Pt1: Subhankar Banerjee: The media has utterly failed its responsibility to inform the public of the link between climate change and worsening natural disasters
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
Last week’s flash floods in Colorado killed at least eight people, with as many as 600 still unaccounted for, according to officials. Highways were washed out and nearly 20,000 homes destroyed or damaged, and more than 10,000 people had to be evacuated, with entire towns being completely cut off. The flood is one of the worst in the state’s history.
Now joining us to discuss this and its link to climate change is Shubhankar Banerjee. He was a photographer, a writer, and activist. He has an upcoming book: Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point will be published in October by Seven Stories Press.
Thank you so much for joining us.
SHUBHANKAR BANERJEE, ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES SCHOLAR AND ACTIVIST: Thanks for having me, Jaisal.
NOOR: So, Shubankar, not only have we seen these devastating and tragic floods in Colorado, but we’ve also seen two hurricanes hit Mexico, a hurricane in Japan. Natural disasters are on the rise across the globe. Is there a link to climate change?
BANERJEE: Oh, absolutely. In fact, there is no scarcity of extreme weather events happening all over the globe. If you just dial the clock back a little bit, this past June in Uttarakhand, India, in the Himalayan state in India, we had a flood that was called the “Himalayan tsunami”. The number of killed or missing varies between 500 and 15,000, depending on whether you talk to the government or the people on the ground. So there may be up to 15,000 people dead there.
The issue is that–and what happened in Uttarakhand, a place–I was there last year–is very similar to what happened just now in Boulder, Colorado, which is that the seasons are really shifting both the volume of rain as well as when this rain is falling. So what just happened in Boulder is really the volume and time. The amount of rain that has fallen is basically close to the entire annual average in just a few days, in five days. And also the timing. September is not a time when rain falls in the Southwest.
I lived in New Mexico 11 years. I spent a lot of time in Colorado. And I have actually focused on the issue of climate change in the Southwest. It’s in the midst of a long-term drought. And, again, there we can dial the clock back a little bit, 15 years. The last 15 years, the entire American Southwest–Colorado, neighboring state New Mexico, and other states–is suffering extreme drought conditions that has killed in New Mexico alone 55 million pinyon trees, the state tree of New Mexico, and in Colorado, tens of millions of lodgepole pine, spruce, and other trees have been killed. So when you have so many trees dead followed by constant wildfires, which has been extremely intense all across the American Southwest–New Mexico, Colorado–and this past summer, Colorado had what they call the most devastating wildfire in Colorado history, the Black Forest fire. And then at the heels of all that come now this devastating flood, which is clearly one of the greatest flood in Colorado history.
So all of these events are linked. And what I’ve tried to do, show, is that the Colorado flood should be looked at as a sequence of disaster after disaster after disaster. All are linked to climate change.
NOOR: And we wanted to talk about how the media is covering this. Are they making that link? Are they doing their job to inform the public about the reality of not only what’s happening now but what may continue to happen in the future, as far as these unprecedented natural disasters?
BANERJEE: Absolutely not. The corporate media is doing a dismal job. After my first piece was published about the Colorado flood, Boulder flooding last Friday, I received numerous comments from readers that the media is showing the tragedy and what is going on, but no one is raising a single question about if this event is related to climate change.
In fact, this is a really fundamental topic that as a society we need to discuss. And it is actually a moral issue, because philosopher Judy Butler, in one of her recent books, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable, said that media is linked to survival. What is going on with media, as we discussed, that with globally warmed earth, [incompr.] there will be no scarcity of extreme weather events all over the planet, how we report on it is very important. And showing tragedy results in–again and again and again, just a tragedy without critical analysis results in what I would call an exercise in perversion. It is actually pervert to do that, because it becomes essentially an entertainment. And Susan Sontag, in her last and one of the most important books she wrote, called Regarding the Pain of Others, precisely addressed this topic in great detail. So just to show the tragedy and not discuss why this tragedy is happening really becomes entertainment. And the only people who benefit from that are essentially the media, the corporate media, and the contractors who will now come after to rebuild the place. And this has been happening in war situations again and again and again. It’s contractors like Halliburton and Bechtel then get these big contracts to rebuild. So this is actually a very pervert exercise that media, corporate media continues to do.
NOOR: Shubhankar Banerjee, thank you so much for joining us.
BANERJEE: Thank you, Jaisal.
NOOR: We’re going to continue our conversation with Shubhankar Banerjee and post it at TheRealNews.com. Thank you so much for joining us.