Alan Rusbridger discussed The Guardian’s climate change campaign March 17 on the 11th floor of Houston Cole Library.
Rusbridger, Chairman of The Scott Trust Ltd. and Guardian editor for 20 years, spoke to a packed room of JSU students, faculty and local community members as part of the annual Harry M. and Edel Y. Ayers Lecture Series.
The Guardian called the campaign “Keep it in the Ground,” referring to fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas.
He developed the idea for the campaign in December 2014, five months before he stepped down as Guardian editor. Rusbridger said that he perceived an overwhelming scientific opinion in favor of the existence and threat of climate change.
“I asked myself, ‘have we done justice to what is probably the biggest story in the world?’” he said.
The Guardian assembled an alliance of reporters of various beats and launched Keep it in the Ground March 2015. The newspaper partnered with the environmental non-governmental organization 350.org. Prince Charles, author Helen Macdonald and the United Nations later joined the campaign.
Keep it in the Ground began advocating for fossil fuel divestment, which involves companies getting rid of stocks, bonds and investment funds that support the industry. Within a few weeks, the Guardian Media Group, which owns The Guardian, divested, making the organization the largest yet known to do so.
The campaign pushed for the Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, the largest charitable foundations in the world, to also divest from the industry. Guardian readers participated by writing letters to executives at the Wellcome Trust and recording short films for Bill Gates. Neither foundation divested.
“If I’m wrong, the downside is negligible, but if the scientists are right, this is the biggest challenge facing the human race today,” Rusbridger said.
He also said newspapers were not providing adequate coverage.
In 2013, The New York Times abolished their climate desk, which consisted of seven reporters and two editors; within a year of doing so, The Times had a 40 percent overall drop in climate change coverage, according to Rusbridger.
As part of their campaign, The Guardian invested in journalism to expose fossil fuel reserves around the world and explain the story of the industry.
“I may have broken every rule in the journalistic book. We’ve crossed the line from reporting to saying ‘there is something you can do about this,’” Rusbridger said.