Climate, Blah Blah Blah and The Press

If the threat to the planet is real, why don't newspapers buy the fight?

An article in Columbia Journalism Review celebrates the fact that the main outlets of the American press have woken up to the climate crisis, with robust coverage in the first days of COP26, the UN conference on the subject, currently taking place in Glasgow.

Could you write something similar about the Brazilian press? Yes, if robust coverage means more reporting, correspondents sent to the meeting, special sections on websites and sections dedicated to the theme in the print editions. No, it's not possible to say that the main newspapers in the country have exceeded the the usual so far. There is still time, the meeting goes until Friday (12).

The American awakening, according to the analysis, takes place for several reasons, starting with the fact that the event started soon after, and two hours by plane, from the G20 meeting. The leaders who were in Rome followed naturally to the Scottish city. The exception was Jair Bolsonaro, who preferred to extend his stay in Italy, participate in events sponsored by the ultra-right and let journalists be attacked — to be fair on record, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin never left their homes.

Another reason to improve the coverage of the sector would have been the weekly protest led by young people of various nationalities, started by Greta Thunberg just over three years ago. Politicians and columnists in general are not fans of the Swedish young girl, which drags crowds of teenagers, amateur and professional activists, the elderly and all sorts of people, every Friday, in different corners of the planet.

The brat, as Bolsonaro once described her, slammed the conference and the participants in speech at the last rally in downtown Glasgow. "Many are wondering when the people in power will wake up, but let's be clear: they're already awake, they know exactly what they're doing. This is no longer a climate conference. This is now a global 'greenwashing' festival. Two weeks of celebrating 'business as usual' and blah blah blah."

Journalists are beaten too. "Repeatedly, the media fail to hold those in power accountable."

If to the reader it sounds exaggerated to imagine such strength in a girl, it is good to remember that Europeans and Americans, in general, take Greta and her gang very seriously. Listening to someone from her generation, with a keener environmental awareness, can also help in understanding the phenomenon.

Whatever the reasons of the American media, the Brazilian ones are not lacking, starting with the additional hassle of having to deal with an openly denialist and now diversionist government and authorities. Overnight, the country sets goals and signs treaties without explaining how it will meet them. "How to do it is our internal question", declares Hamilton Mourão. "Now we're in full swing," says Paulo Guedes. All that's left is Bolsonaro to announce that he's going to ban red meat from the Plateau kitchen.

"Greenwashing" is it, for anyone who missed an explanation four paragraphs ago. Make up green makeup, without explaining how the assumed commitment will be supported. Misleading advertising, in short. The Brazilian government, by itself, already justifies Greta's disbelief and anger.

With so much to clarify, one wonders why the Brazilian press does not join the fray. Maybe it's too much to hope that any Brazilian newspaper will suddenly decide to become The Guardian, which assumes an activist journalism, imposing a series of environmental commitments, including cutting 30% of its own emissions now and aiming to eliminate two-thirds of them in 2030, and which has the luxury of refusing, since last year, advertisements from companies exploring fossil fuels.

In the current crisis, it is difficult to imagine a media outlet in Brazil rejecting Petrobras commercials. But any one of them could look into the state-owned company to understand what its strategic plan (does not) foresees in view of the projected decarbonization of the world economy or about the many reserves in its possession that will become idle.

Likewise, shedding light on the forces that drive the coal lobby in Brasilia, stamp tortoises on nearly every energy-related bill in Congress, and make the Brazilian government not sign a treaty on fuel eradication.

Agribusiness, methane, indigenous lands, illegal mining, national industry obsolescence, SUVs, exaggerated consumption. There are plenty of guidelines, there is a lack of arms, but there is also a lack of initiative.

As long as a newspaper like Folha allows, as last Sunday (31), its ESG special, albeit legitimate, has five times the space dedicated to the COP26 discussion, Greta will be right that we are more concerned about the blah blah blah.

José Henrique Mariante

Trained as an engineer and journalist, Mariante has been a reporter, correspondent, editor and editorial secretary at Folha, where he has worked since 1991. He is the ombudsman.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon​