Black, White and Green

The Guardian newspaper shows its commitment to the climate crisis by pledging to achieve net zero emissions by 2030

October 21, 2019

7:33 am

While environmental reporting seems to get more and more depressing, there was a very bright bit of climate news last week — and it was news about the news.

Last week, the Guardian newspaper announced that it would become a B Corporation. B Corps, as the Guardian wrote, “are businesses that use profits and growth for a greater good and have a positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment.”

To punctuate this announcement, the Guardian Media Group further announced that it would “achieve net zero emissions by 2030.” The put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is statement is, in some ways, a challenge to the nations of the world, every one of which signed the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. It’s also a challenge to other corporations, demonstrating that there is another route to prosperity, and one that considers people and planet as equals to profit.

“We believe that the escalating climate crisis is the defining issue of our lifetimes,” the Guardian editors wrote in their announcement, “and that the planet is in the grip of an emergency.”

The Guardian will also be taking steps as a news organization to change the linguistic approach to the climate emergency — most obviously by acknowledging that it is indeed an emergency. The six language changes that the paper will employ going forward are the following:

  • “climate emergency” or “climate crisis” to be used instead of “climate change”
  • “climate science denier” or “climate denier” to be used instead of “climate sceptic”
  • Use “global heating” not “global warming”
  • “greenhouse gas emissions” is preferred to “carbon emissions”
  • Use “wildlife”, not “biodiversity” 
  • Use “fish populations” instead of “fish stocks”

By changing the very language used to discuss the crisis, one can more accurately convey the dire aspects of the emergency. For example, here is the reasoning the editors provided for replacing the phrase “climate skeptic” (“sceptic” in UK spelling) with “climate denier”:

“The OED [Oxford English Dictionary] defines a sceptic as ‘a seeker of the truth; an inquirer who has not yet arrived at definite conclusions.’ Most ‘climate sceptics,’ in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, deny climate change is happening, or is caused by human activity, so ‘denier’ is more accurate.”

The need for leadership from the press has never been greater than it is now. The media is under constant attack from demagogues and their followers, who howl an aggrieved “Fake News” at every story that paints them in an unflattering light. The purpose of having a free press, of course, is to hold government leaders accountable, to capture those unflattering moments for all to see and judge for themselves. The Guardian’s climate-based linguistic changes are, one could say, holding a mirror up to ourselves, so we can better see the crisis for what it is, and act accordingly.

And their leadership in echoing the ideals of their coverage in their own governance is the kind of leadership we’re not getting from Washington. As other climate-minded multi-nationals noted in a recent full-page ad in the Guardian — aimed at the “Business Roundtable (BRT) lobby group, which represents 181 of the US’s biggest companies,” including Amazon and Apple — asking them to “change its definition of the ‘purpose of a corporation’ from making money for shareholders to include broader goals such as caring for staff and the environment.”

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