climate change media

Keep it in the ground

Earlier this year the Guardian announced that it was going to be putting climate change ‘front and center‘ in its news  coverage. Editor Alan Rusbridger explained that the media, his own paper included, has struggled to do justice to climate change. “We prefer to deal with what has happened, not what lies ahead” he wrote. “We favour what is exceptional and in full view over what is ordinary and hidden.”

I can understand Rusbridger’s frustration. As this week’s column inches about Jeremy Clarkson attest, what matters and what constitutes news don’t necessarily overlap.

As a slow motion, long term problem, climate change doesn’t make headlines, despite being one of the most serious issues journalists will cover in their careers. So the paper has been trying to remedy that problem, for its own readers at least, and taken on a much more campaigning edge in its coverage this spring.

Yesterday, that led to the launch of an actual campaign, Keep It In the Ground. It highlights the fact that we know how much carbon we can burn to stay within two degrees of warming – the ‘carbon budget’. The carbon content of known fossil fuel reserves is five times bigger than this carbon budget. If we exploit all known reserves, we will fundamentally change the atmosphere, to the point that it may prove incompatible with the civilization we have created for ourselves. To avoid that, we have to leave coal and oil reserves in the ground.

The Guardian has thrown its weight behind the divestment movement, started by Bill McKibben and This week they are gathering names for a petition to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, urging them to divest. You can sign it here.


  1. Reblogged this on Transition St Albans and commented:
    Make Wealth History blog explores why Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian until later this year, has put the paper’s weight behind ‘Keep it in the Ground’

  2. “The Biggest Story in the World”

    The Guardian is planning a series of podcasts under this title. Here’s a transcript of the first: Having read that, it’s interesting to read this article by John Jewell of Cardiff University (in particular the concluding paragraphs): (The comments are especially interesting.)

    A note on the 525GT “limit”.

    It was calculated in 2012. By the end of 2015, a total of about140GT will have been emitted. Suppose China’s emissions grow by only 4% pa to 2020 and are static thereafter (IMO very conservative). That would mean that in 2016-2040 China will have emitted about 330GT. Suppose India’s emissions grow by 5% pa to 2040 (very likely in view of Indian government policy: would mean that in 2016-2040 India will have emitted about 130GT.

    As 140 + 330 + 130 = 600, these two countries alone would have busted the 525GT “limit”. Of course the reality is worse: if global emissions grow by only 2% pa, the limit will be breached by 2026.

  3. “The Biggest Story in the World”

    Here’s a transcript of the second Guardian podcast:

    This time there are some perceptive comments:

    “Something in the region of 90% of all the oil and gas is owned by countries, not by companies.”

    “Russia owns most of the resources that are underground – changing Putin’s view in the next 12 months is going to be a bit of a hard one.”

    “You know, how does one persuade Saudi Arabia to change its policy on oil? This is a very difficult question.”

    And they might have added: Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Nigeria … etc. And getting China and India not to use their coal reserves might be a bit tricky. Nor can I see the SNP being over-keen on abandoning North Sea oil.

  4. All fair points, and ones the divestment movement will be aware of. The point isn’t to starve the industry of cash, but change the public perception of fossil fuels, to withdraw the ‘social licence’ and highlight the unacceptability of profiting from climate change.

    Yes, countries own the fuels, but they usually operate in partnership with the oil majors, either to develop new projects, or to distribute.

  5. Unfortunately perhaps, it’s only likely to have impact on a very small segment of Western society. And I rather doubt if the 680 million people in China who have been lifted out of poverty by getting access to reliable, affordable electric power – mostly derived from burning coal – could be persuaded that they profited unacceptably from this.

    BTW, as someone who was brought up to admire and cherish the liberal attitudes and authoritative views of the Manchester Guardian and Guardian, I was dismayed to witness the poor quality of discussion exemplified by those podcasts – little better, I suggest, than a rather second rate sixth form debating society.

    1. You’re giving a lot of time to something you don’t think is very good. I haven’t listened to any of them – not sure why I’d want to hear the Guardian’s internal discussions on the subject. But good for them for being transparent.

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