A New Voice for Communicating about Climate and Nature: Our Earth Week and the Community Radio Environment Network

The Community Radio Environment Network.
Reading Time: 5 minutes

The Community Radio Environment Network. Image: Penny Southgate

Reading Time: 5 minutes

A new voice for communicating about climate and nature: Our Earth Week and the Community Radio Environment Network

At 8.15am on Monday 20th November 2023, the music and chatter of community radio stations across the UK stopped for just a short while, giving way to the sweet sound of birdsong.  30 seconds of a contemplative moment which marked the start of Our Earth Week, a brand new date in the community radio annual schedule, where stations devoted an entire week to highlighting the climate crisis and celebrating Nature.  This moment also marked the emergence of a new voice, the collective voice of our communities, in climate communication. 

As the founder of Our Earth Week, my journey to this point began some years ago, when I set out on a road of climate activism, urged on by the message from the IPCC that we had only 12 years to avoid irreversible climate breakdown.  One of the things I felt most strongly about was the lack of decent media coverage; the mainstream media seemed to be ignoring the warnings that these scientists were sounding.  For the next few years I spent a lot of time taking part in direct action, sharing information about these actions on social media, as well as writing long, detailed complaints to the BBC and others about their lack of coverage.   

Throughout this whole time I had been working as a presenter on a music show on BCfm, a community station in Bristol.  I realised at some point that I was in the perfect position to put my money where my mouth was, so along came One Love One Planet, a weekly environmental magazine show. It was such a joy to be finally doing what I’d been nagging others to do.  To try and tell the truth, to be intersectional, and I slowly discovered that everything, just everything could be seen through the climate lens, so wherever you looked there was something to talk about.  It felt like an enormous organic being bursting at the seams, wanting to break out – so many people to talk to, so many subjects to tackle, so many different ways to talk about them.  

After only a few months the show was shortlisted for a national award (we won Bronze) and after a year, I suggested that we run a special climate week during the COP26 talks in Glasgow.  There was a definite buzz around the COP talks that year because they were taking place at home. I was given the go-ahead and got to work.  

This wasn’t totally straightforward.  It took a lot of work, dealing with every presenter individually.  Some presenters felt unhappy about having to do it, they felt they were in no way qualified, that they didn’t know anything about it.  Some weren’t interested because their cause lay elsewhere.  Many were helpful and encouraging though, and in the end the week was all things considered, a success. It was a fantastic week, and reminded me once more of the sheer richness of community radio, and all those myriad of wonderful individuals involved in it.

Building on that experience, I decided to up the ante and make the week a national event. I began work in March, and contacted all 350 (and more) stations in the UK individually.  In the end about 60 stations signed up to take part.  My experience from the previous year warned me that most presenters wouldn’t be keen on taking on extra work for something they didn’t see as their issue, so I made life as easy as possible for them by providing a library of audio files and a handbook of information.  There was a large range of material that would stimulate conversation around the deeper issues, the need for systemic change, and again, the thing that underpins everything – the fact that we are part of Nature.  We are not something next door to it, we are part of this amazing, intricate web of life and what we do to nature, we do to ourselves. 

Our Earth Week 2023. Image: Penny Southgate
Our Earth Week 2023. Image: Penny Southgate

One of the best moments for me was when the other stations involved started to take ownership of the project along with me.  I set the system up so that they could feed into the central library, and so they did, with such a wonderfully rich mix of content, of interviews and features, for everyone to use.  There was such a generosity of spirit in sharing the fruits of their individual hard work without expecting any reward or remuneration.   As this took off I could feel the same groundswell of energy that I had experienced with One Love One Planet, that feeling that here was something just bursting to emerge; a collective voice just waiting in the wings. 

The actual week surpassed all my expectations.  So many people did so much to contribute in so many different ways, going way above and beyond what might have been expected of them, and many of the station managers reported that they had been pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm of their presenters after their initial reluctance to take part. One of the more popular elements was the Our Earth Challenge, created especially for us by The Climate App, with one action to take per day to cut your carbon footprint. This Challenge was particularly good for giving us a focus on which to spread the word on social media about the week as a whole (with brilliant graphics from Thornbury Radio).  

The features on the theme of Nature were also popular: for example hauntingly beautiful soundscapes from nature, (some from threatened habitats), and poems about nature set to music, plus a wonderful piece from the knowledgeable and inspiring 9-year old naturalist Benjamin Fallow.  

And as always there was another unexpected benefit.  I discovered along the way that there is a natural symbiotic alliance between community radio stations, and the large campaigning groups.  These groups (organisations like the World Wildlife Fund, the RSPB, Action for Rivers, Lawyers For Nature, Power For People, for example) can get their message out easily and quickly through community radio, and they in turn can help to amplify the presence of the community radio stations.  Many of these groups sent our listeners messages for the week; this was something that could be done quickly and easily, without any bureaucratic labyrinth to navigate beforehand.   This messaging is something community stations should build on for the future.  This kind of link could prove essential not just in fighting climate change, but also in dealing with emergency situations such as heatwaves or flooding or food shortages. 

And what now, for 2024?  Well, we shall start planning for an even bigger and better Our Earth Week (from 11th-17th November, to coincide with COP29).  We want to connect with as many national and local groups as possible, because we are here to get the message out to our listeners, loud and clear.  And it won’t just be listeners in the UK, because this year we will be going worldwide!

Community radio stations are in the Goldilocks zone when it comes to communicating.  Our community network is both hyper local, and global.  We can respond to local events and situations more quickly and readily than mainstream media (especially after the restructuring of BBC local radio; there is now a big gap which community radio needs to step up and fill) and we can be as creative as we like in how we do it.   

We have an important voice, and we’re going to make sure it’s heard loud and clear, all over the world.

Our Earth Week 2023. Image: Penny Southgate
Our Earth Week 2023. Image: Penny Southgate

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