Cold Comfort on Warming from Mass MediaDecember 12th, 2009

Discussions in the media of a possible climate treaty emphasize, without urgency, the unlikelihood of real progress, mostly because of the gulf separating rich nations, which emit most of the pollutants, from poor ones, which are in line to suffer most of the early consequences. Less prominent in the media is any detailed discussion of the consequences of sudden climate change or of the imminence of the danger.

What we should be getting from our news media, along with the sterile discourse they now offer on the political implications of a treaty, is a systematic exploration of what we can expect 10 and 20 and 50 years from now if we continue burning fuel. Some people still think they’re going to get better weather. They’re not. Rather, the balance of nature will be upset. Predictions can’t do justice to the disaster that will come with a climate that is warmer by even two or three degrees. If the embedded mass media would only tell us, we would know that plants and animals we now take for granted–food crops, birds that eat insect pests, trees that furnish a habitat for other species, for instance–won’t be able to survive under the altered conditions of a warmer climate. And that’s not the half of it.

New-mongers would have us believe that Al Gore started this discussion a couple of years ago when he made a documentary about warming. In fact, the media have been censoring information about climate change for 30 years, and they’re still doing it. Read, watch and listen carefully for any mention of these items of bad news:

  • When massive chunks of ice now covering Greenland begins to slide into the sea, possibly as soon as 50 years from now, large parts of Florida will be engulfed, along with coastal cities worldwide, and much of the world’s farmland will be ruined by salt, as the ocean backs up into every river and stream. The timeline is uncertain, but the event is a certainty if we continue doing what we’re doing for another ten years or so.
  • When the forests of the world die because of pests that couldn’t survive a 20th century winter, a process that seems already to be under way in our own Pacific Northwest, birds will find nowhere to perch and nest, and the silent spring that Rachel Carson predicted 50 years ago, will finally come to pass.
  • When the numbers of miscroscopic creatures that populate the coldest reaches of the oceans are so reduced by slightly warmer waters that the marine food chain is put out of balance, billions will starve. The earliest manifestations of this phemonenon are already evident, with the death of huge, ancient coral reefs in the South Pacific. And as arable lands become arid, a process that has been accelerating in this new millennium, famine will proliferate, and people will find themselves in constant conflict over food, land and water.
  • With each degree of warming, vast stretches of permanently frozen land will thaw and begin emitting greenhouse gases, now trapped in the ice, causing further warming.
  • For every species that becomes extinct in this process, the species that depend on it for food, shelter, hygiene, and other basic needs will be threatened, and our grandchildren will witness a cascade of extinctions, as they decide whether to bring children into a degraded, defiled and doomed world.

The press used to call this “doom-saying.” Many news-mongers still do. For all the confidence they have in the predictions of their resident weather scientists, they can spare precious little for climate predicters, and they are always happy to provide a forum for climate-change “skeptics.” The press won’t tell you that this isn’t rocket science, but common sense. Put a dog in a fenced yard for a week and see what collects on the grass. Smoke 10 cigarettes in your bedroom and have a sniff. Empty your dishwater to your well and take a gulp. Even animals have the sense not to foul their own nests. People, apparently, not so much. We’ve been blessed with the capacity to calculate with some accuracy just how much filth the earth can safely handle, and yet we continue to defile this fragile, life-giving biosphere far beyond its limit.

This is a continuing story that the media refuse to cover. In fact, there is so much to report that a cursory inquiry could fill a daily paper for years to come. Only one reporter I know of, a satirist by the name of Harry Shearer, covers climate change with any regularity, and he’s not heard beyond a few noncommercial radio stations. It may be that the future is so bleak that the rest of the media feel compelled to keep it from us, if only to stem panic. I don’t think so. I think they keep it from us because their owners are the real beneficiaries of fuel-burning. The media are owned by business. Business expands and contracts with the welfare of humanity, but business survives human catastrophe. Business exists in and for the present, and business doesn’t reckon with the long-term survival of mankind. Business, for the good of business, dictates to the media and to us news-consumers that the welfare of Americans takes precedence over the future of the planet.

The embedded mass media ought to remind people that the atmosphere doesn’t recognize national borders. When a powerplant sends carbon dioxide up a smokestack, it’s released to all the world. It joins the other carbon dioxide in the upper atmosphere and does what this gas does: keeps the heat in like a blanket. Over the entire planet. We know this, but we don’t really know it, because we’re not permitted to believe it. Maybe we’ll catch on somehow, even as all forces conspire to keep us in denial, but it could be too late by then. Maybe it’s too late already. Maybe an asteroid will hit us and render the whole discussion moot.