Monday, November 27, 2017

Media coverage of a warming world

One of the notions kicking around philosophy these days is whether the idea of the ‘extended mind’ has merit.

The "extended mind" is an idea in the field of philosophy of mind, often called extended cognition, which holds that the reach of the mind need not end at the boundaries of skin and skull. Tools, instrument and other environmental props can under certain conditions also count as proper parts of our minds. Closely related topics often conjoined with the idea of "extended mind" are situated cognition, distributed cognition, and embodied cognition. (The Extended Mind, Wikipedia)

This idea is worthy of our consideration in the same sense that our infrastructures—water lines, gas pipes, energy, transportation, telecommunications—are now critically important because we as a species cannot survive without these extensions of our collective existence. Sure, some us can survive for long periods without water piped into our homes, homes that are heated via gas lines or solar panels. Some can live for long periods without access to a vehicle, a Smartphone, or even a proper toilet. But not seven billion of us. As we push our numbers towards nine billion by 2050, most of us will live in cities, and our infrastructures must be made resilient and robust for the challenges ahead. Increasingly, we need our infrastructure like our bodies need our arteries and veins.

Our media--how we get information about our communities, states, and the world—are now wrapped up in who we are as a species. Homo sapiens cannot survive as we began--hunter-gatherers who communicated quite effectively within their own clan and immediate surroundings (sure, individuals can survive for brief periods of time without communicating with other humans and not knowing what is going on in the outside world; it’s called solitary confinement).

At this point within the Climate Change wormhole, we need to know what is going on all the time, the weather, political and legal changes, whether the financial market is healthy or ready for a crash. 

If we are to improve the likelihood of our survival as a species, we continually need news from around the world. We need to know if a nuclear war is imminent, whether extreme weather has or will knock out our ability to receive critical goods, or whether major social unrest somewhere is going to spill over national boundaries and affect any one of the essentials that keep our way of life going. Say, food.

Questioning media’s agenda

In a warming world our existence is bound up with everyone on the planet, not just our particular community. This position flies in the face of local media’s parochial agenda. We are now on a quickly warming world. It doesn’t make sense to pretend any place on Earth will not be dramatically affected by this planetary phenomenon. If a major area of food production somewhere in the world becomes unstable because of a change in climate, suddenly millions may be on the move for food. Our grocery shelves may be short some important staples—wheat, rice, maize or soybean. This would not just be a major humanitarian problem, it would also be a social-unrest problem or a condition (long-term drought, continual wildfires) heralding environmental collapse.

Somehow, we must have a species-wide media network that gives us (meaning everyone, everywhere on this planet) important, science-based information that we can use to plan properly. Our species, as any species, has always needed accurate feedback from our environment, but we now need massive, accurate media that isn’t polluted like our environment. Bee Colony Collapse is thought to be a lethal collective condition where something has gone wrong in each bee’s information system making it unlikely that they would return to their hives. Bees need hives, hives need bees.

Weaponized media

We have a serious media problem with accusations of ‘fake media’, social media that produces zillions of communication silos (or echo chambers), local media trying to stay alive in a freewheeling digital world, and buyups by billionaires bent on pushing their own agenda. These problems are further exacerbated by bad players weaponizing our media, that is, invading our media (especially social media) using our own predilections against our own interests. [See “Putin’s Revenge,” Frontline.) These problems must be seen in the context of our need to transmit critical environmental feedback as our once stable climate suddenly shifts wildly to adjust to more greenhouse gases.

Currently, if you want this critical information you can get it from sources all over the world. But if you wish to avoid it, listen to news that isn’t actually news, or listen to no news at all, you can do that. This means we now have to consider media not just from a lifestyle perspective; we need to have an information system so we can function as a whole in a warming world.

Because Climate Change is an existential situation, like nuclear war where our collective end is possible, there are no winners. Climate deniers can prevent or slow down the rest of us trying to adapt and mitigate Climate Change. But they cannot change the facts or the physical threats that come with quickly boiling a planet. When the waters rise, we must all tread water as best we can.

Politics has so muddied our media that the scientific feedback we all need is being profoundly challenged. We know the Trump administration is quietly scrubbing environmental information and Climate Change facts from our federal websites. Blinding us. But how much, where, in what way? In these dire times when an ideology is purposely scouring the scientific truth from the media and the public, we have an obligation to those who come after us to keep the truth alive. Some are taking on that job, searching the media and focusing on what our federal government is doing to cloak the truth. 

Website Monitoring |EDGI is monitoring changes to tens of thousands of federal environmental agency web pages because the effects of proposed changes to federal environmental governance under the current administration could be sweeping and long-lasting. Our work here involves documenting and analyzing data that disappears from public view, and also monitoring and analyzing how data, information, and their presentation may change, sometimes in subtle but significant ways. (Environmental Data and Government Initiative)

What do we do? How do we keep one of our most precious freedoms, freedom of the press, clear-eyed on the prize when our innate need for information is being hijacked? Just as our information systems are being dramatically extended, giving our brains an unparalleled sense of reality our ancestors couldn’t have even dreamed of, we are paralyzed by many of our ancient urges that have also been greatly amplified and extended to every aspect of our lives.

Challenge your media:

Consider challenging your local media to communicate accurately about the world we now live in, a quickly warming world. For example, consider suggesting these guidelines for our local media. Our local media should:

  •       Consider the most immediate climate adaptation issues our region needs to address:

o   Harmful Algae blooms (HABs) are increasing in our region’s Finger Lakes and other small bodies of water, probably because of more nutrients and phosphorous mixing in warmer waters.
o   Extreme weather in the form of flooding, causing more sewage to be released from sewer overflows and water damage to shoreline property owners  
o   Extreme weather in for form of Lake effect snow that is affected by a melting Arctic and shifting jet streams. Also, snow is likely to shift to rain as time goes by. [see: Lake Effect Snow Season is Shifting and Contracting 11/15/2017 Climate Central)
  •          Consider the condition of our infrastructures and what needs to be done to make them resilient to extreme weather and heat:

o   Gas leaks causing more methane to leak into our atmosphere.
o   Water pipes, roads and bridges.
o   Updating waste-water treatment plants so they aren’t connected to storm runoffs and overflow during floods.
  •          Consider conveying a sense of urgency. Although many of the Climate Change indicators in our region don’t seem urgent (wildlife trying to adapt by moving), the time to avert major consequences is most likely long before disasters occur.
  •          Consider communicating what people in this region can do about Climate Change and where they can find that information:

o   The City’s Climate Action Plan is a quick summary of threats coming to our region and offers ways the community can join their government in helpful adaptation actions.
o   There are many groups in our region who are finding ways to help our region adapt. Groups like Reconnect Rochester, who are not traditional environmental groups, but are trying to reduce greenhouse gases by changing our transportation options. This is no small concern. [See: (Transportation is the Biggest Source of U.S. Emissions 11/21/2017 Climate Central)
  •          Consider characterizing our local weather in a more helpful big-picture way that puts every day’s weather in a warming world context. Too often our local media compares recent snow storms or flooding with past anomalies or recent trends, when longer trends indicate Climate Change. Too often local media expounds on a wonderful day of weather and doesn’t give its readers a glimpse that across the world, heat is causing wildfires, droughts, and extreme weather. Weather reports, when they are extreme or out of the ordinary, should include Climate Change projections to convey to the public that our weather has indeed changed.
  •          Consider the relationship between Climate Change indicators and adaptation with local news stories. For example, news on Water Quality, Transportation, Invasive Species, Energy, public health issues like West Nile Virus and Lyme disease), Wildlife (fauna), Plants (flora), Air Quality, Brownfields, Wetlands, and Recycling often demonstrate how close or distant we are from making our region sustainable in a warmer world.
  •          Consider connecting local news about the rising cost of home insurance as indicators of whether we can recover financially from damages due to more extreme weather.
  •          Consider communicating news about the environment as events in our life support system. No longer can we survive if we see our environment as something separate from our existence—an externality.
  •          Consider taking on the challenge of addressing Climate Change by continually exposing our collective will not be believe the science behind this existential threat as our greatest hurdle. When the media doesn’t report about Climate Change, the public is more apt to see related events as anomalies and react with ad hoc solutions, which do not address the basic problem and continues to waste precious time.
  •          Consider, in our Great Lakes region, reporting continually on the health of this incredible natural resource, the largest freshwater system in the world. Pollution, invasive species, plastic (bits, containers, and fibers) contamination, water temperatures, and lake levels are all indicators of how healthy this ecosystem will be going into Climate Change.  
  •          Consider having an environmental section as many major media around the world have.
  •          Consider freeing Climate Change from politics and reporting on it regardless of its political divisiveness.
  •          Consider holding our leaders accountable for adapting to Climate Change, as our media has finally gotten around to on their personal behavior.

For a glimpse of local responsible journalism on Climate Change, check out this this honest report on Climate Change from our friends just across Lake Ontario. No holds barred, no political squeamishness, and no disseminating. Just the truth. Not a big report screaming out from the headlines, but important local news nonetheless. Imagine if our local media reported like this continually about our plight. Climate change warning: We're on course for mass extinction event  (November 14, 2017) Toronto City News[more on Climate Change in our area] 

A responsibility to keep abreast of the truth

Some world-class media—New York Times, The Guardian, and Deutsche Welle—have made great strides in learning how to cover the difficult and unpopular Climate Change crisis. But too many media still wait for protesting environmentalists or a new climate study before they’ll connect the dots. Our media needs to be proactive, looking at the indicators of Climate Change and finding out how phenomena like more heavy precipitation are affecting local environments. Our media should be constantly monitoring the concentration of greenhouse gases and keep the public informed of what this benchmark means. (As I write, the daily average of carbon dioxide is 406.05 ppm.) Our media should be reporting that the fastest warming place on the planet is occurring at the North Pole, which is affecting our weather and climate. Our media needs to see in the climate crisis an immediacy, which they’ve always given to the weather, because the consequences of Climate Change are raining down on us far quicker than scientists ever thought it would happen.

We probably won’t stop the Arctic from melting no matter what we do. At best, we may be able to slow down some of the consequences of warming up the planet if we change to renewable energy quickly. But we must and will (despite ourselves) adapt to what’s coming at us. (It’s not complicated, we are programed by evolution to avoid ((fear)) death.) We need an information system that is willing to project out the logical consequences of baking more heat into our climate system and share that regularly with the public, so we aren’t overwhelmed and are able to act on a scale and time frame that will matter.

As we ask our media to continually cover Climate Change more often, we too should make a commitment to keep abreast of the truth about our life support system. We have a responsibility to make our information system work for us. Since life began on this planet, some three-and-a-half billion years ago, those creatures whose information system stopped reflecting their changing environment went extinct.

Time passes.   

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