By Dr Tony Whitbread
2018 should have been a momentous year for important news. I don’t mean Brexit, Donald Trump or the state of the economy – these are all second or third level issues. The important news was all environmental.
We’ve had warnings about the dire state of the environment for decades. The effects are now becoming obvious and scientists the world over are issuing reports and statements to try to get world governments to pay attention. Not that you’d know this from the news outlets. The media seem more interested in Megan Markle having to open her own car door than they are in the livability of the planet we inhabit! And, while you would need sharp eyes to spot this in the media, you might have found it even more difficult to see what politicians and leaders around the world were actually doing about the most important issues of our time.
Climate change, the extinction crisis and a rapidly declining environment have led to more than 15,000 scientists around the world to issue “Warning to humanity: a second notice”, possibly the most scientists to ever co-sign and formally support a published journal article, reinforcing the original warning of 1992. Did you see this as front-page news? Did you hear about it at all?!!
This invisibility in the media, and dereliction of duty by politicians has led to the growth of “extinction rebellion” a movement that is gaining strength. They claim that governments and media together have broken their social contract with the public they should aim to serve. Demonstrations are now happening around the world – maybe I’ve missed something, but I’ve heard hardly a whisper in the press.
The message of my generation to the younger generation is “we’ve had our fun now you can clear up the mess”. Unsurprisingly, there are now many young people who are objecting to this and themselves starting a strong movement to call power to account.
Bella Lack (15 years old), for instance, gave an inspired talk at Chris Packham’s excellent “Walk for Wildlife” (10,000 people marching through London to deliver The People’s Manifesto for Wildlife to No 10, but the eyes of the media seem to have been elsewhere). Bella rightly criticised older generations for removing the vibrancy of nature that all people have a right to expect.
And the younger generation has found an international voice in Greta Thunberg, a 15 year old school student from Sweden. Greta goes on regular school strikes because she feels that there is no point learning science if world leaders do not act on the science they already have. Her powerful speech at the recent UN conference on climate change effectively told off the 200 world leaders in attendance. Virtually every line of her talk is quotable and I strongly recommend you follow this link and see her giving us all a well-deserved dressing down! A key theme that again comes out in her TEDtalk is that she can’t work out why there isn’t a vast amount more discussion about the crisis we are in. Indeed, why are we talking about anything else? The media should be full of thoughts, discussions, actions and solutions instead of the soap operas, celebrity worship and political pantomimes that we seem to have to sit through. It’s as though a world war is underway but no one is talking about it. “You are not mature enough to tell it how it is. Even that burden you leave to us children”.
Maybe it’s children that will eventually spur us into action. Some people woke up in 2018, let’s see if the rest of the world rises from its slumber in 2019. There is little enough time left!
Dr Tony Whitbread is an independent ecologist and former CEO of Sussex Wildlife Trust