Don’t Look Up? More like Don’t Dumb Down

Don’t Look Up? More like Don’t Dumb Down
Opinion: 100% Media 0% Nonsense

We are being treated like children over climate change. Is 41-degrees enough to change attitudes in media?


“This will be potentially lethal weather for a couple of days. It will be brief but it will be brutal.”

The extreme and dangerous weather we’re set to experience in the UK this week, with temperatures set to reach a record-busting 41-degrees Celsius, should be a cause for desperate concern.

Meteorologists like John Hammond (quoted above) are unified with the rest of the vast majority of scientists who warn we are already at the point of no-return. Carbon dioxide levels are now so much higher than pre-industrial levels that we won’t be able to reverse the damage until the end of this century. The weather will get hotter, more extreme and unpredictable. More people will die.

Does this shock you? Depress you? Anger you?

None of that for GB News anchor Bev Turner, whose reaction was to treat Hammond as if he were deranged in response to his warning last week.

“I don’t know if something has happened to meteorologists to make you all a little bit fatalistic and harbingers of doom,” she barked. “Broadcasters — particularly on the BBC — every time I’ve turned on, anyone is talking about the weather and they’re saying there’s going to be tons of fatalities.”

Well, bless. It’s all too serious for poor Bev, this “news” lark. Not nearly as much fun as telling young people to reject the Covid-19 vaccine, as she did on ITV’s This Morning last year. Or accusing the Labour Party leader of “staging” an ambush by an angry mob in February.

It was, as many news outlets pointed out, life imitating art in ways eerily reminiscent of the recent Netflix movie Don’t Look Up, in which Leonardo DiCaprio struggles to tell an idiot populace that an asteroid is hurtling toward the Earth.

The Daily Express, which last year had called for a “green revolution” in an apparent break with its history of climate-change scepticism, makes the asinine observation that today is “not the end of the world!” and that we should “Just stay cool and carry on…”

A similar delusion has oozed itself all over the race to succeed the UK’s first criminally-sanctioned Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. None of his would-be Conservative Party successors have said, or will say, anything meaningful about how to solve this climate catastrophe. Instead, they bang on and on about tax cuts and getting Brexit “re-done”.

The house is burning down and they’re arguing about the phone bill. Many media outlets are right to compare what’s going on to the recent Netflix movie Don’t Look Up.

Leadership needed

So don’t rely on broadcasters or politicians to galvanise the public into finally taking meaningful action over the necessary carbon reductions needed just to stave off complete disaster. It’s too easy to assume that people are just too babyish to be told the truth. We are all children to be coddled and distracted.

The advertisers who pay for commercial media must, as usual, lead the way. Brands must demand that media agencies have their plans audited for how much carbon is being used and what they’re doing to reduce it.

Digital advertising is a major contributor to global carbon emissions and the internet has a larger carbon footprint than the airline industry, with online video and display ads generating the most emissions per £1 of media spend, according to WPP agency Essence.

According to Good-Loop, a typical online ad campaign might cost the earth 5.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide. This is partly because, in practice, an online ad will often have third-party tracking and brand safety layers which add to the bandwidth used, which means even more power is needed to run the ad on the consumer’s device.

The agencies, in turn, must make the same demands of the publishers, broadcasters and other media owners.

And the media owners need to tell people what is happening. Report the facts and interview the experts. Share information about what can be done to cut carbon. Again and again.

The Advertising Association’s Ad Net Zero initiative, which encourages companies to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, is better than nothing. It’s certainly better than the UK’s Government’s risible aim of making the country ‘net zero’ by 2050, when my first-born child will be 30 and probably living on a barge in Hammersmith, floating above where the Apollo Theatre used to be.

But I fear Ad Net Zero it’s not enough; not nearly enough. Attitudes need to change and change sharply. How many Cannes Lions attendees flew to the south of France from the UK, when they could have expelled 28-times less carbon by taking the train and only adding a marginal amount of time to their journey?

No wonder Greenpeace protested Cannes Lions this year, and Extinction Rebellion did the same during the last in-person extravaganza in 2019.

But here’s the mistake that environmental groups make: they invoke the “greenwashing” argument too readily.

Take former ad exec Gustav Martner, who stormed the Palais Stage in Cannes last month. He says: “Since the Paris Agreement [in 2015] at least 300 awards have been given out at Cannes Lions to advertising for more air travel, to oil companies that greenwash and to ads that make cars with polluting combustion engines more desirable.”

This is another example of infantilising people. Just because a company like BP has caused irreparable harm to the planet by being a fossil fuel producer for decades, doesn’t mean it can’t also be a leader and pioneer on developing green tech that could do immense good for the planet.

As for the implication that we should ban ads for petrol cars — that’s fine, but where does the electricity come from that powers electric cars? Isn’t using anything with electricity bad for the environment until we get rid of all coal, oil and natural gas power stations?

Perhaps this isn’t a popular view. But, unlike chat show hosts and politicians, the climate doesn’t care about making people “feel good” or who scored a victory for their tribe.

We need to get serious about solving the most important collective action problem that mankind has ever faced.

Luckily, we have developed the most sophisticated and effective mass communications technology in the world — media — at just the time we need it the most. It’s time to use it.


100% Media 0% Nonsense is a weekly column by the editor. Feedback is welcome in the comments or by emailing omar.oakes@the-media-leader.com

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