October 4, 2009 – Why is it that the American media do such a poor job of reporting about the effects of global warming, especially in places other than the United States? It is, after all, global warming, a phenomenon that is, by definition, happening everywhere. To what degree will they be held culpable, when the American people say, “But I didn’t know that … ?” While it is true that Americans have shown an appalling lack of interest in righting this horrific wrong (for which they bear an enormous burden of responsibility), can it not be argued that it is the media’s job to heighten awareness, thereby creating a climate (!) of concern and urgency?
Perhaps even more to the point, how is it that the British do such an exemplary job of bringing home the really significant stories of the day? Time and again I find myself impressed by their unflinching pursuit of a story – whatever it may be about – without regard to whom it may please or where it may ultimately lead. Permit me an example:
“Dust Storms Spread Deadly Diseases Worldwide” – Huge dust storms, like the ones
that blanketed Sydney twice last week, hit Queensland yesterday and turned the air red across much of eastern Australia, are spreading lethal epidemics around the world. However, they can also absorb climate change emissions, say researchers studying the little understood but growing phenomenon.
The Sydney storm, which left millions of people choking on some of the worst air pollution in 70 years, was a consequence of the 10-year drought that has turned parts of Australia’s interior into a giant dust bowl, providing perfect conditions for high winds to whip loose soil into the air and carry it thousands of miles across the continent.
It followed major dust storms this year in northern China, Iraq and Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, east Africa, Arizona and other arid areas. Most of the storms are also linked to droughts, but are believed to have been exacerbated by deforestation, overgrazing of pastures and climate change.”
How is it that John Vidal, of the British newspaper The Observer, managed to pack such a wealth of information into only three paragraphs?! (This story was found online at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/sep/27/dust-storms-diseases-sydney/print on Sept. 30.) Gadzooks, the story gives every appearance of having been written by a well-informed individual! An inquiring individual, who isn’t afraid to ask questions and – gasp – do his homework. Be aware, the portion of the story I cite here is by no means the entire story. It’s only the first three paragraphs!
An exception, you say? I managed to find the one good global warming story written by the British press? Think again!
“How Global Warming Sealed the Fate of the World’s Coral Reefs” – Animal, vegetable and mineral, a pristine tropical coral reef is one of the natural wonders of the world. Bathed in clear, warm water and thick with a psychedelic display of
fish, sharks, crustaceans and other sea life, the colourful coral ramparts that rise from the sand are known as the rainforests of the oceans.
And with good reason. Reefs and rainforests have more in common than their beauty and bewildering biodiversity. Both have stood for millions of years, and yet both are poised to disappear.
If you thought you had heard enough bad news on the environment and that the situation could not get any worse, then steel yourself. Coral reefs are doomed. The situation is virtually hopeless. Forget ice caps and rising sea levels: the tropical coral reef looks like it will enter the history books as the first major ecosystem wiped out by our love of cheap energy.” (With thanks to David Adam of The Guardian. Found at http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/sep/02/coral-catastrophic-future/print on Sept. 30.)
Again, these are just the first three paragraphs of a much longer story. As the acidity of the world’s oceans increases, more and more coral reefs bleach and then die. Twenty percent are already dead. The El Nino of 1998 took a tremendous toll on coral reefs; modern life contributes the rest.
In fairness, this story has been covered, albeit sporadically, by American journalists for quite some time. Nonetheless, I believe my main point to be valid: environmental news is underreported in the American press. Global warming is, if you’ll forgive me the pun, considered too hot to handle. When and if the subject makes an appearance on page 5 of American newspapers, the story is brief and brittle, with the reporter making a these-days rare attempt at “unbiased” reporting. This is such a waste of time and effort (there is, in the end, only one side and one story: human survival!) that it comes off being phony, at least to knowledgeable readers.
It’s time to stop being our own worst enemies.