It’s been an interesting week messaging the People’s Climate March (PCM) from Rochester, NY. The PCM occurring in New York City on September 21st will be the largest climate march in history. It’s a demonstration by over a thousand organizations and hundreds of thousands of ordinary folks and their children (not activists as mainstream media tends to characterize them). The march is but a single (though dramatic) event among many others going on in many other places: a Global Day of Action. Still, in Rochester, Climate Change is viewed by most people as a special issue. A special issue is something only a select group of people think is important, while the rest of us need not worry ourselves.
Of course, Climate Change is not a special interest, nor is it the concern of only a few. Every aspect of our environment, which is to say our life support system, and our entire social fabric will be challenged by this sudden shift in greenhouse gas concentrations (GHGs). Climate changes are already happening as the National Climate Assessment states, a report by 13 federal agencies that don’t have the luxury of avoiding this crisis. Climate studies that inform our leaders and agencies what’s happening, what to plan for, and what to do about Climate Change present the many practical solutions that must be occurring now. Again, Climate Change is not a special interest issue, and should not be treated as such.
In Rochester Climate Change is still seen by most as a minor annoyance or possibly a somewhat greater inconvenience. Those trying to communicate the necessity of adhering to the critical measures recommended by most official climate studies are thought to be overwrought and ‘passionate’ about this issue. Such ‘zealots’ are asked to restrain their enthusiasm for the proper venue. For example, on a local neighborhood social network, my announcement that a Rochester neighborhood association agreed that it was important to send locals to the PCM was received by one of the administrators of the popular program with distaste, suggesting if I wanted to mention ‘Climate Change’ I should create a special group for my special interest. Maybe go to a coffee shop and spill our hearts out. Climate Change, presumably, is more upsetting than house break-ins, robberies, and car thefts to the general public.
This isn’t simply a rambling rant of greeny woes. What is happening in our overloaded information age is that the gatekeepers of media--mainstream media editors and our social media administrators--are forcing us into silos where important stuff gets ignored and too often drivel rules. Owners of the mediums we now communicate through direct, and too often constrict, what we can transmit and what we can receive. Few issues highlight this alarming muzzling effect as Net Neutrality, where if we don’t act soon, only those with a lot of bucks will have the opportunity to communicate their message to most of the public. That happened with radio and TV and now the Internet is in jeopardy.
When Rochester region’s media were asked last Tuesday to attend a press conference, only one TV station showed up. Folks representing over 30 organizations, themselves representing over 100,000 Rochesterians, eloquently spoke in front of Rochester City Hall about the importance of getting local folks to the PCM. But, as usual, they ended up speaking largely to the converted. (You can Become the Media! by posting videos of the press conference all over the place.) Attending the PCM, an activity on the level that could force change in a timeframe that will actually matter, effectively got hushed up. Already, it is quite likely that the low-emission scenarios (where New York’s climate will be like Virginia’s) have passed us by as GHG accumulation rates break records. Today’s Florida climate is now more likely for New York even if we stop all anthropomorphic GHG emissions right now. This isn’t a special issue; it’s a practical emergency. If Neil Armstrong had reported from space to Huston that a vital component in the spaceship was failing and the moon mission was in trouble, Houston would have listened and acted.
Of course, not all efforts to get the 700,000 inhabitants of Monroe County energized about the People’s Climate March have been in vain. There are already two buses filled with local folks, a lot of car-pooling, train riders and other ways available to get to the march. There will be local actions for those who cannot go. Generous donations have been made so many can come. There has been some press. You can find out all about local efforts here http://peoplesclimate.org/westernny/. As I mentioned above, many local organizations have come together to speak as one on the urgency of Climate Change. This is good, the actions of a relative few; but it’s not enough. More folks live in Monroe County than the entire state of Vermont. We should be seeing a proportional response.
Sure, our region has many pressing issues. Yet despite the urgency it seems as though everything else but Climate Change comes first. But if not now, when? If not in Rochester, where? When will it be the appropriate time to lift Climate Change to the level of concern it deserves? When will climate change denial and not Climate Change messaging be appropriate? When will the citizenry demand of their leaders an accounting of their plans to address Climate change? When will it be ok to talk about climate change with your friends and family? When will our local media editors instruct their reporters to connect the dots on the local expression of Climate Change.? In other words, how should a message as grave as Climate Change be messaged to the greater local public--who do not want to hear about it, even though they must? Being nice and patient hasn’t worked.
In a time where many issues are competing for our limited attention, we need to prioritize. Climate Change, the mother of all problems, should long have been a mainstream issue, not in the embarrassingly discomfiting squalor of unseemliness it now resides. It should be at the top of our priority list if we wish to give our children a fighting chance.