Louise Gray: Call me a hack, just don’t call me an environmentalist

Why do environmental journalists get accused of being campaigners if they point out climate change is happening?

By Louise Gray

It always makes me laugh when people ask: “So you’re an environmental journalist – do you believe in global warming?”

“Er, yes, yes it happens I do. After five years of listening to Nobel Peace Prize-winning scientists telling me that if we carry on burning fossil fuels at the current rate temperatures will rise by 4C, I have come to the conclusion that yes, it is possibly something to worry about.”

Does that make me a climate change campaigner? No it doesn’t, I am merely reporting the facts. I repeat – it is independent scientists telling me these things, not NGOs or politicians.

So it surprised me last week when we had yet another debate on whether journalists should be climate change campaigners.

Of course not. Journalists are there to report on what is happening – not to campaign.

So why do environmental journalists get accused of being campaigners if they point out – quite reasonably – that climate change is happening and it is something to worry about?

If Nick Robinson, the BBC’s Political Editor, reports on an independent economic analysis that warns if we keep spending money, we will go into debt, no one says it is a right-wing conspiracy.

Well, they do – but it is a minority.  Most people accept that a journalist is reporting on facts of public interest.

Is it because environmental journalists are “too close” to environmental campaigners?

But what do you think political hacks do at party conferences? Things get muddled, people make friends, they make more enemies. Everyone is human.

Louise Gray was environment correspondent at the Daily Telegraph from 2009-2013

Louise Gray was environment correspondent at the Daily Telegraph from 2009-2013

Is it because of the history of climate change reporting? When the issue first came on the scene, the sceptics’ questioning of the science was a major story.

James Delingpole wrote blogs on “Climategate” that famously got thousands of comments.

It still attracts readers. Christopher Booker’s most recent piece on the “manipulation” of climate change data is currently on the most read list on the Telegraph Earth website.

But comments on the internet about the brainwashing of journalists does not necessarily translate into concern among the general populace.

Certainly the World Bank, President Obama and the UK’s party leaders think climate change is real and is something to worry about.

Game of Thrones

Is it because I am passionate about the subject I choose to write about? Why shouldn’t I be? Let me tell you something about what it is like to work in a national newspaper office.

For all the slagging off of the Daily Telegraph this week, every single journalist there is working incredibly hard for their patch.

That is how it works. You go into a news conference and you fight your corner.

It’s a bit like Game of Thrones – but with less swords and more shouting. You are encouraged to stand up for your subject.


You are the one with the access to the scientists, the politicians and the facts, and you have a responsibility to the reader to try and get this important story into the paper.

I remember pitching a story on climate change during the height of the UK parliamentary expenses scandal.

“Don’t you realise this is the most important story of our our time?” I screamed at a news editor.

“Well, there happens to be quite an important story breaking here Louise…”

I still think I was right.

I will never apologise for being impassioned about the importance of climate change and explaining the dangers we face, especially in the run up to the 2009 UN climate summit in Copenhagen.

Worthy struggle

If anything, I wish editors would take the subject more seriously and give it a more coverage. I believe readers do care about this subject.

If newspapers don’t smarten up their act they will be left behind when digital media jumps on the band wagon in the run up to the next UN conference in Paris later this year, where world leaders will once again attempt to reach a global deal to reduce emissions.

Sure, it is difficult to keep making climate change interesting, but it’s also difficult to make the NHS and the election sexy, and we manage to keep that in the news.

Ultimately, I believe the public are smart enough to work out this is important.

Some journalists do call themselves environmentalists, for instance George Monbiot. Fair enough, but personally I don’t feel I can claim to be saving the planet – though I would like to help through my journalism.

I haven’t flown anywhere in over a year. I sort my recycling and help all my friends with theirs – when will people understand that bottle tops are a different kind of plastic?

I believe climate change is happening and yes, I think we should do something about it.

But why listen to me? Like I said, I’m just a hack.

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