Interviewing Pippa Neill: An Environmental Journalist (Who Also Happens to be my Sister)
My sister has been an environmental journalist and editor for the last three years, working for four national publications, with a regional and international audience of over 100,000, developing her own podcast called ‘Earth Rights’ that focuses on the intersection between human rights and environmental practices, and attending amazing events like the COP summit at the end of last year. I am incredibly proud of her, of her passion and drive for what she does – and thought it would be interesting to ask her about her work.
Why did you want to become specifically an environmental journalist?
It began at university, I wrote a dissertation exploring how the language that was used in the media around the climate crisis affects our perceptions of this issue. I had a look at specifically how language influences our thought and how it was being used by certain media outlets to mislead the public to the extent of the challenge.
It was this project that really motivated me to work in the media industry and after finishing uni I set out on my journalism career by conducting various freelance work for different publications like the Wildlife Trust and Manchester Climate Monthly. This passion eventually developed into a full-time job initially as a journalist and now as a group editor managing the content for four different environmental publications, including Air Quality News and Environment Journal.
Why is environmental journalism important to you?
It’s about making a difference, and shaping the opinions of policy makers in society. I am currently the editor of two business-to-business (B2B) environmental magazines where our audience is largely local authorities.
How did you find your footing in journalism?
After graduating from University I did various freelance jobs while I was looking for a more permanent position. I then received a place at an entry-level reporter job at the company I work for now and completed my NCTJ journalism qualifications. And, from there I have just worked my way up.
You have a podcast, Earth Rights, how did you develop this?
I have a real passion for sharing the human side of the climate crisis so, with my friend, who is a trainee human rights lawyer, set up EarthRights.
It began as an idea during lockdown, very cliche I know. We started interviewing friends, talking to each other and editing the content ourselves. Over time the content has developed, we recently interviewed Alphonsine Kapagabo, the Director at Women for Refugee Women, who herself is a refugee. I think our overall aim is to highlight why the climate crisis is a human rights crisis.
Your podcast combines environmentalism with a legal perspective – do you think the law will change, particularly after cases like that of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah?
Yes, because of our respective backgrounds the podcast aims to highlight the connection between human rights and the environment through many facets, one being how human rights law can help to protect the environment. There are many ways that this can be achieved and environmental law charity ClientEarth are hugely influential in this area, they are currently suing the government for failure over net-zero plans.
In my work for Air Quality News I have also seen the value in Ella Kissi-Debrah’s case for creating change. Ella was a nine year old girl who lived in London and died of an asthma attack. However, research revealed that her asthma attacks conspired with days where air pollution in London exceeded the legal limit. Early last year, a coroner ruled that air pollution made a ‘material’ contribution to Ella’s death, this means she is the first person in the world to have air pollution on their death certificate.
Ella’s mother Rosamund has been hugely influential in pushing for this recognition and has used this tragedy to push for global change, she is now a World Health Organisation advocate for cleaner air.
We know that air pollution contributes to 7 million premature deaths worldwide every single year, more than malaria and HIV combined, but these statistics are hard to comprehend, and so having a face to the story despite how awful it is, really helps us to move these conversations forward and understand the reality behind these statistics.
How was it attending the COP conference last year?
It was amazing to be part of such a huge global event. During lockdown I have spent a lot of time writing on a laptop from the comfort of my home, going to a global event and meeting people like Rosamund and realising that my work makes a material difference reminded me why I do what I do.
I heard first hand Jeff Bezos say ‘after being in space I now realise how fragile the earth is’, and on the same day, I met mothers from across the world whose children are dying from air pollution. The sense I got was a real disconnect between what was happening in the corporate world and what was happening in cities and towns. It was incredibly confronting and a clear reminder that despite progress we still have so far to go.
Do you feel that the Glasgow COP conference achieved anything substantial? And where do we go from here?
Although there is still so much work that needs to be done, it would be unfair to say that COP didn’t achieve anything.
Under the Glasgow climate pact, countries agreed to return to the negotiating table this year at COP27 in Egypt to reexamine their national plans, with a view to increasing their ambition on cuts, we will all be watching this closely to see how countries performed on their commitments made at COP26 and what progress they pledge to make to take things further.
What steps can we all make to protect the planet?
We all know the small steps we can make in our personal lives, eat less meat, drive less, recycle more, use less water etc.
I think we should all be trying to be more sustainable wherever possible, but for those of us who can’t do these or are doing these things but want to do more I think it’s important to use your political power, whether that’s through how you vote, how you shop, the conversations you have with your friends, what you read, changing banks, having conversations with your college, university, workplace and so on. It’s easy to feel helpless as an individual when you understand the scale of the problem, but by talking about these issues and campaigning for change in your circle it spreads awareness and encourages other people to follow suit.
When I feel beaten down I always remind myself of this quote by anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”