The most censored story of our lifetime is hiding in plain sight. We humans are disrupting the climate of the planet to the point at which the world our children and grandchildren will inhabit may be unrecognizable.
The risk we are taking is not something discussed in polite company, much less in the corporate press. Instead of covering the many facets of this impending crisis and the options for mobilizing a response, the corporate press has largely served up a diet of distortion and distraction. Even the progressive media has a mixed record on covering the climate crisis.
Yet stories that explore the depth of — and solutions to — the climate crisis are essential to any prospect that we will respond at the scale needed.
After years of record-breaking fires, droughts, heat waves, and storms, public opinion is beginning to move toward greater comprehension, although still at a rate that is dangerously slow. While 97 percent of peer-reviewed scientific studies conclude that the Earth is warming because of human influences just 42 percent of the general public believes the world is warming because of human activity. And though journalists cover at length the stories of particular wildfires, droughts, megastorms, floods, and other events exacerbated by the shifting climate, until recently, the corporate media have neglected to explore something that scientists are warning about and that many people perceive with their own senses: that these are not isolated incidents, but signs of a long-term and accelerating disruption in climate stability.
The hard truth is that scientists predict a temperature rise of six degrees Celsius by the end of the century, unless we take action. This level of heating will hobble agriculture, deplete water supplies, and move shorelines. It will make many areas uninhabitable and cause famine, widespread extinctions, and massive movements of climate refugees. And it will be largely irreversible for centuries thereafter.
Why have we been unable to take action in the face of a threat larger and more long-lasting than terrorism? The climate crisis highlights a systemic flaw in human society today: the power of large corporations over our economy, governance, and way of life overwhelms other forces in our public and private lives
Corporations dealing in fossil fuel are among the biggest and most powerful on the planet. Together with other large corporations, as well as the think tanks and lobbyists they fund, they have undermined efforts to reach international climate agreements, and to get government action on renewable energy and energy efficiency, smart transportation options, and other policies that could counter the threat of climate disruption. With a focus on making the most money possible for shareholders and executives,
the fate of human and other life on the planet just doesn’t show up on the quarterly balance sheet. With billions of dollars in profits and a Supreme Court friendly to the power of big corporations, their influence on government goes largely unchecked.
An economy that concentrates wealth and power more each year, while undermining our world’s capacity to support life, especially goes unquestioned when the media is owned by big corporations that rely on corporate advertising.
We also have a cultural flaw. Influenced by billions of dollars of advertising, popular culture has come to equate having lots of stuff with success and happiness. Those at the top can accumulate with abandon and without considering the implications for the future.
Meanwhile, people in the 99 percent increasingly struggle just to get by. Other values that are just as much a part of the founding culture of the United States—frugality, community, neighbor-helping- neighbor, contribution to the whole – have been pushed aside by the advertising-driven impulse to buy. The production and eventual disposal of all that stuff exacts a price on the finite resources and energy capacities of the planet, and the bill is coming due.
Facing the dire reality of a destabilized climate is not easy, and some of the country’s most influential media don’t even try. The Wall Street Journal’s notoriously right-wing opinion section published a column on May 9, 2013, titled “In Defense of Carbon Dioxide.” The piece celebrates rising levels of carbon dioxide as a boon to plant life. Columbia Journalism Review columnist Ryan Chittum, who is a former Wall Street Journal writer himself, called it “shameful even by the dismal standards of that page.
According to a January 2013 Media Matters report, not a single climate scientist appeared as a guest on the influential Sunday morning television talk shows, nor were any climate scientists quoted, over the previous four years. Most of those invited to speak on global warming were either media figures or politicians, but, among the politicians, not a single one was a Democrat. Climate change deniers on the shows went unchallenged. The nightly news shows had somewhat more coverage, and most of that was driven by extreme weather events, according to the report. But this coverage, too, was biased: 60 percent of the politicians on the air were Republicans.
Most journalists want to be perceived as objective, and so for years much of the climate reporting included an ersatz balance: climate deniers were given equal time even though they were a tiny fraction of the scientific community; the fact that many were funded by the fossil fuel lobby was rarely mentioned. The New York Times is among those that now explicitly reject this he-said-she-said approach.
By Sarah van Gelder
from Censored 2014
Seven Stories Press