What we're NOT hearing about Climate Change

A friend introduced me to a Bill Moyers interview with Marty Kaplan that had me thinking, "Oh, crap... yeah."  I'm not a fan of Bill Moyers.  Not because I don't like him, but rather, because I don't know him.

I kind of live under a rock.  Intentionally. 

I couldn't point out Kim Kardashian on a magazine cover.  Kanye West?  I know a friend of mine thinks he's smoking hot, but I know nothing beyond that.  I couldn't name any of the actors in Big Bang Theory.

This doesn't mean I'm completely clueless, of course, but it does mean that I know very little about popular culture.  On the flip side, though, I would argue that popular culture knows very little about the news.

The real news, that is.

And that's what this piece was referring to.  Kaplan talks about how unemployment is skyrocketing, the divide between rich and poor is increasing, and we're worried about what Kanye West's baby is named.

Well, ok, that wasn't exactly what he said... but it's a pretty good example.

The phrase used was "weapons of mass distraction."  Nothing holds our attention for long.  The things that do are often trivial.  Important pieces of information get ignored.  Or simply mentioned in brief asides.

I wanted to ignore everything I read, not because I disagreed, but because I agreed too strongly.  I felt bias was getting in the way of reason.

Then an example was brought up that I couldn't ignore.
"MARTY KAPLAN: Well, the stuff that is being reported on the news tends not to be the kind of stuff that we need to know about in order to be outraged. Climate change is one of the great tests of journalism.
There was "The New York Times" headline about the first time that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million. Which "The Times" said that carbon dioxide had reached a level not seen in “millions of years.”
BILL MOYERS: Yeah.
MARTY KAPLAN: My jaw fell. You would think that that would cause a worldwide stir. And instead, it was a one-day story, onto the next thing.
BILL MOYERS: As you know, President Obama recently made a major speech in which he announced a new plan to tackle climate change. All three cable networks turned to the president's speech, but then they cut away from it well before it was intended to end. Fox News cut away saying the remarks could be streamed online, and then they turned to a guest critical of the president." (source)
It happens a lot.  Not just with this subject, but with others, as well.  Important information gets sidelined in favor of infotainment, as it's called in this piece.

The thing is, as Kaplan points out a little later in the interview, this was the first time a sitting president has actually and truly addressed climate change as a serious issue.  He's correct about this.  When I discovered that Obama was going to deliver an entire speech about climate change I was amazed and excited.

Obama hasn't done much to gain my support, so finding that he was going to speak about climate change at Georgetown University had me overwhelmingly happy.  This was something I could actually support.  This was something that I could truly get behind.  I was so relieved that Obama was finally doing something that I was proud of him for.

But the speech, of course, was on a Tuesday.  That meant that I wouldn't actually have anything until the following Thursday.  Everyone else would have already spoken about it, and I'd have nothing new to say.

So I wrote nothing.

And that was overwhelmingly stupid, because as I mentioned in the beginning, the news outlets brushed over it.  As if that wasn't enough, though, the environmental news sources also said very little.  What did they all say?

Basic gist of all of them:  
Obama gave a speech about climate change.  He said we need to act.  Yay, President!  And in other news...

Seriously.

The only source that really gave more than a paragraph or two was Treehugger.com, which, coincidentally, was also the site in which I first learned he was going to do his speech.

So what was so important?

He was adamant that change is necessary.  He insisted that we have to do something before it's too late.  Most importantly...

In his speech he acknowledged that scientists have proven this over and over again.  Something that most politicians are afraid to say, and that some will even deny.

"The overwhelming judgment of science – of chemistry and physics and millions of measurements – has put all that to rest. Ninety-seven percent of scientists, including, by the way, some who originally disputed the data, have now put that to rest. They’ve acknowledged the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it.
So the question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late. And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind not just to you, but to your children and to your grandchildren.
As a President, as a father, and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act."

I don't usually like our president, to be honest, but during that speech I supported him.  Do I believe that he'll really do anything to enact significant change?  No.  Not at all.

But it's a huge step in the right direction.

Granted, some of what he said was a bunch of pretty words that mean absolutely nothing, just as you hear from all politicians, such as,

"Since 2006, no country on Earth has reduced its total carbon pollution 
by as much as the United States of America."

Pretty and worthless words because, well... we also pollute more than anyone else, thereby making the numbers pretty inconsequential.  We do have to get thrown a bone every now and then, though, so... yeah.  I can ignore this exaggeration.

He also pointed a finger at energy companies - something that politicians are generally too scared to do.
"Today, about 40 percent of America’s carbon pollution comes from our power plants. But here’s the thing: Right now, there are no federal limits to the amount of carbon pollution that those plants can pump into our air. None. Zero. We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water, but power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free. That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop. (Applause.)
So today, for the sake of our children, and the health and safety of all Americans, I’m directing the Environmental Protection Agency to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants, and complete new pollution standards for both new and existing power plants. (Applause.)"
Whether or not the EPA actually does anything is left to be seen.  It hasn't happened in a very long time, after all. The EPA brought about some pretty significant change when it was first created, though, so there is hope that the agency will protect the environment yet again.

And he took a stab at big money.  A stab that a president up for re-election would never take:
"Now, what you’ll hear from the special interests and their allies in Congress is that this will kill jobs and crush the economy, and basically end American free enterprise as we know it. And the reason I know you’ll hear those things is because that’s what they said every time America sets clear rules and better standards for our air and our water and our children’s health. And every time, they’ve been wrong."
and later:
"See, the problem with all these tired excuses for inaction is that it suggests a fundamental lack of faith in American business and American ingenuity. (Applause.) These critics seem to think that when we ask our businesses to innovate and reduce pollution and lead, they can’t or they won’t do it. They’ll just kind of give up and quit. But in America, we know that’s not true. Look at our history."
I have to admit it: That made me smile.

President Obama talked about the Keystone pipeline, as well, but in that case he stayed pretty neutral.  No big surprises there.
"Now, I know there’s been, for example, a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build a pipeline, the Keystone pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf. And the State Department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal. That’s how it’s always been done. But I do want to be clear: Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. (Applause.) The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant."
I wasn't very impressed with that, but I suppose that when you're talking about making changes that big corporations don't want to hear about, you have to have at least a little neutrality.

Anyway, he showed his fangs again a little later, while talking about changes he is demanding, and yet again, what he had to say gave me a bit of hope.
"So the plan I’m announcing today will help us double again our energy from wind and sun. Today, I’m directing the Interior Department to green light enough private, renewable energy capacity on public lands to power more than 6 million homes by 2020. (Applause.)

The Department of Defense – the biggest energy consumer in America – will install 3 gigawatts of renewable power on its bases, generating about the same amount of electricity each year as you’d get from burning 3 million tons of coal. (Applause.)
And because billions of your tax dollars continue to still subsidize some of the most profitable corporations in the history of the world, my budget once again calls for Congress to end the tax breaks for big oil companies, and invest in the clean-energy companies that will fuel our future. (Applause.)"
Will it happen?  I really don't think so.  I think that's asking for too much.  But again, just putting the words out there would have an effect -  if people heard about them.

Lastly, he spoke about what is being done to protect communities against climate driven disasters.  

The President talked about fortifications that are being built in New York post-Hurricane Sandy.  He talked about helping to fund communities that seek to protect themselves against future disasters.  He even talked about opening climate data and imagery to the public to aid in risk assessment.

He also took an international step:
"Today, I’m calling for an end of public financing for new coal plants overseas – (applause) – unless they deploy carbon-capture technologies, or there’s no other viable way for the poorest countries to generate electricity. And I urge other countries to join this effort.
And I’m directing my administration to launch negotiations toward global free trade in environmental goods and services, including clean energy technology, to help more countries skip past the dirty phase of development and join a global low-carbon economy. They don’t have to repeat all the same mistakes that we made. (Applause.)"
He then went on to talk about the need for a new international agreement to reduce carbon pollutants, and followed that up with a mention of Gina McCarthy, his choice to lead the EPA (who has just recently been confirmed).

Finally, he put forth a challenge to those Georgetown students.
"Understand this is not just a job for politicians. So I’m going to need all of you to educate your classmates, your colleagues, your parents, your friends. Tell them what’s at stake. Speak up at town halls, church groups, PTA meetings. Push back on misinformation. Speak up for the facts. Broaden the circle of those who are willing to stand up for our future. (Applause.)
Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. (Applause.) Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth. And remind everyone who represents you at every level of government that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote. Make yourself heard on this issue. (Applause.)"
I'm normally not someone to sing the praises of our President.  Quite the opposite.  But I agree with those two paragraphs 100%.

I never talked about this speech because I was so certain that everyone else would do it before I got a chance.

But all I found was a bunch of asides.  We heard very little at all.

And I'm changing that now.  I'm talking now.

Late is better than never.  Don't let the important news pass you by because the media simply wants to entertain you.  You deserve more than that.  We all do.


***Read the entire transcript of the President's climate change speech at the Environmental News Service.

Comments