I could not be more pleased that this year’s Local Newspaper Week will have an environmental theme. Local newspapers are at the very heart of the communities they serve and play an extraordinarily important role in shaping local agendas and priorities.
National newspapers may have the resources to deploy journalists to international conferences and to monitor the high-level debates that shape national policy on the environment. In doing so, they can play an important role in raising awareness about environmental issues. Indeed, we all need to know about the latest scientific pronouncements on climate change, to see photographs of the shrinking polar ice caps and to be aware of the impacts around the world. But no-one should be in any doubt about which half of the old saying ‘think global, act local’ is the more important!
It seems to me that more and more people are now recognizing the severity of the threat posed by climate change. They want to see decisive action at the national and international level to reduce the impact on their children and their grandchildren. And they are prepared to do their bit to help in the way they live their own lives. But that’s where the problems and questions start.
What, exactly, can each of us do in our lives to reduce our contribution to climate change? What can we recycle, and where? What does a low-energy light bulb look like? Will it cost more to buy ‘green energy’? What difference could anaerobic digestion of waste make to my community? Can the Council be persuaded to provide better facilities for cyclists? Does Friends of the Earth have an active local group? What plants will survive in the garden without watering? These are exactly the sort of issues that local newspapers can and do cover in detail, for the benefit of their readers, their advertisers and the society of which we are all a part.
There is, of course, a tremendous temptation to regard climate change as someone else’s problem. We have all heard the familiar complaints: ‘It’s all the fault of the oil companies’, ‘I’ve never driven a 4 by 4’, ‘my house is well insulated’, ‘whatever we do won’t make a difference because the Chinese and Indian economies are growing so fast’. Yet, somehow, we have to get past these and similar reactions if we are going to play our full part in dealing with the problem. It really is an issue for every area of our society.
The business community, in providing the goods and services we all rely on, have a major role to play. Only by examining every aspect of their operations will they be able to say they are playing their part to reduce climate change. Energy and water efficiency are two important starting points, which will also reduce costs. But, equally, there is a need to look at supply chains to see where it might be possible to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at any point in the chain. Many companies are already engaged in this important process of self-examination, and while smaller businesses often have conflicting priorities, even simple measures – such as switching to low energy light bulbs and turning off stand-by lights on computers - can make a big difference.
Local Authorities also have major opportunities to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by doing things differently. There are some excellent examples of what can be done with firm leadership and commitment. I see this more and more in various parts of this country, most recently in Woking where a sustained focus on energy is paying off in more ways than one and, thanks to the leadership of an extraordinary Chief Executive, this one Council has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 82 per cent and energy consumption by 52 per cent from 1990 levels. Imagine if every Council in the country did the same... Here, again, local newspapers have an important role in either publicizing such initiatives or drawing attention to the possibilities.
The teaching profession, bank managers, hoteliers, transport operators, leisure companies and many more all have a part to play in reducing climate change. If they all play their part there is a much greater chance that each and every one of us will be willing to do so too.
The battle against climate change is not going to be won through anything that happens at the United Nations, nor in Westminster, Washington or Brussels. It is going to be won through countless millions of individual decisions and actions, taken every day, by people who are both concerned enough, and empowered enough, to make a difference. And, if you decide to do so, you can be one of those too. I hope you will because we are all in this together, and the fate of our grandchildren quite literally hangs on our response. I am sure most of us wouldn’t really want them saying to us, “Why didn’t you do something when it was possible to make a difference?”
Local newspapers can help us all to realize what it is we can do.