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The Elephant in the Room: Climate Change

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Craig Brown

The most under-reported news story of 2012?

The elephant in the room. Global climate change — and the failure of our leaders and media to act.

The science is clear and unambiguous: climate change is real; it’s caused by humans burning fossil fuels; and it’s at or near an irreversible catastrophic tipping point.

But you wouldn’t know any of this if you’re getting your news from the corporate media.

2012 has been a year of alarming extremes — record smashing heat, historic droughts and wildfires, Hurricane Sandy, record-breaking melting of Arctic sea ice. We just passed the 333rd consecutive month of global temperatures above the 20th-century average. Climate scientists now say it’s growing worse faster than any of them predicted even a few years ago.

And yet, U.S. corporate media coverage of climate change is actually down from its peak in 2007.

A Media Matters study of the corporate media’s coverage of this summer’s record heat found that only 14 percent of heat wave stories mentioned climate change and only 8 percent of the coverage pointed out that human activities are driving climate change.

And even when there is climate change coverage, it’s often framed with a false balance — both sides of the argument have equal opportunity to be heard — so even widely debunked climate deniers get equal time.

We all know that media coverage — or lack of — has significant effects on public opinion. Is it any wonder then that climate change was nearly absent from the recent presidential campaign? The moderators of the four corporate-sponsored presidential debates didn’t even ask a climate change question — the first time that has happened since 1988.

Last month, newly reelected President Obama continued to punt on climate change, saying in a press conference, “I think the American people right now have been so focused, and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth, that if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody is going to go for that. I won’t go for that.”

Why the near silence at a time of such urgency?

We all grew up being taught that a free press is essential to our democratic system. Thomas Jefferson said, “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”

On a recent episode of Moyers & Company, Bill Moyers said, ”In 1983, 50 corporations controlled a majority of media in America. In 1990 the number had dropped to 23. In 1997, 10. And today, six. There you have it. The fistful of multinational conglomerates that own the majority of media in America.”

We’re left with a monolithic media industry driven to maximize the next quarter’s profits and fueled by oil and gas industry advertising.

As long as meaningful action on climate change will hurt the short-term profits of the fossil fuel industries, the media conglomerates and Wall Street, we can’t expect the media blackout to end. “It’s called capitalism,” as Google’s Eric Schmidt said last week trying to explain the Internet giant’s evasions of billions of dollars in taxes.

It’s going to be up to those of us in the non-profit, independent media to make sure the public is well-informed that the costs of climate change inaction will be far more expensive. And that those catastrophic costs will be borne by the 99 percent.


Craig Brown is the founder and director of the progressive news service Common Dreams (www.commondreams.org).

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  • Anonymous

    I was employed as a secondary science teacher for a third of a century. I earned two degrees and many extra credit hours to be able to do the job well. The main thing a secondary science teacher does is interpret “science” for the unlearned. Using that skill with respect to Human Caused by CO2 Release Climate warming, I ask myself the following questions: 1. Who are all the scientists mentioned by the high percentages who agree? I can’t find them. 2. What peer reviewed science regarding the issue has been published? Virtually none. 3. What hypotheses have been promoted? None whatsoever! 4. What was published? A United Nations Politically controlled series of statements predicting the future 5. Did any of the predictions come true? No, none at all 6. What is the role of the computer model that I hear about? The same as the role of a hand calculator – only able to handle more calculations faster. Whatever you put into the calculator controls the output. 7. What is this computer model based upon? A flat earth. (Really!) 8. How can they use a computer model based upon a flat disk of an earth to make predictions? They can not. 9. Why are so many non scientific news sources telling us lies? That is politics and I am afraid it is out of my area of science 10. How should I react when they say that 97% of scientists agree? Ask them for a list.

  • dbot

    Jerrymat, you may be clinically insane, but you are certainly a liar. Either you do not have any credentials as a scientist or you are. Pick up any copy of Science Magazine or Science News and you will find an article or two written by those mystery scientists you can’t seem to find anywhere. Your climate modeling ignorance is exemplified with every word on the topic. The rest of your blather is either too incoherent or fictitious to even counter with anything resembling a logical argument. Any interested readers can get real facts here: http://www.ipcc.ch/

  • hhelsley

    The
    current hearings scheduled before Congress will do little but pit ‘feel good’
    energy (wind, solar, and bio-) against ‘business as usual’ (carbon based)
    energy supplies. Recent applications for a plethora of new fission power
    plants only exacerbate the issues for fission is both dangerous and has many
    hidden taxpayer costs as do the persistent advertisements about clean coal (the
    world’s greatest oxymoron), abundant natural gas supplies, and the expected
    status of the US becoming an oil exporting nation in the next decade. All
    of these positions only confuse the public and are likely to result in an
    increased expenditure of tax dollars for ineffective solutions. Instead of
    our energy policy being based on sound bites, we need to engage in a lengthy
    debate about what our energy policy is and what it could and should be.

    For
    the past 10 decades our policy has been to use the cheapest form of energy
    available, to foster the development of fossil fuels, to encourage the use of
    nuclear energy, and, more recently, to adopt the philosophically feel good
    energies (wind, solar, biomass) as our long term energy supply. This
    encouragement has been provided via tax incentives given to selective industries
    without any clear understanding of the consequences of these policies.
    And our lack of full discussion and disclosure now looks as though it will
    result in the taxpayer becoming responsible for the inherent and immeasurable
    risk that is present in the current trend. This risk is many faceted and
    only poorly understood and varies from loan guarantees for questionable
    projects, to potential radioactive discharge events like Chernobyl or
    Fukushima, to rising sea level that will destroy ports and coastal land,
    costing the world trillions of dollars

    But
    there is another unintended policy consequence. Complacence and
    assurances that our energy supply is adequate has led to a position of ‘no
    urgency’ relative to implementing fusion processes as our source of future
    energy. Fusion is clearly the cleanest of all forms of energy for it has
    no CO2 emission, cannot ‘go critical’,
    and generates virtually no radioactivity. But research, both basic and
    applied, has all but died for there is no source of funding, neither
    appropriated nor via tax incentives, for the development of the most promising
    long-term base-load source of energy available for the world.

    Fusion
    research is supported at levels that are laughable by any standard.
    America’s total annual budget for fusion has been less than one tenth that
    spent on ethanol subsidies. Fusion has the potential to be THE SOLUTION
    while ethanol never had a ghost of a chance to make even a dent in our energy
    supply and subtracted from the food supply.

    Inexpensive
    energy is what has made our country prosper. But all of our incentive
    efforts are aimed at developing ever more expensive sources of energy, many of
    which will never repay the investment that has been made in them for they are
    known to be impractical in terms of energy efficiency, energy availability, or
    demand load requirements.

    To
    be real about what is needed to meet the energy crisis, one only needs to step
    back and look at where we have been. Wind, solar, and biomass have many
    problems becoming the base load for the 14 TW needed by 2050. The world cannot
    afford the CO2 load in the atmosphere from
    fossil fuel that is expected to be used in the next 20-30 years.

    So
    what is the alternative? Fusion, but not as we have been currently lead to
    believe to gain energy. (Laser fusion is a spoof, magnetic confinement needs a
    magic material for protection and plasmas are squirrely – uncontrollable.)

    Fusion
    is an energy source that has been known and generally understood by scientists
    for more than 5 decades. Fusion requires tremendous heat and compression
    for its ignition. It takes energy to provide this heat and compression
    and the energy one gets in return must be large enough to assure that more
    energy is created than the amount it took to initiate the reaction. The H
    bomb resulted from a small trigger yielding more than 1000 times as much
    yield. But controlled releases are also possible at much smaller levels
    that still put out 100 times as much energy as is consumed.

    A
    controlled process to do this was defined in the 1970s by Argonne National
    Laboratory (ANL). But are we supporting research in these processes
    now? No, not one single federal dollar is directed to these promising
    avenues of achieving fusion through RF accelerator driven fusion reactions as researched
    in the 1970s by ANL. Why? The research was done in a weapons lab by the
    DOD and it can not be a weapon. And because the energy industry is built on the
    delivery of about 1GW at a location. Fusion requires the delivery of more
    than 10 Gigawatts of energy from one site to become economic and the driver is
    thought to be too expensive and cannot be made smaller. In the 1970s this
    decision may have been wise for the US had no need for large new sources of
    clean energy at the time. But now, we have an urgent need to replace a
    significant amount of our dirty base load facilities with sources that do not
    emit CO2 or other harmful products and do
    not go critical.

    Fusion comes in
    many flavors, from the impractical systems that produce less energy than they
    consume, to the ones that produce massive amounts of radiation due to their
    failure to adequately shield the system from the neutrons generated by the
    Deuterium-Tritium fusion reaction. Only one system has repeatedly
    received the endorsement of hundreds of scientists and that is a system that
    uses a large RF (radio frequency) accelerator to provide the energy to drive
    the fusion reaction. It would produce no climate altering CO2
    and, since all the research has been done, it could be online in about a
    decade.

    RF accelerator
    driven fusion should be our showcase national energy project, but this process
    seems to be totally unknown. It does not have the support of the US Department
    of Energy and thus is unknown to politicians.

    Politicians need
    to understand that RF accelerator driven fusion is a viable option for the
    replacement of fossil fuel for energy generation, now.

    RF
    accelerator driven fusion is a technique that has been endorsed by leading
    scientists throughout the world for the past 35 years and it is time it was
    implemented.

  • James

    Why is it now called” Climate Change”? I thought the proper catch phrase was “Global Warming”

  • Anonymous

    The elephant in the climate change room is our unsustainable consumption
    of goods and services that collectively require enormous amounts of
    energy to produce and use. We have become more energy efficient over the past
    years, yet this has been more than offset by increased energy consumption. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that renewable energy sources could generate over 40% of the U.S. electricity by 2030, replacing the share currently
    generated by coal. Renewables currently generate only 5%, so 40% is an optimistic projection that would require a massive public and private sector investment which, given the influence of powerful fossil fuel industries in government, may not happen, or soon enough. In fact, the current emphasis is on domestic natural gas production which, while somewhat cleaner than coal and oil, is not clean energy. In any case, this won’t be enough as long as consumption habits don’t change. Greater energy efficiency and clean energy generation won’t offset increased use of energy-intensive products and services, along with increased population and more consumers worldwide. Worse, many consumer goods — from clothing to household goods to electronics — are produced in countries such as China that rely heavily on coal and oil as energy generators. Time is quickly
    running out to reduce Co2 emissions to halt earth’s temperature increase to 2 degrees, the point beyond which the effects of climate change become catastrophic. Experts have stated that this would require a 50 – 80% reduction in energy consumption. Unfortunately, our economic system is based upon
    consumption, much of it unnecessary or wasteful. We reward ourselves by buying things, we teach our children by example that happiness is equated with success which is equated with purchasing power. The real question we should be asking is how much of our children’s (or our own) future are we willing to diminish with all that we buy today? Are we willing to accept a vastly reduced quality of life 25 or 50 years from now in order to achieve short-term economic gains at any cost, which seems to be our present myopic focus?

  • Pole

    The problem associated with climate change goes back to the imbalance between business and service. Business is predicated on profit, short term profit to be exact. Service is based on wages and conditions. The major Media are controlled by large corporations whose eye is on profit not service. Thus the major media, corporate interests, the military complex (we need fuel and munitions to flow), and the foggy thinking Tea Party who only trust what Carl Rowe spews at them, have conspired to put their heads in the sands of time hoping somehow climate change is a myth perpetrated by left wing deluded liberals. By making it a political statement that favors the Energy company’s inability to clean up their fuel emissions in favor of continued profits, nothing gets done. Big money reinforces the log jam. As weather changes destroy more property, people and animals their log jam will vanish but not before our nation will suffer terrible human and natural events. So sad, money runs things to the detriment of people and society.

  • johnalene

    During the big depression – and I am old enough to remember it – a baron of industry once stated that a sufficiently large pool of unemployed was a prerequisite of capitalist success. (I am paraphrasing.)

    We have that pool, today, and the media are busy perpetuating the fear that prevents any action on global climate, warning that even more will lose their jobs if we cut consumption of fossil fuels.

    Viewed more deeply: it is imperative that we recognize the fact that the market, even with the most intense advertising campaigns, will never be able to consume half the output of “full employment” if that means 40 hours a week. With the use of computers, robots and massive machinery, we are more than half a century behind in making the logical reduction of the work-week instead of tolerating the new, apparently permanent size of the work force. The system has created a class of surplus people, existing on food stamps and unemployment insurance, resented by the taxpayers, unable to feel simple dignity.

  • pole

    Well said and so true. I suggest it goes back to our economic model of Capitalism. Instead of recycling our goods we trash them and then buy new non-renewable goods. At some point searching for and processing raw materials will become cost prohibitive. Pole

  • pole

    same thing but thanks for catching the word difference.

  • pole

    The baron you refer to was not only a capitalist, he most likely was an industrial Republican. Their world view, even today, sees productivity, not persons as the strength of America. My contention is that it is people, their well being, character and principles that determine the strength of a nation. Its not the size of our military, technology, banks, number of wealthy barons or whatever. Its our people that must come first ahead of money or property if we are to survive.

  • pole

    Safe fusion may be an answer. Improved and easily available solar is an answer. Geothermal may be an answer if we explore and know exactly how safe it is. Carbon based fuels such as gas, coal and oil once cleaned up and scrubbed of their CO2 and particulates will supplement our needs. But the final answer is to maximize our energy efficiency to the point that we don’t need as much. The problem is Utility companies, present energy companies and the financial influence they exert to slow down the implementation of alternative energy sources. Super material that have a great insulation level and transportation that needs little energy also helps bring down those figures.

  • Anonymous

    There’s a specific reason. The GOP changed the wording in one of their more Orwellian moments. Look up the word guru Luntz: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Luntz