Because when the ship is going down, that should be the main focus of the daily, onboard bulletin
For me, it started in a writing group, in my hometown. A woman, a mother, younger than me — smart, articulate, a crackerjack writer — told us she and her family were moving to New Zealand. “Why?” I asked. It seemed to make no sense. The young family lived in a spacious and comfortable town home, near a university, and adjacent to vast and beautiful open spaces along the California coast. Her husband had a good tech job that helped them maintain their lifestyle, and she appeared to have the freedom to write, to think, to parent in a supportive community. They had no family in New Zealand, nothing drawing them there.
“Well, there is desertification in Africa,” she said. “The deserts are creeping. It doesn’t look good.”
And that’s all she said.
At least that’s what I remember. It seemed a short conversation. I was disappointed and deflated in the way you are when you are just starting to make a new friend and then they tell you they are moving away, far away.
“Oh,” I said. And that was that.
I understood this had to do with climate change. I thought: “Wow, she is really taking this seriously.” I didn’t know whether she was a little paranoid or knew something I didn’t. It seemed a bit fanatic, a bit extreme and over the top. And yet, I knew her as a smart, non-extreme sort.
Why didn’t I truly understand what she meant? I mean, in a serious, sober, globally contextual way? I felt comfortable that we had plenty of time to sort things out.
That was three or four years ago. And now I understand.
Since then, as detailed in my last Medium essay, the sea stars (starfish) in my favorite, little tide pool spot — which had died a year or so before my friends’ announcement, dissolving before my eyes — have not yet come back.
I have since read about “Sea Star Wasting Syndrome,” a cyclical disease made worse by warming oceans, a result of the unbelievable, possibly unsurvivable amount of CO2 now in our atmosphere. Also since then, a friend of mine passed along University of Cumbria Professor Jem Bendell’s now viral, global “occasional paper,” “Positive Deep Adaptation”; and I read its 35 or so pages three times, stopping to verify the science as I went along. After I read this paper, I had the uneasy feeling my life as I knew it would change dramatically.
I am assuming I do not need to go into great detail about the current state of the climate crisis and planetary emergency we are now in. To sum: 30 percent of our coral reefs have died due to acidification of oceans, absorbing CO2 —CO2 released by fossil fuel extraction, pipelines and burning. The Sunflower Sea Star has disappeared from our near shore coastline along the West Coast, and we have now lost and are losing kelp beds due to an explosion of sea urchins (which these sea stars used to eat).
According to the World Wildlife Fund, we are losing 200–250 species per day, and the statement made years ago by some biologists that we are in the “Sixth Mass Extinction of Species,” and one that may very well include humans, is borne out by recent United Nations reports. Insects, birds — especially songbirds — are in dramatic decline (due to many human-caused factors, including overdevelopment, mono-agriculture, pesticides, global heating and excessive CO2).
And I am angry. I am angry that those who we elected to and expected to protect and defend us — the US population, the global population and our priceless natural resources, our ecosystems, our homes — have failed us, spectacularly.
And I want to address the biggest culprit I see. As a former investigative reporter, this is a group I can claim to some extent as my own: the news media.
“The global news media has failed in its most essential and important role: to provide the news that is most meaningful to our lives and to protection of ourselves and our families.”
From the very beginning, after Al Gore’s first movie came out, it was clear to me the media had not been reporting on global heating in an ethical and comprehensive manner. If it takes an independently produced movie to expose us to what the news media has failed to alert us to, that our home base, our life support system is threatened to the point of possible human extinction, then the global news media has failed in its most essential and important role: to provide the news that is most meaningful to our lives and to protection of ourselves and our families.
The climate change “debate” happening at that time was an obvious farce. While the media presented the climate change dialogue as having equally weighted “sides,” it was obvious to me that one “side” had a huge amount of global wealth and profit to protect, while the other side had everything to lose — reputations, money, and precious time and energy that could be better spent on other concerns.
Environmental activists and scientists are hardly making the kind of money fossil fuel industry lobbyists, CEO’s and PR company executives are making — and that these people stand to continue to make persisting in efforts to cast doubt and denial on the fact of anthropogenic (human caused) global heating. ExxonMobile and other companies spent millions funding denial “science” through organizations like the Heartland Institute as they realized what the actual facts might do to their bottom line.
In truth, the elemental science of human industrial activity creating a warming “blanket” of CO2 around the globe has been known by and worried scientists and government officials since well before the Johnson Administration.
Journalists are generally smart and well educated. They also tend to care — which is why many have taken a relatively poorly paid job (except for in television). Why did they fail so spectacularly?
One friend of mine, a longtime contributor to Forbes on climate has taken me to task on this point. Scientists and journalists have been attacked (by fossil fuel-industry backed sources) unrelentingly since the climate crisis came to the fore. Every little mistake, every little inaccuracy has been isolated and then conflated to misrepresent the movement as inaccurate. So, they’ve become very careful. This may be true.
He also says, and others in the media have said: “Well, we have been reporting on this this. It is your own fault if you have not been paying attention.” I disagree with a passion.
The power of the pen (and, more so, TV, video and Internet news platforms) could have been, is and can still be much stronger than it has been on this issue, and if editorial boards had the will to take on the fossil fuel industry in order to save humanity, they could have.
Now, it is essential that they do.
Perhaps they have reported very well in stories here and there, but not to the level at which the general population could gain necessary clarity, and become properly alerted to the dire urgency of the situation, and more so, what each of us should do and can do to prevent the worst of coming catastrophe.*
And they still continue to fail us. Assume we are on the Titanic and there are two possibilities for us: 1) We are heading at breakneck speed toward the iceburg or 2) We have hit already, and now the ship is going down.
Let’s say the timeline is a bit slower. We have a week to hit or to sink, not just one night. Every passenger onboard receives a printed daily bulletin of news about the ship, just like they do on cruise lines today. What should this bulletin lead with? Should it not be something like: “Today: We are X meters closer to the iceburg! Please be aware! Lifeboats are being lowered. If you can assist, please go to Stations X and X. Women and children should know …” or …
“Today: The aft of ship has sunk by X meters. There is safety in sections X and X of the ship. Lifeboats are available to X and X. Please do not try to gather non-essential belongings … Strong individuals are needed to help with X and X?”
As a mother of two, I am horrified that the daily newspapers, the nightly news and every other mainstream news outlet does not include on the front page or in the lead of the news a review of global current climate crisis developments, and what they mean for us — including current CO2 parts-per-million in the atmosphere (now at record level over the past millions, I repeat, millions of years), and ongoing threats to the global grain belt, Arctic regions, sea-level communities, and fresh water.
Furthermore, I would implore all national and international meteorological associations to include human-created CO2 levels as part of weather reporting nearly every day. To not include this prime cause of their mainstay, extreme weather events, seems an oversight of the most glaring, egregious and suspicious sort.
One of our own local news stations in the Monterey Bay has been relatively good about covering environmental issues and Extinction Rebellion events. But when Extinction Rebellion Santa Cruz (XRSC) staged a Die In at our Congressperson’s office, a childrens’ book released by the rock band Metallica was apparently more newsworthy than desperate citizens and mothers gathering to insist our only Congressional Rep declare a Congressional State of Climate Emergency. (Perhaps the footage was not good, I don’t know. But the news crew was at our event and conducted interviews.)
XRSC also just submitted an Op Ed to our local daily paper, declaring the inent now of hundreds of us to sacrifice incredible amounts of time and energy, which frankly none of really want to have to sacrifice, toward getting the truth out — because those whose jobs are to inform and protect us have failed, thus far, to do so.
We shall see how they respond.
More than anything, I grieve every day, and experience a deep, deep sorrow that the proper job, as I see it, of our government and of the news media has now, by sheer force of necessity, been taken up by young mothers, grandmothers, nearly penniless activists, and compassionate souls who have dedicated and volunteered their lives to save species and ecosystems with no or very little financial reward, and at tremendous risk.
As a member also of Citzens Climate Lobby (CCL), I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the 1,500 or so U.S. citizens from Red and Blue states and districts across this country who showed up in Washington D.C. last spring, paying their own airfare, for their own meals, for their own hotel and transportation to lobby Congress to pass a basic, solid carbon tax, the very least our government can do at this time while CO2 released globally last year was at an all time high.
In fact, so much more is needed to save ecosystems and species at this very late date, including our own species. Because we have waited too long, we now need massive, global and to-scale World War II-style population mobilization in order to save our species, and our brother and sister species, upon whom we are completely interdependent.
I beseech all governments, the world over, and news media outlets now to step up courageously to “tell the truth” (Extinction Rebellion, Demand #1) and work together to educate the public about what we need to do now to protect our children and grandchildren and ensure the best kind of livable future, the best path forward, available to us now.
The moral imperative is clear. Who will respond?
The author is a mother of two, author of two books on youth and school resiliency (“The Spark Inside” and “State of Mind the Classroom”), and one book on college activism. She is a former, award-winning investigative journalist (published in Metro Newspapers, Inc. Magazine, Mother Jones and frequently in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner), and is now, by force of apparent necessity, a member of Citizens Climate Lobby and Extinction Rebellion Santa Cruz … She is foremost a human being who would like to see life on Earth continue with some reasonable amount of essential biodiversity, beauty and capacity to support complex forms of life.
*The phrase “coming catasrophe” can only apply to a somewhat lucky and priviliged audience — such as myself — not currently experiencing droughts prohibitive to sustenance farming (Central Americans), loss of livable land and territory (Louisiana, Virginia, Micronesian Islands, Marshall Islands), complete loss of freshwater supplies (Chennai, Zimbabwe) and lack of adequate resources in the face of extreme weather events (much of the world).