The two chosen topics were: Do humans have the will to tackle climate change? and, What impact does concentrated ownership have on local newspapers?
Two of the problems highlighted early on were, firstly, the sheer scale of climate change such that it seemed too big for us to process and the other brought in the issue of short termism in our political system. But it was suggested that part of the problem was the framing of the topic. It was often portrayed in a binary way – either we will save humanity or there will be catastrophe, whereas climate change can be mitigated and the damage limited.
An allegory that proved to be popular suggested that there were three monsters with government in the centre flanked by business and the media, all three wallowing in the mire of money.
On the other hand, it was also thought that you needed to tackle the problem from both ways, from the individual and from the power dynamics of the three-headed monster. The participants’ attention was drawn to Drawdown which analyses problems associated with climate change and the solutions – only two of which out of the top 20 were things that we could do as individuals.
It was suggested that we needed to engage more people in the issue and one way was through deliberative democracy and, in particular, Citizens’ Juries, which is something that Salisbury Democracy Alliance has been campaigning for for many years. One topic that could benefit from such an approach was the ill-fated People Friendly Streets.
Another way of engaging people is through and online tool called Pol.is which enables open ended feedback from large numbers of people and is used very successfully in Taiwan.
The second question revolved around the fate of local newspapers and the impact of their ownership by a small number of giant corporations. The Salisbury Journal, for example, is owned by Newsquest – the second biggest newspaper conglomerate in the UK, which itself is owned by the giant USA-based Gannett.
It was suggested that if you looked at public information as a market square, then before the internet papers like the Journal would have occupied the entire square. But since the advent of the internet and the reduction of journalistic standards created by the business model, that dominance has been eroded to the extent that the Journal occupies just one small stall and the rest of the space is taken up with various, often overlapping groups on social media.
One of the major problems associated with this, it was pointed out, was the lack of independent, trusted provision of credible, unbiased information and facts, of the sort once provided by local newspapers but now under threat by their diminished status and capability.
One solution to this could be the creation of groups like Salisbury-based The See Through News Newspaper Review Project. It was pointed out, however, that a deeper problem was the philosophical and cultural undermining of the concept of truth itself, particularly with the rise and dominance of post-modernist thinking. Nevertheless, work like the project was vital as part of the fight back to truth – along with deliberative democracy and Citizens’ Juries.