Too hot to handle

The Guardian, 5 April 1995:

Last week the international community met in Berlin to determine what further measures are needed to combat global warming. On Thursday it was announced that ozone depletion over the northern hemisphere has reached a record low due to high levels of chlorine monoxide and low temperatures in the stratosphere. These two issues are closely linked. They are both worsening atmospheric casualties of man’s industrial activities, and they are both preventable.

Indeed the CFCs that destroy ozone are also potent greenhouse gases. Warming of the lower atmosphere leads to cooling of the stratosphere, the formation of polar stratospheric clouds and accelerated ozone loss. To those who ask: “Which is the most important environmental issue?” They are both issues of critical importance to our Society.

However society’s response could not be more different. Whilst the causes and remedies for ozone depletion are widely recognised, there is an extraordinary reluctance to accept the implications of climate change.

Newspaper editors either ignore the issue altogether, or ask journalists such as Matt Ridley and Richard North who are making a career out of criticising the environmental movement and who write articles which seem unbelievably complacent about the effects of global warming.

The Daily Express, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and the Today newspaper carried no coverage whatsoever. Only a brief mention appeared in the Daily Telegraph and nothing in the Times. However the Times had published a scientifically confused article by Matt Ridley (March 25), and a further piece on March 27 which cast doubt on the reliability of temperature measurements! The Independent had also published a fatuous article by its economic correspondent stating that the solution global warming was to ignore it, get rich and then pay for the consequences.  At least the Independent allowed the chairman of Friends of the Earth to reply (March 29).

Only the Guardian and the Financial Times demonstrated a coherent policy towards the issue. Several articles appeared in both papers, but perhaps the most surprising was an FT piece on the response of insurance companies to climate change (March 31). The world’s six largest storm catastrophes between 1987 and 1993 cost the insurance sector $36 billion in compensation. By setting premiums according to customer’s environmental record, the insurance companies hope to influence industrial practice in a way that governments seem unwilling to do. A further article on this theme appeared in the Sunday Telegraph: “Bank catch a chill on global warming”. How revealing that the most conservative of institutions should the ones to take global warming seriously.

During the four days that five newspapers could not find space for any mention of global warming ozone depletion, those same papers devoted 163 to pages to sport and an incredible 19 pages to the funeral of Ronnie Kray. Do people think that the burial of a malevolent old gangster from the East End is of greater importance than the integrity of the ecosystems that sustain life on this planet?

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