Climate Crisis, MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

Friends of the Earth NZ wrote:

> Climate Crisis,,,MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the
> corporate media
> ————————————————————————————————————————————–
> In the article that follows, the authors point out that :
> “One of the major gaps in the climate ‘debate’ is the deafening silence
> surrounding contraction and convergence (C&C).”
> Following a discussion of the crisis, the authors present a FoEI
> supported, but little publicised, proposal to
> “stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level
> that will avoid dangerous rates of climate change”

> “On a sane planet” say the authors, “politicians and the media would now
> be clamouring to
> introduce C&C as a truly global, logical and equitable framework for
> stabilising the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide.”
> “Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace would be endlessly promoting C&C to
> their supporters. Instead, a horrible silence prevails.”
> Well, here in clean-green New Zealand, folk with an ecological
> conscience are having to cough up dollars for an advert in the Press
> just to get party policy on climate change mentioned in the media at all.
> John at FoE[NZ]
> ——————————————————————————————————————————————
> Climate Crisis
> MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media
> March 1, 2005
> “What goes against the grain of conditioning is experienced as not
> credible, or as a hostile act.” (John McMurtry, philosopher)
> Bizarre Conversations
> Climate crisis is not a future risk. It is today’s reality. As Myles
> Allen, a climate scientist at Oxford University, warned recently: “The
> danger zone is not something we are going to reach in the middle of this
> century. We are in it now.” (Roger Highfield, ‘Screen saver weather
> trial predicts 10 deg rise in British temperatures’, Daily Telegraph, 31
> January, 2005)
> Human-induced climate change has been killing people for decades.
> Climatologists estimate that global warming has led to the deaths of
> 150,000 people since 1970. (Meteorological Office, ‘Avoiding Dangerous
> Climate Change’, 1-3 February 2005, Table 2a. ‘Impacts on human systems
> due to temperature rise, precipitation change and increases in extreme
> events’, page 1; By
> 2050, as temperatures rise, scientists warn that three billion people
> will be under “water stress”, with tens of millions likely dying as a
> result.
> At such a desperate moment in the planet’s history, we could simply
> throw up our hands in despair, or we could try to reduce the likelihood
> of the worst predictions coming true. The corporate media has yet to
> examine its own role in setting up huge obstacles to the latter option
> of hope.
> Consider, for example, Michael McCarthy, environment editor of the
> Independent. McCarthy described how he “was taken aback” at dramatic
> scientific warnings of “major new threats” at a recent climate
> conference in Exeter. One frightening prospect is the collapse of the
> West Antarctic ice sheet, previously considered stable, which would lead
> to a 5-metre rise in global sea level. As McCarthy notes dramatically:
> “Goodbye London; goodbye Bangladesh”.
> On the way back from Exeter on the train, he mulls over the conference
> findings with Paul Brown, environment correspondent of the Guardian:
> “By the time we reached London we knew what the conclusion was. I said:
> ‘The earth is finished.’ Paul said: ‘It is, yes.’ We both shook our
> heads and gave that half-laugh that is sparked by incredulity. So many
> environmental scare stories, over the years; I never dreamed of such a
> one as this.
> “And what will our children make of our generation, who let this planet,
> so lovingly created, go to waste?” (McCarthy, ‘Slouching towards
> disaster’, The Tablet, 12 February, 2005; available at
> This is a remarkably bleak conclusion. McCarthy glibly notes the
> “inevitability of what [is] going to happen”, namely: “The earth is
> finished.” We applaud the journalist for presenting the reality of
> human-caused climate change. But the resignation, and the apparent lack
> of any resolve to avert catastrophe, is irresponsible. As Noam Chomsky
> has put it in a different, though related, context:
> “We are faced with a kind of Pascal’s wager: assume the worst and it
> will surely arrive: commit oneself to the struggle for freedom and
> justice, and its cause may be advanced.” (Chomsky, ‘Deterring
> Democracy’, Vintage, London, 1992, p. 64)
> Following McCarthy’s anguished return to the Independent’s comfortable
> offices in London, one searches in vain for his penetrating news reports
> on how corporate greed and government complicity have dragged humanity
> into this abyss. One searches in vain, too, for anything similar by Paul
> Brown in The Guardian.
> The notion of government and big business perpetrating climate crimes
> against humanity is simply off the news agenda. A collective madness of
> suffocating silence pervades the media, afflicting even those editors
> and journalists that we are supposed to regard as the best.
> Contraction and Convergence: Climate Logic for Survival
> In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was
> agreed. The objective of the convention is to “stabilise greenhouse gas
> concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will avoid dangerous
> rates of climate change.” The Kyoto protocol, which came into force in
> February, requires developed nations to cut emissions by just 5 per
> cent, compared to 1990 levels. This is a tiny first step, and is far
> less than the cuts required, which are around 80 per cent.
> One of the major gaps in the climate ‘debate’ is the deafening silence
> surrounding contraction and convergence (C&C). This proposal by the
> London-based Global Commons Institute would cut greenhouse gas emissions
> in a fair and timely manner, averting the worst climatic impacts. Unlike
> Kyoto, it is a global framework involving all countries, both
> ‘developed’ and ‘developing’.
> C&C requires that annual emissions of greenhouse gases contract over
> time to a sustainable level. The aim would be to limit the equivalent
> concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to a safe level. The
> pre-industrial level, in 1800, was 280 parts per million by volume
> (ppmv). The current level is around 380 ppmv, and it will exceed 400
> ppmv within ten years under a business as usual scenario. Even if we
> stopped burning fossil fuels today, the planet would continue to heat up
> for more than a hundred years. In other words, humanity has already
> committed life on the planet to considerable climate-related damages in
> the years to come.
> Setting a ‘safe’ limit of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration
> actually means estimating a limit beyond which damage to the planet is
> unacceptable. This may be 450 ppmv; or it may be that the international
> community agrees on a target lower than the present atmospheric level,
> say 350 ppmv. Once the target is agreed, it is a simple matter to
> allocate an equitable ‘carbon budget’ of annual emissions amongst the
> world’s population on a per capita basis. This is worked out for each
> country or world region (e.g. the European Union).
> The Global Commons Institute’s eye-catching computer graphics illustrate
> past emissions and future allocation of emissions by country (or
> region), achieving per capita equality by 2030, for example. This is the
> convergence part of C&C. After 2030, emissions drop off to reach safe
> levels by 2100. This is the contraction. (Further information on C&C,
> with illustrations, can be found at
> Recall that the objective of the UN Framework Convention on Climate
> Change is to “stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere
> at a level that will avoid dangerous rates of climate change.” Its basic
> principles are precaution and equity. C&C is a simple and powerful
> proposal that directly embodies both the convention’s objective and
> principles.
> Last year, the secretariat to the UNFCCC negotiations declared that
> achieving the treaty’s objective “inevitably requires Contraction and
> Convergence”. C&C is supported by an impressive array of authorities in
> climate science, including physicist Sir John Houghton, the former chair
> of the science assessment working group of the Intergovernmental Panel
> on Climate Change (1988-2002). Indeed, the IPCC, comprising the world’s
> recognised climate experts, has announced that: “C&C takes the
> rights-based approach to its logical conclusion.”
> The prestigious Institute of Civil Engineers in London recently
> described C&C as “an antidote to the expanding, diverging and
> climate-changing nature of global economic development”. The ICE added
> that C&C “could prove to be the ultimate sustainability initia?tive.”
> (Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, paper 13982,
> December 2004)
> In February 2005, Aubrey Meyer of the Global Commons Institute was given
> a lifetime’s achievement award by the Corporation of London. Nominations
> had been sought for “the person from the worlds of business, academia,
> politics and activism seeking the individual who had made the greatest
> contribution to the understanding and combating of climate change,
> leading strategic debate and policy formation.”
> Although Meyer is at times understandably somewhat despondent at the
> enormity of the task ahead, he sees fruitful signs in the global
> grassroots push for sustainable development, something which “is
> impossible without personal and human development. These are things we
> have to work for so hope has momentum as well as motive.” (‘GCI’s Meyer
> looks ahead’, interview with Energy Argus, December 2004, p. 15;
> reprinted in, p. 27)
> And that momentum of hope is building. C&C has attracted statements of
> support from leading politicians and grassroots groups in a majority of
> the world’s countries, including the Africa Group, the Non-Aligned
> Movement, China and India. C&C may well be the only approach to
> greenhouse emissions that developing countries are willing to accept.
> That, in turn, should grab the attention of even the US; the Bush
> administration rejected the Kyoto protocol ostensibly, at least, because
> the agreement requires no commitments from developing nations. Kyoto
> involves only trivial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, as we noted
> above, and the agreement will expire in 2012. A replacement agreement is
> needed fast.
> On a sane planet, politicians and the media would now be clamouring to
> introduce C&C as a truly global, logical and equitable framework for
> stabilising the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide. Rational
> and balanced coverage of climate change would be devoting considerable
> resources to discussion of this groundbreaking proposal. It would be
> central to news reports of international climate meetings as a way out
> of the deadlock of negotiations; Jon Snow of Channel 4 news would be
> hosting hour-long live debates; the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman would demand of
> government ministers why they had not yet signed up to C&C; ITN’s Trevor
> Macdonald would present special documentaries from a multimillion pound
> ITN television studio; newspaper editorials would analyse the
> implications of C&C for sensible energy policies and tax regimes;
> Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace would be endlessly promoting C&C to
> their supporters. Instead, a horrible silence prevails.
> Leaders as Moral Metaphors of a Corrupt System
> We conducted a Lexis-Nexis newspaper database search to gauge the
> relative importance given to different topics in climate news reports by
> a number of major environment reporters. The following figures relate to
> the five year period leading up to, and including, 25 February 2005. We
> investigated to what extent equity, and contraction and convergence,
> entered into mainstream news reports on climate, in the best British press.
> Michael McCarthy (Independent) Number of news reports
> “climate” 232
> “climate” + “industry” 80
> “climate” + “Blair” 53
> “climate” + “equity” 0
> “climate” + “contraction and convergence” 0
> Geoffrey Lean (Independent on Sunday)
> “climate” 105
> “climate” + “industry” 40
> “climate” + “Blair” 38
> “climate” + “equity” 0
> “climate” + “contraction and convergence” 1
> Charles Clover (Telegraph)
> “climate” 136
> “climate” + “industry” 47
> “climate” + “Blair” 38
> “climate” + “equity” 0
> “climate” + “contraction and convergence” 0
> Paul Brown (Guardian)
> “climate” 287
> “climate” + “industry” 137
> “climate” + “Blair” 48
> “climate” + “equity” 1
> “climate” + “contraction and convergence” 1
> John Vidal (Guardian)
> “climate” 193
> “climate” + “industry” 98
> “climate” + “Blair” 31
> “climate” + “equity” 1
> “climate” + “contraction and convergence” 0
> This is not a rigorous scientific analysis, of course, but the numbers
> +are+ highly indicative of hugely skewed priorities. Out of a grand
> total of 953 articles across the Independent, Independent on Sunday,
> Guardian and Telegraph, C&C was mentioned only twice, as was equity. On
> the other hand, industry was addressed in 402 articles, and Blair was
> mentioned 208 times, both almost entirely from an uncritical perspective.
> One might counter that pronouncements on climate by Tony Blair, as prime
> minister, should be deemed automatically ‘newsworthy’. But we must also
> bear in mind what Blair actually represents, even if the media conceals
> it well. Canadian philosopher John McMurtry explains:
> “Tony Blair exemplifies the character structure of the global market
> order. Packaged in the corporate culture of youthful image, he is
> constructed as sincere, energetic and moral. Like other ruling-party
> leaders, he has worked hard to be selected by the financial and media
> axes of power as ‘the man to do the job’. He is a moral metaphor of the
> system.” (McMurtry, ‘Value Wars’, Pluto, London, 2002, p. 22)
> Although public trust in Blair has collapsed after his many deceptions
> over Iraq, the media continue to present him as a fundamentally
> well-intentioned leader pursuing the interests of the nation. Thus,
> whenever Blair, Bush and other corporate-backed political leaders are
> given prominent news coverage, the media is in effect promoting its own
> business goals of profit and power. This is inimical to any reasonable
> prospect of averting climate catastrophe.
> Contraction and convergence is the only serious global framework on the
> table for plotting a route out of the climate crisis. That C&C, and the
> concept of equity, can be so systematically ignored by the corporate
> media, is yet another damning indictment of the media’s systemic
> failings. It is incumbent upon us all to push these issues onto the news
> agenda.
> The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect
> for others. When writing emails to journalists, we strongly urge readers
> to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone. You could ask
> questions along the following lines: In your reports on climate change,
> why do you never address equity, or contraction and convergence?
> Write to Michael McCarthy, environment editor of the Independent:
> Email:
> Write to Geoffrey Lean, environment editor of the Independent on Sunday:
> Email:
> Write to Charles Clover, environment editor of the Daily Telegraph:
> Write to Paul Brown, environment correspondent of the Guardian:
> Email:
> Write to John Vidal, environment editor of the Guardian:
> Email:
> Please also send all emails to us at Media Lens:
> Email:
> This is a free service. However, financial support is vital. Currently
> only one of us is able to work full-time on this project. Please
> consider giving less to the corporate media and donating more to Media
> Lens:
> Visit the Media Lens website:
> ————————————————————————
> What is Media Lens?
> MediaLens is a response based on our conviction that mainstream
> newspapers and broadcasters provide a profoundly distorted picture of
> our world. We are convinced that the increasingly centralised, corporate
> nature of the media means that it acts as a de facto propaganda system
> for corporate and other establishment interests. The costs incurred as a
> result of this propaganda, in terms of human suffering and environmental
> degradation, are incalculable.
> In seeking to understand the basis and operation of this systematic
> distortion, we flatly reject all conspiracy theories and point instead
> to the inevitably corrupting effects of free market forces operating on
> and through media corporations seeking profit in a society dominated by
> corporate power. We reject the idea that journalists are generally
> guilty of self-censorship and conscious lying; we believe that the
> all-too-human tendency to self-deception accounts for their conviction
> that they are honest purveyors of uncompromised truth. We all have a
> tendency to believe what best suits our purpose – highly paid, highly
> privileged editors and journalists are no exception.


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