Sunday Edit: Iben Maria Zeuthen – the journalist who wants to clear the front page for the climate
Meet journalist, podcast and radio host Iben Maria Zeuthen – founder of Instagram profile #rydfladenforklimaet (‘clear the front page for the climate’), an apolitical climate journalism community created to inspire the media to better reflect the severity of natural disasters. In other words, make as much noise as possible about the fact that the media needs to get involved in the climate fight now.
Photo: Maude Lervik
Iben Maria Zeuthen is a journalist at heart. Proud of her profession, interested in intimate conversation, how the world is connected, and how we humans act in it. When you listen to her on the radio or podcasts, you can tell she is invested in her work and lends her personality to the stories she tells. And she is ahead of the pack when it comes to translating opinions into action for the climate.
In June, she launched the hashtag #rydfladenforklimaet – and in July, she created an Instagram profile under the same name. The intention was to create a forum for debate, and to encourage and challenge all media to prioritize the climate issue in their broadcasts and publications. And to praise and cheer the media that are doing this already.
As an independent journalist, Iben does not promote Rudolph Care. However, we are happy to support #rydfladenforklimaet – and are therefore clearing Rudolph Care's front page for the climate and for Iben Maria Zeuthen in this edition of Sunday Edit.
Do you consider yourself a climate activist?
Actually, I think it's a complete misnomer to label me an activist. In fact, that's the whole problem. I'm a journalist and I've realized that – to put it mildly – there is a huge story out there that the media is not covering properly. It's not activism, nor is it a political agenda or a battle I'm fighting. I’m simply addressing a lack of due diligence in journalism. When a story this insane isn't being covered, it's my job as a journalist to speak up. Trying to focus on how to solve our shared, man-made climate crisis is not activism. It’s not a hobby or a sport that the media can pick and choose from, depending on what else is news on the day. It's an integral element of every well-told story today, and I'd like to advocate that it becomes the new standard. Almost every other story with public-sector roots naturally includes a financial angle in its coverage. We know what a new highway or a super hospital will cost. But we are not told how investment will impact the environment and climate.
The climate crisis is not an opinion, it's science. So, why doesn't the media take a critical look at our actions on behalf of the climate? We simply have to change that. Right now! I started #rydfladenforklimaet and run it with my two fellow journalists Anne Martens and Jakob Sloma Damsholt. It is our contribution to showing the media tough love and trying to inspire them to include the climate angle in all stories. Because it's there – it's simply that the story of cause and effect is missing.
When did the climate crisis go from being a global condition to a personal issue for you?
Five years ago, I, along with the rest of the world, watched as media around the world suddenly came together and focused on #MeToo. It created a global revolution, changed culture and behavior and placed gender equality and sexism on the agenda pretty much everywhere. It got me thinking. Not only did the media's lack of climate coverage bring me down, I was frustrated by how little the topic was part of our collective consciousness, which contrasted greatly with its position in science. I was thinking about how to get some kind of handle on it, like with #MeToo. And at the same time, I became very aware of how much influence the media still has on the global agenda and how lightly they take their responsibility in terms of climate change.
Just think of the jolly headlines in the tabloid press this fall: “Good news from the Danish Meteorological Institute, the heat wave continues”. But that's not good news. It's global warming, man-made, and the direct path to the degradation of the biodiversity and ecosystems that are the foundation of our survival – fact. I'm a journalist. That's why I have to contribute using what I know: media and communication. And even though I feel like we're on the back foot, my climate fears have lessened because I'm doing something concrete when I work to run the stories on #rydfladenforklimaet. I highly recommend it, because it takes away that feeling of powerlessness. We all have something to contribute to society from our different walks of life.
Photo: Maude Lervik
What will it take for us to change our behavior and take action?
I think everyone noticed how crazy the weather has been this summer. The news has been full of a myriad of so-called natural disasters. Storms, floods, forest fires and ridiculous temperatures at both ends of the scale. September has the distinction of being the hottest ever. Many of the extreme weather phenomena we are experiencing now are a direct consequence of man-made climate disruption and our massive CO2 emissions. This is rarely covered as part of the news and is seen as a political opinion. It isn't. These are the facts. Now we just have to face up to the fact that we are, pardon my French, fucked! Therefore, we must give space and a voice to all the knowledge and research that aims to change our course towards disaster and get the planet back on track.
What really matters is not the amount of stories. It's about getting the climate angle into all the news. The economic angle is always there. We're used to asking ‘what does it cost’? We need to get used to automatically asking where the CO2 comes from? How is sustainability ensured? This shouldn't be an AOB kind of agenda item, but an integral part of any well-told story. Behavioral change starts with awareness. That's why the media needs to ramp it up a notch.
Do you see the climate fight as your personal responsibility?
Right now, like many others, I'm in that phase of life where the balance between work and family is constantly being challenged. My presence and care are in demand because my children are so young and it has almost become an ethical dilemma for me to allocate my time and priorities. At the same time, my protective instincts exploded. I have to take care of my family, so I have to take care of their world. I think it's very human to realize the fragility of the planet when we have children. For me, the announcement of rising sea surface temperatures was a turning point that I had to act on. Because while we can all do something, my ‘weekly porridge day’ won’t be what makes a big difference.
There's a lot of guilt and shame in the idea that we have to fix everything ourselves. Why is it always us little people and not companies, the big players who can really change history, who have to slow down and stop doing this and that? We need the world's best journalists and leading media outlets to shine a light on the main culprits. Politics, money, power – that's where the fight for climate change will be fought. Sure, I'll leave the car at home and take the bike to work as well. My responsibility as an individual is to educate myself so I can make informed choices about how I live my life, what I buy, who I vote for and what causes I support, and that requires accessible information from the media. Accountability shouldn't be a choice, it should be mandatory.
Those of us who are adults today grew up with a visible environmental movement in the 80s. Greenpeace, Save the Whales, No to Nuclear Power. Actions were taken and the press followed. Why did we lose interest and stop getting involved? I think about that a lot.
How did #rydfladenforklimaet come about and is it making a difference?
In May, I quit my permanent job at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR) and became a freelancer instead. It may seem dramatic, but it was actually quite simple. I realized that part of the pension I was saving for through my salary was going to a pension company that is helping to fund plans for the world's largest oil pipeline in Uganda, and that, through another company, the company invested DKK 1.3 billion in the project. I found it strange that a large, state-owned organization, run with public funds, was supporting something as climate-unfriendly as oil pipelines. I just felt this huge ‘no’. What good is cutting down on beef if I'm also saving up for the world's largest oil pipeline? I quit my job and became a freelancer at DR instead so I could start investing my pension in something green. Then I wrote an open letter to the Secretary General of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, calling for us to clear our programming for the climate, and I was up and running.
Everyone should make demands about where their retirement savings are invested. It makes a difference. I'm really happy that we made some noise and that we created debate and dialog. Now, #rydfladenforklimaet has more than 14,000 followers on Instagram and we received a private donation of DKK 100,000 to run the profile. Because it takes money to spend the time it takes to create a relevant and inspiring profile that constantly challenges the existing media image and lovingly nudges in the direction of the climate angle. So, fingers crossed for more support, more followers and, most importantly, better integrated climate coverage across the media.
Do you have any advice for ‘acting' instead of just 'thinking' when it comes to the climate?
- It's about questioning the status quo. At work, in our institutions, the policies that underpin our actions as a society. If people don't understand how bad it is, it's because the press hasn't reported it properly. That's the media's job. We need to stop seeing climate as a political left-wing issue and look at the facts. Specifically, we all have a phone and most of us have a computer, so we have all the knowledge we need to take action at our fingertips.
#rydfladenforklimaet is not a planned project or a fancy campaign we had a little fun with in 2023. It's an initiative born out of frustration. So, if you're busy and can't manage to do anything other than eco-friendly shopping at the supermarket, follow us. We need your support. And you need media that do their job and place climate and the environment as high on the agenda as the economy – and that inspire us all to find a way towards a more sustainable planet. It's urgent and I don't want to wait any longer.