Guardian’s Climate Campaign Fails to Challenge NeoLiberal Status Quo

Olivia Gilbert, Columnist

In March 2015 the U.K.-based news outlet the Guardian launched its historic climate change campaign to publicize the fact that “a large proportion of the oil, coal and gas reserves that states and companies already hold have to stay untapped in order to avoid dangerous climate change.” Appropriately, they entitled their effort, “keep it in the ground.” The second phase of the campaign, launched in October 2015 months before the Paris climate talks, marks a shift in their message. The Guardian’s ‘phase II: a story of hope’ promises to deliver “climate change as a story of hope” and focus on “the power to change and the solar revolution.”

But the Guardian’s narrow focus on hope and solar energy is weirdly and dangerously reductive. More telling than what the Guardian chose to emphasize is what its campaign does not include at all. Before we dive into that, let’s take a look at some aspects of the Guardian’s campaign that do inspire hope in yours truly.

  1. Among the successes of the Guardian’s campaign is their framing of the climate change issue as a need to keep fossil fuels ‘in the ground.’ Not only is such a succinct message more easily grasped and thus more likely to become a unifying force behind which people rally, it also cuts to the heart of what’s needed to avoid the worst manifestations of climate change—no amount of renewable ‘clean’ energy is going to save us; we must reduce consumption, period.
  2. “Keep it in the ground” links fossil fuel extraction with plundering, with taking what should not be removed and what is not yours to take. While talk of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can easily devolve into a conversation about how much should be emitted, who gets to decide, and how it will be regulated—subsequently, shutting out a huge chunk of the population not well-versed in the science of GHG emissions—we all understand what it means to meddle with something that should be left alone.
  3. This next point acts as a segue into what is sorely lacking in the Guardian’s campaign. A main component of phase II has been calling on the Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, the world’s two largest charities, to divest from fossil fuel companies. While divestment is a promising symbolic step in terms of reducing the political power of the fossil fuel industry, is calling on a corporate power to shift its investment portfolio (something it likely will do already—the Gates Foundation did in November 2015—because, with the growing renewable energy sector, it just makes financial/political sense) really as far as the Guardian is willing to go?

Where is the questioning of the underlying problem—the neoliberal, free-market establishment that encourages companies like Exxon to aggressively exploit resources? I’m not asking the Guardian to promote a revolution (although that’s also an option), but it is well within their means to offer solutions outside of the business-as-usual realm. Where is any mention of a carbon tax or other government-level actions that would actually promote a reduction in carbon emissions? It is painful to see a major news outlet ignore questions that need to be asked and criticisms that need to see the light of day—it is painful because it happens over and over again in the media. Far from ‘a story of hope,’ to me it evokes feelings of disappointment and anger.

That brings us to the solar energy. While it’s great that the campaign promotes solar power, why promote it to the exclusion of any other renewable energy source? Far from adding anything to the debate, the Guardian merely applauds mainstream politicians for their support of solar as if it’s some brave political move to support a trend that’s been gaining momentum for years. None of the shortcomings and problems surrounding solar energy have entered the conversation.

Gates Divest, an activist group pushing for the Gates Foundation to divest from fossil fuels, explains that “the answer is simple” as to why this specific group is the focus of their campaign: “The Gates Foundation can provide badly needed global leadership on the issue of climate change.”

What does it mean when our society seeks solutions through corporate entities; when corporations are looked to as our best bet for leadership? And what does it mean when the ‘free press’ does absolutely nothing to challenge that logic?