Climate change and media hypocrisy

Journalists must take an urgent look at our personal and professional lives to see how we can reduce the rapidly accelerating climate crisis.


There is a rather large elephant in the newsroom:

Reporter 1: “Where did you say you’re flying to tomorrow?  

Reporter 2: “I’ve got a freebie to Morocco to write a travel feature. I just need to finish writing this climate change report first though.”

Isn’t this a bit awkward? Newspapers and many magazines write endlessly about a need for everyone else to take urgent action on climate change and behave differently, whilst simultaneously promoting and profiting from flying.

Travel promotion takes up a vast space in the media, whilst the income from flight advertising pays a significant portion of many journalists’ salaries.

Media influence

Not only are journalists enjoying personal gain from promoting a fossil fuel-dependent industry, they are widely influencing the holiday decisions of the general public - more precisely, a combined newspaper print circulation of around nine million people and a further 27 million daily readers on the top four news sites, which include Mail Online, Metro, Reach and The Sun. Readers of the regional press and magazines add a few more million British people being influenced by air travel advertising in the media.

Each plane passenger is likely to double, triple or even quadruple their household carbon footprint every time they fly, according to figures released by campaign group Flight Free 2019.

Calculations by the National Energy Foundation Carbon Calculator show that an average family of four’s annual CO2 emissions for domestic gas and electricity would be about 3 tonnes. However one single flight from London to Cairo adds on another 4.5 tonnes. If they fly to Florida they will burn 16 tonnes; to Sydney another 21 tonnes of CO2. 

On average, this one decision will single-handedly put an individual’s carbon footprint beyond what is environmentally acceptable if we are to have any chance of reducing global warming to levels advised by the United Nation’s International Panel on Climate Change.

The average carbon footprint for a British person is around 15 tonnes per year, but this figure varies slightly depending on which calculation you use. To live sustainably and to meet the IPCC and Paris Agreement stated levels of carbon reduction targets, we need to further reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to meet the global average target of three tonnes per person of CO2 emissions, per year.

Each of us needs to take an urgent look at our personal and professional lives to see how we can adopt lifestyles that reduce the rapidly accelerating climate crisis. As I work as a freelance journalist, for me that means I would like to open a conversation with the UK media about their role in continuing to promote and profit from lifestyles that are creating harmful climate change.

Funding crisis

I have recently written to all the national newspapers, questioning the sustainability of policies that promote air travel. 

One Danish newspaper has just led the way in ending the promotion of air travel.

By contrast, a large number of UK national and local media organisations and journalists remain inextricably implicated in this issue, because a sizeable - but fast shrinking - source of their funding comes from advertising.

Newspapers have been sinking in a mire of downward-spiralling profit and readership over the past two decades. They may struggle to sustain themselves financially without making a profit from the advertising income that partly-pays their salaries and promotes the destruction of our planet. 

The press funding crisis was highlighted in a Government report in 2018 by Mediatique, which revealed overwhelming losses in press jobs, advertising income and circulation over the past decade.

The report warned it saw "little hope that a charitable, community or franchise system could safeguard the cost of newspaper publishing." In their place we risk an increase in online competition from cheaper, poorer quality and questionable news sources, including climate change-denial and other vested-interest lobby groups. 

Carbon footprint

Good journalism matters, and a financially sustainable but also environmentally sustainable free press is vital.

Perhaps wider society needs to support a new, independent funding model to support a good quality free press to do their job without going cap in hand to environmentally destructive industries for support.

My personal annual carbon footprint is less than six tonnes/pa, just half the UK average, largely and most fundamentally because I do not fly; but also because we have switched to green energy at home, I don’t buy excessive amounts of ‘stuff’, I don’t waste food, I have reduced the amount of meat our family eats, I choose plastic-free whenever I can, I follow the idea of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, I walk whenever I can, and I car-share whenever I can. 

Your footprint

Here are some carbon footprint calculators: 




Carbon Trust

This Author 

Alex Morss is a freelance writer, author and ecologist.  @morss_alex

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