Can journalists save the planet?


Earth’s city lights at night: this is one of my favourite images. Without a single word, it says so much about resource and energy use disparities on our planet.

It also reminds us of the biggest challenge we face: to better manage our affairs so that life — and lights — are not snuffed out.

“The Earth is one, but the world is not.”

These perceptive words opened the final report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), published 20 years ago this month.

Titled Our Common Future, it was the outcome of over 900 days of worldwide consultations and deliberations by experts, activists, government officials, industrialists and a cross section of ordinary people from all walks of life.

As I wrote in an earlier blog post, that report made a deep impression on myself just when I was getting started in journalism.

Two decades on, there’s much unfinished business. In an editorial just published by the Science and Development Network (SciDev.Net), I take a closer look at the role of journalists in pursuit of that elusive goal of sustainable development.

Here’s a short excerpt:

But environmental journalists can, at best, only weave part of the multi-faceted tapestry of sustainable development. Grasping the bigger picture, and communicating it well, requires the active participation of the entire media industry — from reporters, producers and feature writers to editors, managers and media owners.

Climate change — rapidly emerging as today’s charismatic mega-issue — could provide the means for unifying media and communication industries for this purpose.

Already, there is recognition of climate change’s far-reaching impacts. Echoing the United Kingdom’s Stern Review on the economics of climate change, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is pushing for climate change to be ‘rebranded’ as a development, rather than an environmental, problem.

In this scenario, we urgently need more good journalism that covers sustainable development as an integral part of mainstream human affairs.

Read the full editorial on SciDev.Net

The composite image of Earth at night was created by NASA with data from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) Operational Linescan System (OLS). Originally designed to view clouds by moonlight, the OLS is also used to map the locations of permanent lights on the Earth’s surface.