Al Gore’s pivotal film, An Inconvenient Truth (AIT), put climate change on the world map, and got many Americans thinking, and talking, about this worsening existential threat. There has been real progress with much of it coming in late 2015, including President Obama’s executive actions, Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si and the pivotal Paris Agreement. Last week’s tributes to Gore and the film’s producers were welcome and deserved. Some of us who had been concerned, and communicating about global warming for years prior, thought AIT would change everything. It didn’t.
A decade later there remain glaring gaps that are key to wider public acceptance and much needed mass action. What’s still missing comprises a long list, but at the top I put a lack of credible information and inspiration, programming aimed at the general public coming from mainstream news outlets, both broadcast and cable, and on the television and radio networks. There’s a sustainability revolution underway but you’d never know it if you just get your news from the networks only. It’s far bigger than the information or tech revolution for this one will determine our collective fate.
While world leaders, government agencies, insurance companies and corporate America have begun to take the threat(s) seriously, national news outlets are still (with a few exceptions) ignoring the biggest story of our time—what’s happening to nature, our life support system—at our own hands. Inexplicably, none of the news networks are offering any programming to educate the public, nor providing a national forum for discussing solutions about what citizens and communities can do to have a positive impact. News executives do not see this as their responsibility and assume few care enough to tune in. They also don’t know what they don’t know.
I believe they are wrong on both counts but trying to convince program executives of that, let alone get a meeting, has been a frustrating focus of mine, going back even before Gore’s film came out. In fact his was among the networks we pitched when he and Joel Hyatt owned Current TV! Gore was on my radio show when An Inconvenient Truth debuted and I’ve been trained by him, as part of his Climate Reality Project, so he knows that I’m qualified. Gore turning down a ready-to-go show on climate change while lambasting mainstream media for ignoring the issue was a little more than inconvenient – I have filed that one under “Inexplicable”.
In an anniversary interview last month Gore repeated his still apt line about how weather reports are starting to sound like The Book of Revelations. And it’s only getting worse. Last week southeastern Texas experienced its second “1 in 500 year flood” with nine lives lost. At last report fires were still burning in Canada’s tar sands territory and India melted a new high temperature record of 124 degrees Fahrenheit. Parts of Sri Lanka were under 8 feet of water and nearly 25-million Americans were in the path of severe storms carrying Wizard of Oz-like “monster tornados” touching down in Kansas and Nebraska. Weather conditions in Minneapolis were so severe that crowds at Beyonce’s concert had to evacuate the stadium. As Dorothy might say if she dropped in today, “Tornados, fires, and floods, Oh My”!
News anchors, reporters and weather people are, for the most part neglecting to connect the dots, even if only tentatively. So the public remains indifferent and the beat goes on. As well as the heat. As I write this hundreds of residents in the north of L.A. community of Calabasas are being evacuated as a 200 acre fire spreads in near 100 degree weather
Also missing in action is any meaningful discussion about the climate crisis during yet another presidential cycle. In the primary debate season moderators failed to ask substantive questions about the candidates’ plans to tackle climate change. When they did throw in a fleeting mention, there was no grilling of dismissive Republicans who dare still call it “a hoax,” including the apparent nominee, Donald Trump, who is by his own accounts “not a great believer.” That, while Trump petitions to build a seawall to protect his latest acquisition, a golf course in Ireland. Thanks to Bernie Sanders—who has long been a climate champion in the Senate—the topic has at least been raised, prompting Hillary Clinton to mention her clean energy plans more often on the campaign trail and to come out against the Keystone XL project. Continuing the climate silence giving short shrift to a phenomenon that is already altering life on earth, as we’ve known it, for yet another election cycle, is truly inexcusable.
As another climate champion in the Senate, Sheldon Whitehouse, said in a recent Time to Wake Up Senate speech, “We are sleepwalking through history as carbon piles up in the atmosphere…sitting on our hands acting helpless.” I would add that we are acting like clueless zombies and our culture is complicit in making that okay.
The persistent sad fact is that there is no government or media entity offering citizens and communities advice on how to reduce emissions and help reverse other troubling eco-trends. Of course there is plenty of information on the worldwide web and available through membership in environmental organizations like the Sierra Club and NRDC. But that requires becoming a member or actively seeking out material, which primarily is done by the already eco-aware. Why not make the best thinking on the part of experts more widely available and easily accessible? Given the scope and urgency of these multiple and overlapping crises, it is inexplicable that we are not seeing more mainstream programming focused on exploring the issues, discussing options for what’s needed to scale up. What are we waiting for, all of Greenland to melt? Until it IS too late to stop runaway climate destruction? Or until—perish the thought—we have a climate “disbeliever” in the White House, someone who likely has the heaviest per capita eco-footprint in the world with all of his buildings, boats, golf courses and planes? Not to mention hot air.