On May 21, more than two dozen news publishers from around the world launched an initiative called the Climate Publishers Network, spearheaded by the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper. As members of the network, publishers agree to freely share climate change-related news content in an effort to raise public awareness of climate issues in the lead-up to the UN climate change summit in Paris in December. With the exception of Montreal’s La Presse, no Canadian news organization is involved in the network. Below, Corporate Knights editor-in-chief Tyler Hamilton challenges the Globe and Mail, CBC, Toronto Star and others to follow the Guardian by taking a moral stand on climate change.
Albert Einstein once explained that the world as we have created it is a process of how we think. “It cannot be changed without changing our thinking,” he said.
In Canada and elsewhere, there’s certainly a lot of change going on.
Incredibly, a left-of-centre, pro-environment NDP government is now calling the shots in Alberta, a historically conservative province tied at the hip to the oil industry and known to cut corners on environmental protection.
In early April, 25,000 people gathered in Quebec City to protest the Energy East pipeline project and urge political leaders to go all-in on renewable energy. It was a record turnout – 2.5 times more people than expected took part – indicating momentum on an issue needing traction more than ever. Around the same time, Ontario signed a deal with Quebec to join a carbon cap-and-trade program, bringing carbon pricing to 75 per cent of Canadians.
The divestment movement, meanwhile, continues to prove itself as more than a nuisance to the fossil-fuel industry. No longer is it just about idealistic students putting pressure on university leaders to dump coal and oil from endowments. Major institutional investors, philanthropic foundations, church organizations and healthcare organizations have announced commitments to divest (See Publisher’s Note here).
And as MSCI – the world’s largest stock market index provider – recently showed, leaving coal, oil and gas stocks out of its benchmark index since 2010 would have delivered a better return to investors. This busts the myth that divestment is a losing proposition.
Indeed, the opposite looks to be the case, which is why the G20 powers have reportedly launched a joint probe into future investments in fossil-fuel infrastructure and how they could pose risks to the global financial system as climate action heats up. Even the Saudis are preparing for the inevitable, with its oil minister acknowledging last Thursday that the days of fossil fuels are numbered and that world’s largest exporter of crude oil could phase out its own use of coal and oil by mid-century.
Consider that it was 2011 when Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, warned that the world only had five years to dramatically change direction with regard to building new fossil-fuel infrastructure. Beyond that, “the door will be closed forever” on combating dangerous climate change. “I am very worried,” said Birol, who will become the agency’s executive director in August.
According to that assessment, we have one year left. We know something has to give – and soon.
That may explain why Pope Francis, in the lead-up to the Paris climate conference in December, is trying to harness the guilt of the world’s nearly 1.3 billion Catholics. As David Roberts of Vox rightly sees it, “He threatens to situate the fight against climate change as a deeply moral issue, a matter of God’s work on earth.”
If the pontiff succeeds on his mission – that is, making an issue like fossil-fuel divestment a moral decision – “it will slowly and inexorably drag culture and politics along in its wake,” Roberts writes.
To be clear, there are two sides to this coin. Yes, there is an urgent need to avoid the worst. But there’s also a quest to embrace the best. As you’ll read here, the solar industry is growing like gangbusters as costs fall and awareness builds.
If boxing promoter Don King could use one word to describe what’s going on, he would call it the mainstreamification of clean energy. Seriously, five years ago would anyone have cared less about a company announcing an energy storage product for the home?
Yet when Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, recently announced a new line of slickly designed home and commercial batteries for storing renewable energy, it received the same rock-star reception Steve Jobs used to get when Apple introduced its latest iPhone. First week sales? About $900 million.
On a conference call with analysts in early May, Musk said demand for the battery has been “nutty” and that Tesla’s phones have been “off the hook” with requests. “There’s no way we could satisfy demand this year,” he told them.
That’s right, he said nutty.
But here’s the perplexing thing: mainstream media in Canada are underplaying this massive story unfolding right before our eyes. It’s about a transformation in thinking about the world we want to live in and the existential threat this poses to an oil-sands basket holding too many Canadian eggs.
Sure, they’re reporting the individual bits – an alarming study here, a press conference there – but the big picture is missing, replaced with cognitive dissonance. How, for example, can media champion oil sands jobs, pipelines and petro-industry growth while acknowledging climate science and the need to act on it?
That’s why I applaud Alan Rusbridger, editor of British newspaper The Guardian. He’s stepping down in June after 20 years. After two decades in the job, he said his only regret was not giving climate change the attention it deserved. Since March, he has made sure the newspaper has covered the climate issue every day, giving it front-page play at least once a week.
It’s the kind of moral stand that Canadian media like the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail and CBC have taken on child poverty, mental health and homelessness. The truth hurts, but it needs to be told.
I challenge their editors and producers to now take that moral stand on climate.