Planet Will Burn Before Corporate Media Covers Climate Change as Existential Threat
Paul Jay says that the elites and their corporate media are not dealing with the climate crisis with the urgency it deserves because they think they will be ok and live by the philosophy of ‘to hell with what comes tomorrow’
ANTON WORONCZUK:Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore. And we’re joined by TRNN Senior Editor, Paul Jay. Paul thanks for joining us.
PAUL JAY:And thank you.
ANTON WORONCZUK:So, what Paul and I are about to do is inaugurate this new series where we talk about how the mainstream media is covering the stories of the day and just how we think it should be covered.
So, let’s get started and let’s start with something maybe a little bit banal, but let’s talk about the weather. This month in Baltimore we’ve seen days that are 70 degrees and frankly, from the time that I lived in Baltimore I didn’t expect that in February that I’d be able to wear a T-shirt outside or not wear a jacket. And this happening, I thought I’d take a look at the historic averages of temperature, you know, in the month of February in Baltimore. And I saw that this month I think only about all but six days have exceeded the historic average. You know, another thing I took a look at, I found in the Baltimore Sun in 2015, was the coldest February on record, which means quite a range of extremes. Now, based on this, I mean, how do you think the media is covering this event, this strange and fluctuating weather?
PAUL JAY: Well, we know 2016 was the third year of the three hottest years since we started keeping temperatures. We’re in the midst of, if one is to believe the science, and if one believes the science in medicine at least enough that you go to the doctor and if you have cancer you get chemo. If you have diabetes you take medicine that’s prescribed to you, along with exercise and things. I mean, our daily lives are permeated with we believe the preponderance of science. It doesn’t mean everything a doctor says is true. It doesn’t mean everything a scientist says is true. But you know we know the Earth is round, not flat, so far. And I say so far because there’s no such thing in science as absolute knowledge. And who knows, maybe we’ll find out that we view the Earth even from space there’s some weird optical thing happening, it’s not a circle. Maybe it’s oblong. Who knows? It really doesn’t matter. We only know one thing for certain, which is knowledge is relative. You know, we can only know what’s humanly possible at any given stage of history and we come to know that when a preponderance of scientists and when it comes to climate change, you know, I think enough studies have shown it’s in the range of 98 or 99% of scientists. When they say that this is a human-caused event, climate change, and they say the consequences are essentially apocalyptic, if we don’t do something about it.
We know a study came out just before Christmas that said that we’re going to hit the two degree threshold, that’s two degrees of warming over pre-Industrial Revolution temperatures, which has been this threshold number that’s been used for several years now because od a couple of reasons. One, by two degrees weather starts to get even far more disturbed than we’re already seeing now. But it’s also kind of a tipping point that it’s harder to come back from and do something about the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Well, we could be hitting that two degrees by 2050 and that’s the model before Trump was elected, at a time when the United States was likely to perhaps even meet the Paris Agreement which everyone acknowledged was too low. In fact, this study said if every country that signed up for the Paris Accords actually fulfilled the Paris Accords, we would have still hit two degrees by 2050 and now it could be sooner. So, how is the media covering this? Well, so corporate media is just not covering it. There is virtually… Well, there’s a study, Media Matters did a study for 2015 that showed there were 149 minutes of coverage of climate change on the main television networks and that included FOX and those numbers were mostly saying there’s no such thing as human-caused climate change. Other polling has shown that something like 16% of people polled when asked will the effects of global warming affect you and your family, only 16% of people thought it would directly affect them. There is a complete lack of sense of urgency.
I talked to a guy just a couple of weeks ago who does fundraising for progressive causes, and he was involved in the Sanders’ campaign and so on. And I told him about our wanting to create a Climate Change Bureau. And he said, “Oh, well that’s not really a winner now.” And I said, “Why?” He said, “Well, everyone wants to give to the ACLU, and they all want to deal with the violations of civil rights and, you know, the attacks that are coming on immigrants and so on.” And of course, these are critically urgent things, but how do you not deal with what is going to be an existential threat to human civilization as we know it? And it’s not very far away. This two degree thing is very short.
So the corporate media, you have a bit of a chicken and egg, or complimentary lack of interest, which is when Obama was President and you had corporate Democrats running the government, they did the political calculation, that people weren’t all that interested in climate change and it’s not a good issue to really make a priority. The media doesn’t cover it because no-one in the level of presidential national politics is making an issue out of it. So, they don’t cover it. And then there’s an underlying economic interest, both amongst the corporate Democrats and of course, overtly, the Republicans who are out-right climate deniers, which is it’s clear now that if you do want to deal with climate crisis in a way that actually is going to mitigate it, and deal with the severity of the crisis, you’ve got to change the way the economy works. You can’t have just a free-for-all capitalist model where fossil fuel interests can control much of the energy policy of the Federal government.
You can’t have sections of finance that are very tied up with fossil fuel running politics because you would have to change national priorities and start with, Okay, how do you get off carbon? How do you have a green sustainable economy? And those kinds of changes require a change actually in who has power. And so, at the political level the leadership of both parties won’t deal with it. And then the media, one, because it’s not part of the horse race discourse, they don’t cover it; and then their ownership structure themselves are not interested in the kind of changes that would be required. If you remember in ’07 and ’08 there was lots of coverage about climate change after the first United Nations IPCC report came out. Mainstream networks were covering it. It was on the front pages of magazines, just prior to the crash, the ’07, ’08 economic crash. In fact, I remember being in Time Square and looking up at the, I can’t remember it it’s ABC or NBC is right on Time Square, I think it’s ABC, but you can see their studios and they’re having a week-long special, every night for a week all about climate change. Now, ABC in 2015 did I think it was 13 minutes in a whole year of coverage of climate change. So, that’s why we have this initiative to create a Climate Change Bureau.
ANTON WORONCZUK:And then even aside from the cable news networks, when I look at, you know, print publications, there is some reporting on climate change but the way that I’ve seen it presented is usually when a record is broken, right. So, for example, like on month to month basis they say, “This month broke temperature records. This year broke temperature records.” So, it’s for me, climate change, when it is even reported on a regular basis by print media it’s still at a level of abstraction. It’s still at a level where the change is only seen as a statistical change. But it’s not reported in such a way where people see that it’s actually happening in their lives. That it’s a real reality that they’d have to confront.
PAUL JAY:Yeah, if there was like some asteroid, like, you know, the kind of thing that scientists think wiped out the dinosaurs on its way to Earth, and even if they told us it was 30 years, 40 years, 50 years out, it would be a constant preoccupation that this asteroid is about to hit the Earth, and what are you going to do about it? You know, you could send Bruce Willis up in a space ship and throw a nuclear bomb on it. I don’t know. But it would be constant headlines. This asteroid is coming… the asteroid’s coming. Well, the reason it’s not happening now with climate change is because there’s too much economic interest in maintaining the status quo. And this is the most important point is the wealthy people of this world they think they’re going to be okay.
ANTON WORONCZUK:Because right now those who are suffering they… right now there are… Don’t get me wrong, there are millions of people who are already being affected by climate change, except there’s one thing, it’s that they’re poor.
PAUL JAY:Yeah, poor people. Yeah, certainly the global south, and even in cities like Baltimore, you know, you’re going to see like, the FEMA has a flood zone in Baltimore, and it affected our buildings. They wanted us to, if it hadn’t been designated historic, they were going to have us build… you couldn’t start building until eight feet above the sidewalk, because they’re worried about potential flooding. In New York they’re talking, in Manhattan, putting everything… they’re not talking, they’re actually planning for massive flooding where they’re going to put stuff on pillars and things like that. But poor areas, no-one’s going to mitigate the poor areas. And especially in the global south where places like Bangladesh, you know, many places are either going to be flooded or they’re going to have drought.
But when you’re wealthy and you’re living in this bubble of wealth, you just turn a blind eye to it. Two, you think, I’ll live in a gated community and if I have to it will be up on the top of a beautiful mountain. And I’ll be alright. My kids will be alright. And frankly, they don’t even look at what might happen to their grand-kids and so on.
So, the point here is the solution, the sense of urgency is not going to come from the elites and it’s not going to come from their media. It has to come from media like what we’re doing and other independent media and it’s particularly difficult in the time of Trump. Because in spite of them being climate deniers and you would think it would even bring more to the fore of this issue, because the Trump Administration is going to be gutting social safety nets and raising military budgets and there’s so many immediate issues that seem more immediate, that you can’t get climate change again on the agenda.
ANTON WORONCZUK:Okay, so then how is The Real News Network covering this issue any differently then let’s say MSNBC or The New York Times?
PAUL JAY: When we first started producing daily news in the fall of 2007, the very first interview we did was with George Monbiot and it was a series about climate change and the urgency of it.
And in our first promotional video called “The Promise” we said the most important story that we’re going to do is climate change. But then we didn’t. In truth, we didn’t. I don’t think we, me, fully internalized how urgent the situation was. We kind of knew it intellectually, but it was so easy and pressing to get caught up in the ’08 election campaign and the issues that were being talked about and issues of war and peace, and poverty and so on and so on. All critical issues of our time, that while we did regular climate change, I don’t know how many we’ve done since then, 1,000 stories perhaps, and far more than certainly corporate news does and comparably more but not enough. Not with the intensity and urgency and daily beating of the issue and that’s why we want to get the Global Climate Change Bureau going, because we’ve got to make it perhaps our number one priority. As I say you know, if there’s going to be a war somewhere, you’ve got to deal with it, but if a president is attacking people’s basic civil rights, you’ve got to deal with it.
But if life as we know it, if civilization is at threat, it kind of is the issue. So, we have to act that way more and we’re getting kind of building up our resources so we can do climate change every single day with the same kind of intensity we do, you know, other kinds of news. So, I think we did better than most but not as well as we could have or thought we would. And it’s the same thing, there is a bit of feeling it’s a bit abstract because it’s not right in your face.
And there is some underlying feeling here that I think we have sort of at somewhat of a subconscious level, which is, you kind of feel like if it’s really that bad, even the capitalists are going to want to fix it. You know they’re not going to want to be so irrational, so crazy that they would let this stuff happen, without doing something about it. And they’ve got the resources to do the scientific investigation, whether it’s geo-engineering, or whether it’s some kind of mitigation, or even if it is, you know, some kind of carbon, you know, reducing carbon use. Would they really let someone threaten their own society that’s making them wealthy? So, you kind of feel like, you know, even they’ll do something about it, in a timely enough fashion. And then you start to realize, well, no. They’re not going to. They’re not going to threaten who has power and how business is done here. They will let the planet go to hell because as I said they’ll be okay. Their families will be okay. Or they’re just going to ignore it and put it out there. Out of mind, out of sight — or is it the other way, out of sight, out of mind? And they’re not going to do it.
And if there was ever an issue and it’s true for most issues, if not all, but certainly this one, where ordinary people have to get organized. And demand solutions and elect people, you know, if you’re not going to be serious about climate change, you know, we’re not going to vote for you. If you’re not serious about a change in developing a green, sustainable economy, we don’t care whether you call yourself a Democrat or anything else. Until there’s that kind of level of focus on this, there need to be millions of people in the streets about this issue. And why there isn’t is partly a media question because there’s just too much media ignoring it.
ANTON WORONCZUK: Alright, thanks Paul.
PAUL JAY:Thank you.
ANTON WORONCZUK:And if you have any questions for us, how we cover things, what we should cover or how we should be doing it, you can send them to [email protected] You can send it to our Facebook or to our Twitter. So, thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.