I consider that to be my fault, I should have found ways of making my story sexier. Not sexed up, but sexier. There's always a...
Alan Rusbridger: What's the difference?
Ben Webster: Sexed up, well, okay, manipulating it beyond the truth, essentially. And I think the very important - and you can answer on this one - the journalists will always try and make their stories sexier because they know there's only a finite number of pages i the newspaper. One of the great things about newspapers is that there's finite pages. Websites, there's infinite room, so -you lose the quality control.
Tom Burke: Yeah, that's a good point.
Ben Webster: But editors are pretty unaccountable, I think, and they have a duty to ask their journalists more questions about what they're writing. And so some of the things that David - I know there's a perennial problem with your briefings, 'cos often - forgive me - they're a bit boring, so you find, there's desperation - My God! How am I going to get this into the paper tomorrow? And you work - the temptation, I could see from some journalists was to stretch something beyond credibility. Where was the editor, coming back and saying, you know, what's the proof for that? Where is the evidence? You know and Alan knows that the editor has a duty to answer these questions.
Alan Rusbridger: We have one editor, James Randerson. Just teams up James at some point because James has got about five degrees. You don't have to speak now, but he sits now on a desk, and he can speak about this relationship with reporters and whether you sex it up or hose it down. Sorry, you..
Tom Burke: Yeah, just to say some of it isn't that interesting for the media, and maybe not everything we say on this agenda has to have a newspaper report, and I've started to think that the temptation was, we've got to get it - just like you - we've got to get it on the front page, and if we haven't got it there we've failed. Actually, I'd like to see this whole low carbon programme in a space where it's not controversial, so we just get on with it. You don't see stories about waste recycling in the newspaper, we just do waste recycling. It would be great if we could get in the same place with the low carbon programme.
Alan Rusbridger: That leads on to my second question, which is that there seems to be a unanimity on the panel which surprised me about the place of the sceptics in the debate now. None of you seem too worried about it.
Alice Bell: I don't think it's a first worry, but it's something to be aware of, yeah.
Tom Burke: It's done strategic damage but events have taken over and changed it, and that's what was always going to happen, though it didn't feel like that at the time, but in the meantime it's done strategic damage.
Alice Bell: It's also that there are lots of types of sceptic, as you outlined, and I think one of the groups that you outlined weren't even sceptics but there's a concern that there's a diverse set of groups and activists to consider, and people have mentioned the GWPF and groups like that, I don't think that, I certainly wouldn't say that...
Tom Burke: They've shifted the focus, the sceptics. It's not the science any more, it's: let's not bother.
Alan Rusbridger: Let's have some questions from the floor. One there, and then one here. We'll take them in twos. How many microphones have we got? Just one, OK.
Anthony Froggatt: Yeah, my name's Anthony Froggatt and I work at Chatham House, and I'll sort of plug a report that we're doing on public attitudes on OGM, climate change. There's just one thing. We did opinion polls around the country, and the key issue was the BBC, which hasn't really been mentioned. This is where the public gets its information from, the BBC, and so it would be quite interesting to know from the panel in terms of..
Alan Rusbridger: Is, is, is, what's the problem with the BBC?
Anthony Froggatt: No, it hasn't been mentioned. We've been talking all about print media.
Alan Rusbridger: And is there sort of a - just to go back to the thing about sceptics, a common complaint is that the BBC feels it has to balance.
Anthony Froggatt: Yeah, bias through balance and it's absolutely...
Alan Rusbridger: So you can have an expert and you can have a sceptic and they give them equal balance. Is that ..? Quickly, is that still a problem with the BBC?
Alice Bell: Well, I did the first part of the BBC Trust review, which did the empirical research behind the report that Steve Jones did into kind of partly thinking about that false balance stuff and it's not something that we really found because it, what we really, what we argued, is that the BBC needs to have a more diverse set of experts and needs to critique and contextualise those experts when they bring them in so we know who they are. The real problem we found was they weren't even saying "scientists say", which is a really bad, blunt thing to do in the first place, but they were just sort of having decontextualised talking voices, so as an audience, as a consumer of that media, you had no way of finding out who they were or where they were coming from, and there was no critique of who they were. There were occasional examples of yeah, a sceptic versus a scientist, and that's a problem and we should worry about that, but really, look, having done some empirical research on the BBC, which admittedly is a couple of years old since the data set, the false balancing is a bit of a red herring, I think what we should be arguing for is to have more context and more critique, and more understanding of who these voices are.
Tom Burke: There's no editor, there's no environment editor on the BBC, and that is appalling, because there's nobody to to the job that Ben was saying needs to be done.
Alan Rusbridger: Very briefly on.
Anthony Froggatt: I just wanted to say, I mean, one point was the BBC, but the other was the level of coverage, and focus groups were basically saying: we didn't think climate change was still an issue, and that is based on..
Alan Rusbridger: Everyone's going to.
Tom Burke: It's difficult now to get on the Today programme unless you want to criticise the government or identify a split in the coalition. It wasn't difficult three years ago. You get on the website okay, and the coverage on the website is generally well-balanced.
Anthony Froggatt: And as a consequence it goes down, public concern.
Tom Burke: Absolutely, yeah.
Anthony Froggatt: And that leads to less political pressure, so you have this triumvirate of issues, media coverage, political coverage, public ...
Alan Rusbridger: Do you ever complain to the BBC about that? I mean, who did you speak to at the BBC about that?
Tom Burke: We don't complain, we just try and get on, and sometimes we do, and sometimes we don't.
Alan Rusbridger: Does anybody, does Greenpeace complain to the BBC about this? All the time. Do you want to stick your hand up there and pass the microphone over there and there's a question at the front.
Norbert Stute: I agree with the criticism of the BBC. My name is Norbert Stute, physician, internet activist betterworld.links.org, biggest link on energy and climate change in English as far as I know. I was pleasantly surprised that the press does not seem to be the problem because my feeling was corporate media was in the bed with the power elites, so it's good to hear that we have to translate some issues from the NGO side to make it perhaps a bit more palatable for readers out there. In general I feel with climate change being identified as a security risk even by the Pentagon in 2004 we should give it more emphasis, in other words if you want it we need to invest in it, we need to get the media, give it more room, that was my approach initially and it still is, and that's my question to you, and then the voter has to vote for it and the tax payers to pay for it indeed. Sorry, it's more of a statement than a question, but the question was, my feeling was the media is not giving it enough room, for instance, the BBC definitely not.
Alan Rusbridger: Okay. Can you hang your microphone there..
Mark Brayne: My name's Mark Brayne. I was a journalist and I'm now a psychotherapist and I work with trauma and emotion, and I wonder whether, I'd like to put a question to the panel about emotion and the elephant in the room, because what interests people in news is death, disaster, tragedy. This morning the BBC was reporting - well, just think of the last couple of days, four news stories, one the chap who killed himself being pursued by a helicopter in America with Fox News in hot pursuit, and this morning the abduction of a child in Wales, both of them played very, very heavily indeed, oh, and by the way a third of the coral reefs have bleached, have been lost in 27 years and we might get over a metre of climate change - of sea level rise very soon.
Actually, if we project ourselves forward in twenty, thirty years, looking back at this kind of debate, I wonder what future generations will say about the nature of the debate, where the media are discussing, as we have been doing so far today, but actually - hang on, the elephant in the room is this is incredibly threatening. People get interested when, in in in get interested in anything when their personal survival is at stake. It's evolution. And that's why we're attracted to violent news. The real - there's a question of leadership. My question to the panel is, given the emotional dimension of this, and what appeals to audiences, where is the leadership in the media, as indeed in politics and everywhere else, which actually takes the difficult decisions to put these stories much bigger on the front page beyond the Guardian.
Alan Rusbridger: Does anybody feel equipped to answer?
Alice Bell: I can say, I don't know if there are any psychologists of climate change in the room, but there are, I know research into that would say: don't do that, because you frighten people off. It's already been said that you've got to be careful about that. Emotion is a complicated thing and theory is a complicated thing and what you are scaring people on is a complicated thing.
Mark Brayne: But I wonder what future generations will say, you were too scared to name what was going to happen. I mean, and I'm a very realistic pessimistic person.
Alice Bell: Research from people who study this would argue that you shouldn't try and scare people with, if your aim is to get behaviour change, scaring isn't really going to do it, but..
Mark Brayne: Doctors with cancer patients or smoking would have a different view.
Alan Rusbridger: I'm just going to bring in James Randerson who's there who is on a news desk, and has been environmental correspondent. He may not have four degrees, but he's certainly got a lot of degrees.
James Randerson: Thanks, yes, so I'm environment and science news editor, I sit on the news desk, so I get involved in all the stories of the day, kidnappings, politics, whatever it is, but I also have a special responsibility for science and environment, and as far as I know I think the Guardian is the only paper on Fleet Street which has a science, specialist science and environment specialist on the news desk. So just to respond to Ben's point, I know I recognise his characterisation that sometimes environment correspondents, and sometimes science correspondents as well, go a little bit native, and I actually agree with him that editors should question more and, you know, seek out sexed up stories, although I guess we're all in the business of making stories sexy, I think, and I do that on a you know, every day, I'm always pushing the reporters to kind of back things up better than they have or, you know, really interrogate the angles they've got and so on. I think it may well be the case that on, I mean I don't have any experience of other newspapers, but it may well be the case on other news desks that news editors who perhaps are not from a science background perhaps don't have the self confidence sometimes to ask those kind of questions. They're happy to go with what their specialist tells them, and to a certain extent that's the right thing to do. You have to trust specialists who are closer to the field than anyone on the newsdesk, but equally, I think there's a value in being able to question them.
I just wanted to make a very, a separate point if I may, that I think there is a failure in the media generally, which I don't quite understand, but interesting if anyone else agrees with me, and that is over the way climate change is characterised politically. I mean, obviously in the US this is a massively politicised issue, but in a sense it is here needlessly. Even though, you know, all parties sort of pay lip service to the issue - and we can argue about whether the coalition is doing enough and so on - but there are actually some very sensible thinkers from the right of centre side of the debate who have views on this and have solutions and have, you know, this shouldn't be, solving climate change shouldn't be a left wing issue. And if we make it, if it is a left wing issue then frankly we're never going to solve it, because the battle between left and right will never be won, and I think that's quite dangerous, and the fact that newspapers have sort of fallen into camps on a left-right basis is a real problem I think.
Alan Rusbridger: Very helpful? Question here.
Ros Donald: My name's Ros and I work for the Carbon Brief, so we do climate change and then we do fact checking, and something I wanted to pick up actually from what James said, was that, you know, there appears to be a sort of real granularity in the way that climate change and NGOs discuss, and I was wondering whether the panel thought that more could be done to reach out to journalists in a sort of a wider range of publications on these issues. One of the most interesting things I read on sort of the wind debate was in the Sun where there was sort of a sceptic argument based on sort of the Gordon Hughes report. But then the Sun's environment editor answered that almost point for point, and it was a really interesting way to approach it, and yet you'll hardly see the Sun sort of featured on this kind of panel, and I was just wondering whether the panel had any ideas on it.
Alan Rusbridger: David, have you had experience of, not maybe the Sun but -
David Kennedy: The Sun and the Mirror actually, have covered our articles very well, and very responsibly, in a way that maybe surprised me, particularly with the Sun. Some of the other papers where probably there is an agenda, so whatever we say, they're never going to accept it. We'll always be turned around and made into a negative rather than a positive, and it does come down to, some said it's about the fundamental politics and different ideological positions of different media outlets.
Tom Burke: I don't think this is necessarily a right- well only that it's not just a right-left issue, I think one wants to be careful about that. There are real reluctances on the left to deal with this problem and face up to the risks that you put growth, economic growth to, and it's not just the right that has - the right's more vociferous about its problems with it, but actually the left has real problems. Go talk to Ed Balls some time about climate change and where he thinks that fits.
Alice Bell: I think we need to (think about?) audiences as well rather than just different types of newspapers. There was an interesting example recently of the nuclear industry courting Marie Claire and Good Housekeeping magazine, so really quite interesting example of that, and I think that maybe we could see environmental journalism or stories being packaged and pitched to other forms of, not just environment desks, so it's not just about going to the Sun or something but having different types of stories.
Alan Rusbridger: We're going to have two more questions, one at the back who's already got a microphone and one here.
Juliet Davenport: Alice made just a partial answer my question actually, it's Juliet Davenport from Good Energy, and it was picking up on a point that Ben made earlier, which was really around, actually should we be looking at stories to cross across from just the environment and science correspondents, into other areas, so consumer affairs, business, and actually see some cross fertilisation. There was an article in the Observer on Sunday on Muse and it was discussing some of the lyrics coming out of that particular album which cover the fact that perhaps we've got an unsustainable society with a limited amount of sort of environment to exist in. And what would have been interesting is if that could have crossed across into a science sort of slight debate within that, but it didn't, it actually got slightly dismissed in the article, and it's quite interesting, so I wonder whether we could see more of this and organisations like Cape Farewell where you've taken, where they've taken creatives on board with scientists and actually to see some cross fertilisation, and I wonder whether actually it's the job of some of the environmental agencies and ourselves is really to go out and try and be more creative about the stories rather than just restricting them to environmental stories.
Alan Rusbridger: Let's couple that with a question from -
Keith Allott: Keith Allott from WWF. For my sins I used to be a journalist and now I'm working for an NGO so I've got it wrong on both times. I wanted to just make a point that, and turn it into a question, that there is, a lot of this conversation is talking about journalists and people writing in the news, and I think this is much more complicated than this, even within the media space, it's the role of editors and editorial lines and the role of commentators, and people who get given space to give op eds and columns and the self sustaining narrative that that starts to feed in terms of the identity of different media outlets and what, I think, its no rocket science to look at that with several media outlets to say that there is a real broken problem to do with the interspace between the politics and the narrative and the facts in all of those cases. My question is: how can you begin to untangle that web in any constructive way?
Alan Rusbridger: Just pause before I'm going to ask everyone just to sum up in about a minute possibly taking up those questions if you can. Damian, is there anything that's come through, I see fantastic reporting of the event tonight? Are there any questions that have also come up from Twitter?
Damian Kahya: Those watching it, ‘cos it's had a livestream, with a small number of people watching it - I think there was one observation about the Today programme dropping a discussion on climate science at the last moment for a Korean pop outfit, and a second observation that actually you can get on to the Today programme to talk about the environment, so long as it's badgers. Nothing more though.
Alan Rusbridger: OK, let's take it in reverse order, just for a minute, whatever has struck you as interesting or picking up the last two points.
Tom Burke: Gosh, too much to do that in a minute, and just two points I think that the authority piece matters a lot in this and it relates to Keith's point, and I think that makes in relation to the politics the BBC particularly important, therefore it troubles me a lot that Richard Black has gone and won't be replaced, and that the BBC has no, there's no environment editor, so nobody to do the quality control that Ben was talking about. But the second thing is I think that the climate environment community has got to figure out what its narrative is now that people are aware there's a problem, and simply repeating the fact that there's a problem, something must be done, isn't enough, and a narrative is not just a sequence of words, it's a sequence of words that makes a set of actions comprehensible and understandable. I don't think the environment community has a narrative at the moment, and that makes it difficult for the media.
David Kennedy: That was my brilliant point as well Tom. I don't want to critique journalism and journalists. I was reflecting my experience as I think there is room for improving the story, but I think what journalists are faced with is a fundamental issue that we haven't got a very good narrative more generally for the journalists to get out there to the public and I think that is a major challenge. I think its the pressing one, if we can solve that and then if we can get the policies to deliver that narrative in practice, we'll have cracked the problem, but we're along way from that at the moment.
Ben Webster: The most interesting thing I learned tonight was from Alan, that he thinks that the vast majority of you who consume his journalism, which is very costly, and don't pay for it, are cheapskates, in his words. Greenpeace, by having this debate, partly it's to launch their blog, which could be seen as an effort to bypass newspapers and go directly to readers. I'm sure that some people in Greenpeace would like to do that. Why do we have to go through this filter? There's an assumption in this. It is a broken filter, there's an assumption in the question that they chose to ask for this debate. But I would say, actually, to be honest, if you really want to be trusted and reach the people who are going to make a difference and not preach to the converted, then you really do have to continue gifting your stories, leaked documents that you get from DECC, to independent journalists on newspapers, just not the Guardian.
David Kennedy: You said DECC, not the Committee on Climate Change.
Alan Rusbridger: Angus.
Angus McCrone: I think there's some limited parallels with the whole discussion about smoking and health that went on in previous decades. I know there did come a point where editors stopped listening to the few wild people out there who said that actually smoking was alright, and then the discussion became, moved on to a different phase, and I think there is a responsibility for editors to try and boil down that list of six different sceptical topics that I mentioned at the beginning, and say, you know, we're not going to give any credibility to people who say that climate change isn't happening, and we're not going to give any credibility to people who say that it isn't man-made. Let's talk about the other ones, where there is room for a debate, and then I think probably the bigger issue is politicians to be honest, because there needs to be a lot more political leadership on this issue. It really has been very, very lacking in this country, particularly in the last two or three years.
Alan Rusbridger: Alice.
Alice Bell: After Rio in the summer, one of the big things that people were talking about was that we needed to give up on top-down announcements from politicians and expecting leadership, and really work on grassroots activism, and the people needed to do something about it, and I think we can apply that to the media too. I'd like to see more, what I'd like to see is a media which is a bit more open to listening to the people and also people to go and do stuff, so I guess go and bully the new Energydesk blog, leave comments on it and tell them when they're wrong and share it and write other blog papers about it. I want to see a more participatory environmental media, as well as a more participatory environmental politics, because I think that's the way we'll get to the latter.
Alan Rusbridger: I'm just going to offer my personal thanks to the panel for a really fantastic discussion and for being such good timekeepers, but I'm going to hand over to Damian just to wrap up the -
Damian Kahya: You can't thank yourself, so I also wanted to thank Alan and the rest of the panel. My name's Damian. I've been kind of taking a bit of blame here because I used to be at the BBC and now I'm at Greenpeace, so attacks can go both ways. I'll be editing this Energydesk blog which will hopefully build on the good work that Leo Hickman does, that Carbon Brief does, that lots of other people are doing in trying to open up energy and climate change reporting, and do all get involved, criticise, comment, that will be very welcome, and thank you all very much for coming.
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