Consider: You are sitting in a crowded movie theater and someone yells, “Fire!” but nobody moves. You look around to people’s faces around you and no one registers alarm. You don’t actually see a fire, or smoke, and no alarm goes off. Odds are that you will probably sit right there until folks just start piling out of the theatre, or some kind of appropriate response to a threatening situation.
The above, of course, is a thought experiment about how we humans react to danger. One of the ways we react to stimuli is to look around, social creatures that we are, and see how others are reacting. Did something significant happen, or was it just our imaginations? That’s adaptive because we’d lose a lot of energy if we jumped through the roof (so to speak) every time something caught our attention.
There are things we need to pay attention to, though. The severe lack of local media coverage on Climate Change feeds the delusion that there’s no danger. You look in the local news and there’s no sense of alarm about what alarmed folks around the world are saying about Climate Change. Locally, you see happy articles about how a few are living green and some are even starting up green business. Rarely do you see real investigative inquires as to whether we are actually preparing properly and on a scale that will actually make a difference. Rarely do you find any local media connecting the dots with this worldwide crisis and the Rochester region. One exception is the efforts of Rochester City Newspaper, as in this recent article:
Get used to the downpours Rochester has had a pretty wet July. Going by National Weather Service records, the area has had 7.51 inches of rain this month through yesterday, when the normal level is 3.11 inches. And yesterday's intense rains broke the daily record: the 2.42 inches measured by the NWS at the Rochester airport topped the 1966 high water mark of 1.94 inches. Outside of the city, some areas received much more rain: Richmond Fire Chief Ken Adami told the Democrat and Chronicle that the town, which suffered substantial flood damage, received 7 inches. It's worth looking at the storm through the lens of climate change, with the caveat that it's difficult to tie individual weather events to climate change. (July 29, 2014) Rochester City Newspaper
Articles like that above are crucial for the public to understand the nature of Climate Change in our area. We don’t just have to get used to more frequent heavy downpours in our regions. We have to adapt to that, and we have to mitigate (stop) an increase in greenhouse gases, so the consequences of Climate Change don’t get worse. Sure California would love to have some of our rain right now, but it doesn’t work that way and besides, we cannot handle frequent massive flooding unless we start planning and acting on this immediately. When raw sewage overflows into our drinking water or our roads collapse too quickly for us to handle the new normal, the public is going to be pointing fingers. They will ask: Why weren’t we informed in a timely manner so we could plan and fund the efforts to update our infrastructures? This wouldn’t be a failure of government but a failure of our media to properly inform local citizenry of clear and present dangers. Without proper coverage of Climate Change the public thinks the deniers still have a case.
Jon Oliver’s video, criticizing the media’s false balance about Climate Change, went viral recently, probably long after most folks already knew this particular failure of media. But still, this is quite entertaining: John Oliver's viral video: the best climate debate you'll ever see. This week Senator Bernie Sanders forwarded this report by Media Matters Climate Change and Network News proving that an unbalanced view of Climate Change still pervades mainstream media.
Of course there are other reasons besides media dysfunction or intentional obstruction why this worldwide crisis of a warming planet doesn’t get the attention it deserves. In another thought experiment—the essay “The Collapse of Western Civilization” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway—describes many other reasons why the public is not alarmed about Climate Change. Some are misinterpreting historical events, some are the inertia of old thinking in a new warming world , and some are the results of orchestrated efforts by rogue scientists and rich climate deniers who battle what they perceive as a threat to their livelihood. BTW, Oreskes and Conway also authored Merchants of Doubt, which is required reading if you want to stand a chance of understanding the malfeasance behind climate denial—and the concerted efforts to mislead the public on the dangers of DDT, tobacco smoke, and acid rain.
To circumvent and combat media’s failure to inform the public on a warming world, new global media efforts to message Climate Change are being developed. Some major media are offering environmental sections to their news lineup. Leaders in Congress, like Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), attempt to fill the media/Climate Change gap by continually lecturing on Climate Change to their colleagues—your representatives. Rochester is experimenting with media options for the public like Rochester Free Radio; but I suspect it will be the dickens trying to get the majority of the public to tune in. Scientists continually develop Climate Facts online to unravel the complexity of this singular issue. But all present efforts still remain in silos, which the mainstream treats as special interests—as if only a few were concerned about their life support system.
The Mexican tetra or blind cave fish lost its eyes because eyesight in a dark cave environment is a complete waste of energy. (Eyes, usually very evolutionary adaptive, consume a lot of energy, energy in the case of a blind cave fish better spent on fine-tuning other senses.) In the same sense, mainstream media cannot continue on its present trajectory of Climate Change misrepresentation. Not because folks will finally realize that this would be immoral (which it is), but because their ‘news’ will be useless as an extension of our senses. The complexity of modern life requires a capable media in the same sense we need our own eyes and ears. If these senses are delivering nonsense, they are as worthless as a blind cave fish’s eyes.
At this point in time, 2014, climate denialists with the help of an attention-deficit media have hijacked our Climate Change adaption and mitigation efforts that should have already begun on a large scale. As California burns and manmade greenhouse gas emission rise, Rochesterians are still depressingly lackluster about this issue, even as worldwide grassroots efforts on Climate Change gather in our own state. For example, however long it might be before local Rochester media finally reports on the People’s Climate March [#climatemarch] in September, it will most likely be after the spectacle of 300,000 ordinary people march through Manhattan demanding their leaders take action on Climate Change. Reporting on this event as it develops, bringing to the public’s attention the importance of this demonstration, would bring many more folks to the level of alarm that many around the world are feeling—and make a greater impact on our leaders. But I suspect most reading this article haven’t even heard of the People’s Climate March and aren’t likely to until they switch media and begin to sense what’s really happening in our environment.