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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
George Monbiot

Earth is under threat, yet you would scarcely know it

Bamboo path over floodwaters
People use a temporary bamboo path near their home in Sindh province, Pakistan. Recent floods ravaged a third of the country and killed 1,500 people. Photograph: Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images

What is salient is not important. What is important is not salient. Most of the time, most of the media obsess over issues of mind-numbing triviality. Much of the world’s political journalism is little more than court gossip: who’s in, who’s out, who said what to whom. At the same time, issues of immense, even existential importance are largely or entirely ignored.

With the exception of all-out nuclear war, all the most important problems that confront us are environmental. None of our hopes, none of our dreams, none of our plans and expectations can survive the loss of a habitable planet. And there is scarcely an Earth system that is not now threatened with collapse.

Let’s begin with the ground beneath our feet. Soil is a biological structure, created by the organisms that inhabit it. When conditions become hostile to their survival, the structure collapses, and fertile lands turn to dust bowls. The global rate of soil degradation is terrifying. We rely on the soil for 95% of our food, yet we treat it like dirt.

Ocean ecosystems are in even greater trouble, hammered by a combination of industrial fishing, pollution, and acidification, as carbon dioxide dissolves into seawater. Forests, rivers, wetlands, savannahs, the cryosphere (the world’s ice and snow) – all are being pushed towards the brink. And above all, climate breakdown is gathering at shocking, unanticipated speed, with disasters occurring at 1.2C of heating that scientists did not expect until we hit 2 or 3C.

All of Earth’s systems are complex, which means they do not respond to change in linear and steady ways. They absorb stress up to a certain point, then suddenly collapse. If one goes down, it can trigger the collapse of others: during previous mass extinctions, collapse seems to have cascaded from one ecosystem and Earth system to the next. The conditions in which we and the majority of life on Earth evolved could, if we do not take urgent and drastic action, soon and perhaps suddenly come to an end.

Yet you would scarcely know it. Most of the media, most of the time, either ignore our environmental crisis, downplay it or deny it. The reason is not difficult to discern. Most of the media are owned by corporations or billionaires, who have a financial interest in sustaining business as usual. If governments acted to prevent the collapse of Earth systems, business models would have to change drastically, and these changes would disfavour legacy industries and their investments. To keep the proprietors, shareholders and advertisers happy – or, in the case of public sector broadcasters, to keep the government off their backs – the most important topics of all are neglected.

Part of the Guardian’s mission is to fill in the gaps, to cover issues overlooked by most of the rest of the media, above all the issues whose neglect could be fatal to much of life on Earth, including the majority of human beings. With correspondents all over the world and a dedicated team of expert reporters, thoughtful commentary and an open and empirical approach, the Guardian seeks to put environmental issues at the front and centre. Almost every week, we break major environmental stories, many of which feature nowhere else in the media, and which, by any objective measure, are more important than most of the stories that dominate elsewhere.

Without a proprietor or other such interests leaning on us, we are free to explore issues and express opinions that in other places are treated as a kind of blasphemy. Our aim is to make the important salient and the salient important. But depth and scope do not come cheap. Investigating issues not covered elsewhere, rather than merely recycling press releases, requires a great deal of time and money.

Moreover, we believe that everyone should have the right to learn about such crucial topics, so we have resisted the commercial pressure to paywall our content. Instead, our fiercely independent journalism remains open and free for millions to rely upon every day.

With your help, we can continue to expand the scope of our inquiries, and to place environmental issues where they belong: at the front and centre of people’s minds.

The Guardian puts the climate crisis front and centre, and is committed to doing so. We rely on readers to fund our important work. Please consider supporting us today.

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