The recent surge in fossil fuel divestment campaigns has not only given people a voice against the industry, but has boosted support for more sustainable alternatives. The same can happen with excessive negativity in the media, argues Tom Lawson
Fossil fuel divestment is huge. What started as a small grassroots campaign in US colleges in 2012 is now a global phenomenon with people and organisations from all around the world committing to withdraw investments in the fossil fuel industry. As a result, an estimated $50bn (£31bn) will be taken out of the fossil fuel industry over the next five years.
The premise is simple: by withdrawing fossil fuel investments, organisations are limiting industry’s ability to exploit finite natural resources while simultaneously showing the world they object to a practice that is leading us on a path towards catastrophic climate change, destroying ecosystems and negatively impacting human health.
But what has this got to do with the media? Well, as the age of burning fossil fuels needs to come to an end, so does the era of overly negative media.
Though negative news may have less obvious consequences than the excessive use of fossil fuels, its implications for society are widespread and deep-rooted.
Every day we are bombarded with stories of conflict, death and destruction with seemingly no hope of resolution. Of course we should report on important issues such as war, crime and human rights abuses, but we also need to point to what is being done to tackle these problems. At present, the media too often presents an unbalanced view of the world.
Not only this, but research is emerging that suggests negative news stories have a detrimental impact on wellbeing and sense of social agency. A recent study from the University of Southampton asked respondents to rate their moods before and after reading negative stories and found higher levels of anxiety, pessimism and demotivation afterwards. Denise Baden, one of the study’s researchers and associate professor at Southampton Business School, argues that this is an ethical issue that both the media industry and society must consider when producing and consuming news.
With most of us reading the news on regular basis, imagine the potential long-term implications for society as a whole. As Positive News editor Seán Dagan Wood said at an Action for Happiness event in March: “We are reaching peak negativity in the news.” But it’s not enough to simply stop a problem. Alternatives are needed to bring about real positive change.
As many of those divesting from fossil fuels are instead investing in sustainable options such as renewable energy, alternative media solutions must be supported.
So what’s the solution?
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