The Climate in Emergency

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

No News Isn’t Good News

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The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) issues its long-awaited Synthesis Report last weekend and officially stated that we as a species need to get off fossil fuel, and soon. This is no surprise, of course. That we haven’t gotten off fossils already has nothing to do with any dearth of scientific clarity–it’s not like we’ve been sitting around waiting for this report before we take action. Instead, we have been delayed by political and cultural reluctance, and we are delayed by it still.

The news out of the polling places on Tuesday was not good.

Leaving aside whatever advantages the GOP may possess on other topics, the many Republican victories could be disastrous for climate. They have taken the Senate and increased their majority in the House and will almost certainly use that advantage to try to force President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. They will increase their fight to invalidate Mr. Obama’s executive actions–including the EPA policies regulating carbon emissions–as illegal or unconstitutional. The United States will face the all-important climate conference next year with a legislature hostile to any progress at all. Our best hope may be that we just don’t lose ground.

How did this happen? In the races that I followed, the Republican candidates ran on an economic platform within which environmental regulation was implicitly recognized as part of the problem. There are all sorts of reasons why such an argument is disingenuous, not least of which being that environmental disaster–especially climate change–is extraordinarily bad for the economy. That other Republican candidates ran on an anti-Obama platform is a whole other complex topic.

In any case, the nightly news is full, not surprisingly, of post-election analysis. What isn’t on the news? The fact that hundreds of people just completed a walk across country–from LA to DC–and are now getting arrested for protesting outside the FERC building. For action on climate change.

The Great March for Climate Action was a mobile community demonstrating democratic processes, sustainable technology (they had their own solar panels for charging electronics), and non-violent protest. A core group of several hundred people walked the entire way, joined by others who walked with them a long way or a little. They stopped, here and there, for various climate-related events. In September they took a break, boarded a fleet of buses, and joined the People’s Climate March, in New York City. Then they took their buses back to their own route and kept marching. They covered about fifteen miles a day and camped at night. They arrived in Washington, DC on November 1st, as planned, and several of them went on to participate in a multi-day protest against the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), which they say “rubber-stamps” natural gas-related projects. FERC, for its part, claims that it is impossible for them to estimate the potential impact of these projects, and therefore they cannot say no to them, which certainly sounds like rubber-stamping to me.

That’s why they’re getting arrested –for blocking traffic in front of the FERC offices.

I wrote about the Great March very briefly when they started, listing it among several large and fairly dramatic climate-related protests that got no mainstream media coverage at all. And, unfortunately, the Great March has continued being ignored by the media. My husband is a current events junky and hadn’t heard of them until now, when I asked him about it. The group’s own website includes a list of media notices (including, I’m rather gratified to note, a link to this blog!) but none of them are mainstream national news outlets. Which is insane–if a group that size had walked that far for fun they might almost have gotten more attention, simply as a human interest story.

I wrote about the march again, in conjunction with my coverage of the People’s Climate March, but while I was concerned that the latter might be ignored by the media–and was prepared to take steps to combat such willful ignorance, if it happened–I did not appreciate that the former might be ignored as well. Instead, while I did try to get one of the organizers to write us a guest post (something that ultimately fell through), I largely ignored the Great March as well.

And that’s how candidates who ignore climate change win. I don’t mean that my editorial decisions themselves allowed the Republicans to take the Senate–I don’t have that kind of readership, alas–but that the collective silence of the media on the vast majority of climate-related protest largely keeps the environment out of serious public discourse in this country. Political strategy is often less a matter of winning the game than of deciding what the rules of the game are. In my own state, Republican Larry Hogan won the gubernatorial race by a large margin (he captured every county in Maryland except those immediately around Washington DC) even though ours is usually a solidly blue state. He did so by repeating, over and over again, that he would rescue Maryland from the economic disaster the outgoing Democratic administration had caused. His opponent, Anthony Brown, is the outgoing Lt. Governor. In point of fact, the O’Malley/Brown administration caused no such thing, but Mr. Hogan succeeded in defining the terms of the conversation and so he won the race.

When the media ignores climate, regardless of why they do so, the resulting illusion that climate isn’t important to Americans allows candidates to ignore the issue and win anyway–because the frame of the conversation excludes the entire topic. Much of Maryland is coastal and low-lying, and much of the state is rural. Climate change is very much relevant to Maryland’s economy, yet Mr. Hogan’s economic message utterly ignored it.

We cannot afford to keep silent on this issue, nor can we afford to be silenced. Hundreds of people just walked thousands of miles for climate change and some are now being arrested for it. Contact your news outlets–newspapers, TV shows, radio new programs–and insist that they cover these stories.



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.

One thought on “No News Isn’t Good News

  1. Pingback: Retrospective | The Climate Emergency

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