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John Vidal: environmental journalist

John Vidal: environmental journalist

  • Date10 November 2023

Project Officer Chris Church reflects on the life of The Guardian newspaper’s environment editor John Vidal

John Vidal

Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd

The OHEM project is very sad to hear about the death of John Vidal, who was a member of our project Advisory Board. John was the Guardian’s environment editor for 27 years and he was one of a small group of environmental journalists who in the 1980s played a valuable role in moving environmental concern into the mainstream (Geoffrey Lean, Paul Brown and Charles Clover are other key names from that time).

More than anyone else, he was a journalist who became actively engaged with the movement, whether that meant being up trees at road protests or on the fringes of international policy discussions. The material he wrote after posing as a labourer to get a job on the security teams clearing up the Newbury bypass protests gave a very different take on that campaign and exposed the appallingly poor practices used to clear the sites.

John covered just about every key environmental story in the UK, and he also had a strong track record uncovering global stories that might otherwise have gone unheard. He was not just an observer - he provided practical and financial support where he felt it was needed. He set up the Gumbi Education Fund specifically to support one small village in Malawi where he had written a story about the impact of a famine, and there is a story about how he donated money from his Guardian fees directly to fund building a well in an area of Bangladesh he had visited.

In the early stages of our project, one question we discussed was how far we might look to interview those people in the media who had played a role in shaping as well as reporting on the development of the environmental movement. If there is a border between the movement and the media John was someone who could step across that border with ease and grace. He had friends and colleagues in every part of the movement in the UK. While he was always busy, he usually found time to provide some simple and to the point advice on how a planned campaign or action might play out in the media.

John was a powerful and valuable advocate for change, while his wonderful sense of humour meant that he was able to share and even laugh at some of the absurdities that we face as we try to tackle the global crises. We are sad that we did not have more opportunity to learn from his experience to inform our work. He will remain a benchmark for any aspiring environmental writer looking to help make a real difference.

John Vidal, journalist, born 5 January 1949; died 19 October 2023.

See The Guardian’s website for a full obituary and a selection of John Vidal’s greatest articles.

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