How to report the climate crisis? With one voice in 20 languages

The U.K. Guardian has perhaps covered climate change better than any other newspaper. It runs stories nearly every day across sections, pays six reporters to cover the topic, and runs the Environment Guardian website, where the main topic is the climate crisis. But the editors felt it wasn’t enough, so they launched the Climate Change Global Editorial project.

Guardian Deputy Editor Ian Katz explains:

guardian climate change project

Climate change poses a particular challenge to journalists. It is almost incontrovertibly the biggest story we cover; perhaps the only one with genuinely existential implications. Otherwise measured scientists discuss it in apocalyptic terms. Campaigners and politicians talk about a crossroads in human history. But how do we reflect the scale and urgency of the issue in the normal register of journalism?

How can it make sense to find a story about the disappearance of arctic sea ice on page 17 of a newspaper, sandwiched between an unexceptional murder trial and the latest bickering over MPs’ expenses? Or even on the front page, when the same slot the previous day was occupied by a story about plans to trim civil service jobs?

The Guardian got 56 newspapers in 45 countries to run a “shared editorial.” It wasn’t easy, which was the point. Getting editors at major dailies in, for example, China, Korea, Pakistan, Dubai, Egypt, Israel, South Africa and even the United States (The Miami Herald!) to agree on the text and run it was a major accomplishment.

“Given that newspapers are inherently rivalrous, proud and disputatious, viewing the world through very different national and political prisms, the prospect of getting a sizeable cross-section of them to sign up to a single text on such a momentous and divisive issue seemed like a long shot,” writes Katz.

The project, he said, carries a simple message to the politicians and negotiators gathered in Copenhagen: “If all of us who disagree about so much can agree on what must be done, then surely you can too.”

Getting the papers to agree to the project was one thing, said Katz. “The trickier job would be producing a text that everyone could sign up to.” here are the opening graphs:

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.

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