Column, 620 words

Changing our Climate of Indifference

Americans need to hear from the media about the climate crisis even if there's a shortage of cheerful angles.

Jill Richardson

A new scientific report predicts more dire and irreversible consequences of the climate crisis than ever before.

“No one on this planet will be untouched by climate change,” declared Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which the UN runs jointly with the World Meteorological Organization.

climate change is heating up

Images from SumAll/Flickr

Even though it wasn’t news to me, I welled up with frustration when this news broke.

I have struggled with the exasperating realization that I have so little power to make the big changes needed to fix the problem. Sure, I can change my light bulbs. I even drive a Prius.

But I can’t make my city have better infrastructure for biking and public transportation, or put solar panels on my apartment, or influence the larger policy environment that impacts our climate much more than my light bulbs.

However, my discouragement runs deeper. I became a journalist to find and tell important stories. I didn’t go to Bolivia looking for a story on the climate crisis, but I found one when I got there.

In a million ways, the changing climate is ruining lives there: changing rain patterns, floods, mudslides, crop failures, and more. As if that wasn’t enough, reduced glacial melt in the Andes means decreased hydroelectric power. All of this is happening now.

My research later led me to Kenya, where the effects of climate change were just as shocking.

Why should things that happen half a world away matter to us? Our link to their misery is simple: The United States has arguably benefited more from industrialization and greenhouse gas emissions than any other nation on earth. People in these far-flung places are suffering for it.

That won’t matter to some people, so I’ll add this: Violence, instability, and disease don’t have borders.

In Kenya, I met Andrew Githeko, a scientist who has documented how malaria has already moved to new areas as the climate warms up. The people in these places have no immunity to the disease. When an epidemic occurs, as Githeko put it, “the bodies pile up.”

Newer projections find that the changing climate will jeopardize the world’s ability to produce enough food for everyone on Earth. And the problems already hitting the tropical areas I’ve visited could be a harbinger of what’s to come here at home in the coming years.

Trying to tell these stories as a journalist makes me sometimes wonder why I even bother. I’ve been told flat out by editors that their readers are burnt out on depressing climate crisis stories. They don’t want to print a story that contains nothing but bad news.

Since readers would presumably prefer a hopeful story about the climate crisis, they suggest that I find an inspiring angle. Like how someone is adapting to the changing climate.

Entertaining readers is not my job. I became a journalist to tell people what they need to know. But it seems most publications are more interested in what sells than what’s important. Like that story about how a 10-foot Australian snake ate a crocodile. The images were absolutely captivating, but it’s not important news.

I wish there were more happy and hopeful angles to the climate crisis. The climate story is, and always has been, a huge bummer. Or, as Al Gore says, “an inconvenient truth.”

Journalists aren’t entertainers, and the media has a duty to inform the public about what they need to know. Perhaps if more reporters had done their job right from the start, we would have made the changes we needed years ago. Had that happened, maybe the latest reports on climate change would instead describe how we dodged a bullet.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. OtherWords.org

  • Johnny Dollar

    “Journalists aren’t entertainers”? That’s news to me. This article is as entertaining as other pieces being published today that buy into the story that Obamacare is working.

    • Elizabeth

      Sorry about the repetition there: my cut pasted several times.

      • Johnny Dollar

        No problem. I only clicked on one of them.

  • Elizabeth

    Johnny Dollar, this was an article about the climate, not healthcare. If you have nothing constructive to say, say nothing.
    I can sympathize with Jill Richardson. It is not easy trying to educate hose who don’t want to listen or who simply think it is not their problem. Unfortunately it is. It is everyone’s problem, and the future mostly looks extremely bleak. But there are sunny patches on the horizon. There are many dedicated people all over the world, working hard to make it a better place for humans and animals. There is so much really exciting technology almost in place. I think that it is easy to argue “There’s nothing I can do that will make a difference” If that is the way you feel it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
    You changing your light bulbs will not make a difference, but the fact that you decided to change your light bulbs will. Because you will tell your neighbors how much you saved on your electric bill. Maybe you want to switch to an electric car, but can’t find enough charging stations. look into cars like the Toyota Aureus which charges itself while driving. They are not available in the US, so talk to Toyota and ask why not.
    There are many things that individuals can do that WILL make a difference if enough people do them. What did MArgaret Mead say? “Never doubt for a moment that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has”

    Never
    doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change
    the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
    Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/margaretme100502.html#T4cOcorBkivaSAvh.99Never doubt for a moment that

    Never
    doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change
    the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
    Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/margaretme100502.html#T4cOcorBkivaSAvh.99
    Never
    doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change
    the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
    Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/margaretme100502.html#T4cOcorBkivaSAvh.99

    • Johnny Dollar

      Here is another reference point for you:

      http://climatechangereconsidered.org/about-nipcc/

      Some global warming would come in handy in the upper midwest. This winter was nasty (still snowing). I don’t care about the heat and electric bills. Even though the furnace ran nonstop for about two months, the bill was very manageable because of the glut of natgas we have in this country. Better to stay warm and comfortable than conform to somebody else’s dubious agenda.

      • Elizabeth

        One utterly selfish person in the midwest does not prove anything. The “dubious” agenda is embraced by every serious scientist worldwide, and the nasty winter we had (New York, too) is just part of the climate pattern we have to get used to: the warming earth has disrupted water cycles with increasingly unpleasant consequences for all aspects of the climate. With renewable energy, this person’s bills would have been equally manageable, if not lower. This attitude of “I’m alright and everyone else be damned” is one of the least attractive characteristics of America.

        • Johnny Dollar

          Believe whatever makes you happy. Makes no difference to me.

          • Elizabeth

            Ah, but Johnny, that is where you are wrong. It does make a difference to you. We are all in this together and sooner or later you will feel the effects.

          • Johnny Dollar

            I don’t believe so.

          • Elizabeth

            As you said, believe what you want. However, believing does not make things true. And the evidence is overwhelmingly against you. We are in for a rough time. We can try to mitigate the damage, or we can do nothing and try to explain to our grandchildren why we did nothing.

          • Johnny Dollar

            Actually, I believe two generations from now are going to be much more worried that they have inherited $20+ trillion in debt. You’re welcome to explain that too.

          • Elizabeth

            Debt is a huge problem. Too much government is a huge problem. But they are small problems compared to sea level rise which washes away entire communities and even island nations. Compared to drought which slashes agricultural productivity – we have to feed ourselves somehow. Compared to spreading disease – malaria, dengue fever, west nile virus and so on. Compared to insect pests surviving the winter and devastating crops in the spring. Compared to heat waves and fires. Compared to dry wells and plunging aquifers. Compared to water wars. I could go on.
            Ignoring a problem does not make it go away. Facing up to climate change and trying to do something about it can only lead to a better outcome than pretending it does not exist.
            Please explain to me how ignoring the dangers we face with regard to the climate are going to reduce the 20 trillion dollar debt that you are so worried about.

          • Johnny Dollar

            We face no climate “dangers” that haven’t been present for hundreds of years already. The dangers we face are politicians trying to seize on climate propaganda to adjust the tax code. It has happened on a small scale already to the detriment of the taxpayer. It cannot be allowed to happen again.

          • Elizabeth

            I am all in favor of adjusting the tax code. would it bother you if income tax was eliminated and a tax on unearned income replaced it? The only connection that I can see between climate and the tax code is the idea of putting a tax on carbon.
            And yes, Johnny, we do face climate dangers. This is now as widely accepted as the theory of evolution (ie, 97% of the world accept it as a given, a fact). It is not a conspiracy.
            What I don’t understand is why you are so resistant to the idea. What do you stand to gain by clinging to the idea that the climate is not changing? Granted, it is a very frightening idea, but isn’t it better to face the problem than to pretend it does not exist?

          • Johnny Dollar

            I don’t consider any income “unearned.” The idea of a changing climate does not frighten me at all because it is not happening. At least not caused by anything humans do. If you enjoy worrying about it, please continue to do so. I suppose it;s entertaining like watching monster movies when I was a kid.

            Let’s see, U.S. taxpayers lost money on a company called Solyndra, a solar panel concern that received funds via the 2009 stimulus bill. Also, there was some battery company named A3 I believe that also went belly up. There were a few others as well, but I don;t want to look up all the details. Then there were tax credits granted in the Cash for Clunkers and appliance replacement programs. Thank goodness they haven’t gotten through the carbon tax scam.

            The scam is no longer confined to this country. A couple of weeks ago China let one of its corporations fail when it couldn’t make payments on it’s debt. Nobody can remember a Chinese corporate failure allowed to happen previously. Guess what – it was a solar company. If I remember right, it was the cheaper costs of Chinese product that Solyndra could’t compete with. Perhaps not the right explanation.

          • Elizabeth

            Yes, Solyndra failed, others too. But they are not the only companies working on sustainable energy. There are so many successful ones that solar and wind energy is now at par with coal and gas. I’m not sure what a solar company failing in China has to do with the US. Perhaps they failed because they were too cheap and the US has started making competitively priced panels of better quality. All of these situations can be argued in different ways, and they are only a part of the big picture.
            The big picture is the plight of the planet, and your complete denial that there is any sort of problem is very like the last members of the Flat Earth Society looking at photographs from space of a rotating globe and claiming that they are right because the photograph is flat.

          • Johnny Dollar

            Don’t have time for climate nonsense today. The lady swingers are playing in their first major golf tournament of the year, There’s a ballgame in Chicago I’m checking out, then a basketball game tonight. I may not have any time to even bet on horses today. Good thing my TV is coal powered. I wouldn’t want to miss any of the action do to the ten inches of snow tonight covering up a solar panel.

          • Elizabeth

            I’ll take this ridiculous post as a capitulation.

          • Johnny Dollar

            Nuts!

            – General McAuliffe, Bastogne, December, 1944

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  • Doug

    You said your editors have told you many times people don’t want to hear more depressing stories about climate change. I would bet your editor’s real motivations are that the capatalistic infrastructure doesn’t want to emphasis climate change, and your editors are a part of that…

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  • Le Franco Nord Américain

    Read this article in Common Dreams. I threw in a few comments of my own. Jill’s passion, engagement and humanity are very evident. My hat is off to this young lady.