The Climate in Emergency

A weekly blog on science, news, and ideas related to climate change

Who Knows? Who Cares?


It’s 11:30 in the morning, Tuesday, the day I’m supposed to write the blog on the Keystone XL pipeline protests. I’m running late, but I’ve done all my research, I’m as ready as I can get to report on an event I couldn’t see first hand, except I still need to find out one thing.

Did the major news outlets cover the story?

So, I start calling and emailing people, asking “did you see anything about the protest on the news over the weekend?”

“What protest?” almost all of them ask.

“The one about the Keystone pipeline! Almost 400 people, mostly college students, were arrested for handcuffing themselves to the fence in front of the White House!”


“Yeah! That was on Sunday. On Monday there was a sit-in at the State Department offices in San Francisco. Nine more people were arrested there. Oh, and on Saturday, a big group of people started a march in LA–it’s on climate change more generally. And–get this–they’re headed to D.C. They’re due to arrive in November.”

“Really? I had no idea.”

“Did you watch the news?” I ask.

“No, I didn’t. I don’t have a TV.”

And so it goes. An extraordinary number of my friends don’t have TVs, and those who do weren’t watching the news this weekend. I go online, and find that the websites belonging to a lot of the major news outlets–NBC, CNN, FOX News–do have articles about the D.C. protest (though not about the San Francisco or L.A. events). The problem is that what they post online isn’t necessarily what they broadcast. For the most part, I can’t find any lists of what stories these agencies covered.

Only PBS Newshour clearly lists what it broadcast and when and it did not cover the protests, though, to be fair, their weekend shows are short and can’t cover much.

At least online, the existence of the D.C. protest was well covered. There is no indication from even the most protestor-friendly websites that the police mistreated any of the protestors, nor has anyone accused the protestors of being anything but peaceful and orderly. The possible silence of TV aside, there is no indication that the basic facts of the event are being suppressed, especially since a growing number of people don’t get their news from TV anymore, anyway.

And yet there is something missing from many of the accounts; context.

I found little mention of the two other protests of the weekend, both also about climate change and one of them, the one in San Francisco, directly coordinated with the event in D.C. Nor is there mention of the protest planned this Wednesday, also in opposition to the pipeline, centered around a fundraiser for President Obama in Boston. Nor have many mainstream news sites mentioned the 86000 people who have pledged to commit civil disobedience in order to stop the pipeline if it does get approval from the State Department. Nor is there much mention of the indigenous groups in both the U.S. and Canada that are also planning to stop the pipeline by whatever means necessary. And while a majority of Americans support the pipeline, almost a third do not, according to some polls, and that is a huge number of people.

What’s missing from the news reports is any real sense of the scale of this movement.

Also, critically, no one mentions that the State Department is still taking comments on the pipeline, and will until March 7th.

I have friends who insist none of these protests mean anything. They are certain that the Administration has already made up its mind and is entirely beholden to the big money of oil companies. They may or may not be right. I am not privy to the inner workings of the Obama Administration, so I don’t know. I agree that some aspects of the anti-pipeline movement do not make sense and that there are other places where the line in the sand could as easily have been drawn.

I agree that, ultimately, only the widespread refusal to buy any more petroleum products will finally stop the oil from coming out of the ground and going into the atmosphere. Money talks, and as long as even the protestors are willing to spend their money on gas, heating oil, plastic, and other such materials, someone will find a way to sell it to them, no matter how many protests there are.

And yet the biggest thing these protestors are up against is probably not the oil companies or capitalism or any other external adversary. The biggest enemy is loneliness, hopelessness…it’s the fear that if I stand up, I’ll stand alone. And no one will care.

And that’s where protests and rallies come in. That’s where gestures of solidarity come in. That’s where drawing a line in the sand and declaring that a pipeline will not cross it comes in, though admittedly the pipeline itself is just a proxy for a much larger, more complex issue. Provided the public finds out about them, they prove that people who care do not care alone.

So. Whether the nightly news carried the message or not, I am hereby carrying it; if you care about global warming, oil spills, or the rights of people whose land is at risk, you aren’t alone. Almost a third of Americans stand with you and at least 86000 people are willing to get arrested to make their caring stick.

Now contact the State Department and tell them what you think. You can find instructions on how to do so here (yes, that’s a link, though it might be hard to see). Tell someone you did it, so they won’t feel alone. Then find a way to stop using petroleum.


Author: Caroline Ailanthus

I am a creative science writer. That is, most of my writing is creative rather than technical, but my topic is usually science. I enjoy explaining things and exploring ideas. I have one published novel and another on the way. I have a master's degree in Conservation Biology and I work full-time as a writer.

6 thoughts on “Who Knows? Who Cares?

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