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What Corporate Media and the Neoliberal Establishment Can't Admit About the Climate Emergency

The crisis is already upon us, but the media refuses to cover it as the clear and present danger it is now, and the virtual apocalypse it will soon be without immediate, urgent, global action.

Warming of 3 or more degrees C would—literally—create a world that is alien to human experience. (Photo: Screenshot/Tumblr)

Warming of 3 or more degrees C would—literally—create a world that is alien to human experience. (Photo: Screenshot/Tumblr)

With the possible exception of an all-out nuclear war, humanity has never encountered a threat that comes close to that posed by climate change.

In fact, the crisis is already upon us, but the media refuses to cover it as the clear and present danger it is now, and the virtual apocalypse it will soon be without immediate, urgent, global action. And as bad as climate deniers have been, the climate minimizers in the media and the Democratic Party may be even more dangerous, because they claim to acknowledge the science, even as they speak about “prudence” and “balance,” -- as if avoiding an imminent existential catastrophe was somehow in the same ballpark as balancing the budget, or other proximate goals.

In more than 216 stories about Dorian on the three major networks, just one mentioned the link to climate change.

If you want to see how the mainstream media under-reports the most important story of our time, just look at their coverage of Dorian. In more than 216 stories about Dorian on the three major networks, just one mentioned the link to climate change.

Yet Hurricane Dorian was a classic example of what climate change is doing to hurricanes. It tied a record for the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the Atlantic that was set in 1935. It set a record for the most rapidly intensifying storm of its size ever. It was the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded north of Florida.

But this is all part of a trend that has been going on for some time, now. For example, there have been thirty-five class five hurricanes recorded over the last century, but five of them occurred in the last four years.

And it’s not just hurricanes. The trend in climate catastrophes has been going on with little or no notice by the media for decades, now. And it’s gotten nothing but worse as the press ignored it or underplayed it.

Let’s look at some stats.

The world’s five hottest years on record have all occurred since 2014, and unless we have a sudden deep freeze, 2019 will be added to the list.

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United States government scientists on Thursday confirmed that July was the hottest month on record, edging out the previous record-holder, July 2016.

On August 1, 2019, the one-day record for the most ice melting in Greenland was set. Greenland also smashed the record for the most wildfires there in a single year, and it will smash the record for the most ice melted in a year this year.

Much is made of the fact that the area of the Arctic sea ice has been steadily shrinking, but it’s the loss in volume that is shocking.  The polar ice cap has lost 70 percent of “old ice” – that is ice that survives over many seasons -- and it is on average two thirds thinner than it was in 1958. The seasonal ice that remains is much more subject to weather variations and it can melt faster and freeze faster than old ice, potentially obscuring the long-term trend in thawing. This is a big deal, as one of the more powerful fast feedbacks aggravating climate change is the loss of the albedo effect from surface ice, and the prospect of a sudden shrinking of the surface area of Arctic ice – and the rapid warming it would cause—becomes more likely.

The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth. It has already exceeded the 1.5 degree C warming that the IPCC says will usher in catastrophic consequences.  Sine 1971, the annual average temperature in the Arctic has increased by 2.7 C and the average wintertime temperature has increased by an incredible 3.1 C.  This has virtually transformed the Arctic, ushering in wildfires, destroying coastal communities, and ruining spawning areas and habitats for key fish stocks and wildlife.  But it also has profound effects on the rest of the world.  There’s the danger of a diminished albedo effect from a sudden melting event, but an even more dangerous feedback – release of methane from melting permafrost—seems to have started. And by 2100, feedbacks could add as much as 2 C warming to what the IPCC projects in their models.

There are other contemporary climate crises the press barely mentions. For example, climate related droughts in Syria, Darfur, and Central America have contributed to the migrations that are destabilizing Africa, Europe, and North America, and ushering in populist demagogues like Johnson and Trump, and fueling far right parties from Sweden to Italy.

And while the press focuses on numbers like 1.5 or 2 degrees C, the world is headed toward 3 to 5 C on our current trajectory—and possibly 7 C when fast feedbacks are included. That’s more than 12 degrees F. Warming of 3 or more degrees C would—literally—create a world that is alien to human experience.

Seal level rise would become irreversible (if it hasn’t already) and would eventually be some 200 feet higher than it is now, but that would take eons.  What would be crippling even in the short term is the continuous and rapidly increasing rate of sea level rise over this century, as we spent trillions trying to protect the 75 percent of the world’s mega cities that are on the coast, only to see our efforts fail. Migrants would number a billion or more – that is, before they starved or were killed off by rapidly spreading diseases, killer heat waves, lack of fresh water, or dystopian wars as the world descended into a global version of Lord of the Flies, dominated by conflicts, crime, and chaos. And that’s the trajectory we are on now, without feedbacks—the additional warming from feedbacks would lead to an unimaginable hell.                    

But somehow, that’s not as newsworthy as Trump’s latest tweet.  Let’s face it, Trump has been good for just two groups – comedians and the mainstream press.  He’s a permanent dog-bites-man story and they just won’t let go.  Meanwhile, we drift toward disaster, with nary a whisper from the mainstream press.

John Atcheson

John Atcheson

screen_shot_2017-07-26_at_9.09.47_pm.pngJohn Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track, both available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson

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