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Exchange with Paul Brown, 20/01/04

 
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Philip Challinor



Joined: 09 Jan 2004
Posts: 218
Location: London, UK

Post Post subject: Exchange with Paul Brown, 20/01/04 Reply with quote

Sent to Guardian editor and copied to Paul Brown:

Dear Mr Rusbridger

On 8 January you ran as a front-page story Paul Brown's "An unnatural disaster", concerning the report by Professor Chris Thomas and others which predicted the loss of 10% of the biosphere and as much as half the world's terrestrial life in the next forty-five years or so. A day later you ran a follow-up by Paul Brown and Mark Oliver, reporting the British government's chief scientist, David King's, attack on the Bush administration for failing to do enough to combat climate change. Since then, I have seen nothing about the report on climate change (though I have, rather bizarrely, seen a good deal about the Hutton report, which has not been published yet and does not deal with a particularly central issue - see your leader, "They won't go away", 13 September 2003).

In any event, I would be interested to know the reactions of government ministers and corporate executives to the report of Thomas and his colleagues. You might perhaps consider asking one or two of the companies that advertise in your pages, since transnational corporations, not governments or individuals, are mainly responsible both for climate change and for hindering efforts to slow it. Do they believe Professor Thomas has his facts wrong, or not? If they believe Thomas and his colleagues are wrong, then where in their report is the reasoning flawed? All I've seen so far on this issue has been one letter from an industrial scientist saying (without burdening the letters page with evidence) that the climate change we're experiencing now is just a coincidence.

Paul Brown recently wrote that "We try to keep looking for fresh angles to keep this [issue of climate change] in the public eye." Is this the reason why the report of Chris Thomas and his colleagues has disappeared from view - that its actual publication was an event, but no "fresh angles" on it have emerged since? I hope not, as it would indicate a rather demeaning attitude on the part of Guardian staff as to their readers' attention span. If you solicit our concern with a front-page story, you might credit us with being concerned beyond the day on which the story appears.

Yours sincerely

Philip Challinor

Paul Brown replied:

Dear Philip Challinor, My colleague David Gow wrote an illuminating piece
this morning (I thought) about industry kicking and screaming about being
asked to do something about carbon dioxide emissions. I am researching a
biggish piece about alternative energies, some of which have the backing of
big business, so all is not bad news. We have coverage. There will be an
intersting column by the readers' editor on this subject on Saturday, I
think.
Lots of car manufacters and others are spending big money on R and D to try
and steal a march on rivals when front runners which will be the
alternatives to the internal combustion engine finally emerge into the main
stream. We report that when there is something to say.
There is a lot to be said about news values - and the internal debates are
sometimes fierce. This is an issue which is extensively reported at every
opportunity. I welcome readers pointing their views out to the editor,
though. It helps our corner. Best of luck. Paul Brown

I replied:

Dear Mr Brown

Thanks for your prompt and courteous response, and apologies if my previous message has shown up in your mailbox again - I got a bit trigger-happy with the "forward" button, I think.

I had no intention of denying that climate change and associated matters get reported; what I am concerned about is that they seem to be reported in a fashion that fails to reflect either the importance of the issue or the main cause of the problem. As is reflected in its headline, David Gow's article emphasises potential job losses and flights of investment towards less scrupulous shores; we hear a lot of this from industry spokespersons, but we are rarely informed as to why this should be so, and still less about what the government or the corporations involved are prepared to do to help matters. All we get is the straight either/or - let industry do as it pleases, or "sacrifice jobs on the altar of green-ness".

The question of "when there is something to say" also vexes me a little. Surely, with a tenth of the world's life at stake, it would be difficult to say enough? Global warming, we are told, killed three times more people in France alone than died in the Twin Towers on 11 September 2001. It killed a thousand people in Britain - twice as many lives as the USA has lost in Iraq since last year's assault. In terms of column inches, however, there's no comparison. Similarly with the Hutton report - it hasn't even appeared yet, its effects will be relatively limited, and we hear of it every day. The report of Thomas and his colleagues has already come out, making claims that affect *the fate of the entire world and the entire human species*, and the last I heard of it in the Guardian was, I think, the day after your own piece appeared. I simply don't understand the perspective at work here.

Best of luck to you, too

Philip Challinor
Tue Jan 20, 2004 9:17 pm
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