As someone who has spent too many years trying to break through what I call “The Green Ceiling” in mainstream media — a steadfast wall of refusal on the part of programming executives to dedicate regular airtime to the then-emerging (and now fully arrived) environmental crises, I am committed to putting that question to a final test next week in New York.
It’s time to disrupt the media status quo on climate silence, connect the green weather dots and invite the rest of America to join the conversation about what we’re going to do to save this embattled habitat of ours, our life support system that makes life — and a life worth living — possible.
There’s a green buzz in the air, literally, all around me. I’m writing this on a flight from San Francisco to New York City a few days ahead of the People’s Climate March, and already I’ve recognized several familiar faces from home and overheard two conversations by attendees. I’m sure there are other marchers on board as well. Tens of thousands of climate activists are streaming into the Big Apple to make their presence felt and pre-rally activities are already under way. It occurs to me that on this flight, perhaps for the first time, I may not be the only passenger to keep her Styrofoam coffee cup for reuse later. Oh joy!
Sunday’s weather forecast is calling for an unseasonably warm 82 degrees, and that may even be a high for a September 21st. Appropriate given the cause — Mother Nature may be on our side after all! Recall the sweltering late-June day in D.C. last year when President Obama gave his strongest speech yet on the climate crisis. As he repeatedly mopped his dripping brow, the prospect of a globally warmed world did not seem far off at all.
It will be exhilarating to march for climate action with fellow advocates in the city I more commonly associate with Broadway shows and a glut of great gluten-heavy restaurants —including our old family favorite, Carnegie Deli. But that was in the good ‘ole days when we gleefully ate pastrami, and (rye) bread. Now we can enjoy the New York pickles and spicy mustard but hold everything else! Even the world’s best bagels, which we still can’t get in California, are verboten now. Oy vey.
But I digress…it won’t be food or fashion on my mind for this visit to the suddenly Greener Apple. Instead, it’ll be fuel, and what the burning of fossil fuels is doing to our atmosphere. With CO2 levels now topping 400 ppm, we are careening toward a new climate era that has already given us some scary sneak previews.
The People’s Climate March and the UN Climate Summit come two years after Superstorm Sandy brought mayhem to Manhattan and environs. Between that landscape-altering storm and today, record-breaking tornados, wildfires, flash flooding and the California drought have brought about what scientists say is “a new normal.” But while everyone is talking about the extreme weather, what are we doing about it?
That of course is what this rally is all about. Timed to coincide with the United Nations Climate meeting, and to make our presence, and impatience — felt, concerned citizens from across the country are convening to pressure U.N. conveners to take strong and decisive actions, the glaring lack of which turned Hopenhagen into Nopenhagen in Denmark two years ago.
There are an estimated 1,400 environmental, social and economic justice groups of all green shades and stripes, each providing a square of the patchwork quilt that, stitched together, will help us to sew…or see…our way out of this critical mess.
Before, during and after Sunday’s rally, green gurus, groups and groupies will be buzzing around town painting signs, participating in meetings, attending lectures and hopefully raising a ruckus to be seen and heard from Wall Street to Washington Heights. My highest hope is that we’ll also be recognized in Manhattan’s Midtown area, where the nation’s broadcast and cable networks are based.
We’re past the point where major TV and radio stations would dare to overlook the hard-to-miss mass of humanity in their midst. Even with the most conservative attendance estimates, this historic event will be difficult to ignore. I hope I’m wrong, but if past coverage is any indication, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, and to a lesser degree, MSNBC, will do VO (voice-over) and B-roll (videotape) on the mega-rally, not in-depth interviews. However this time could be different, simply due to the sheer volume — both in numbers and decibel levels — of this movement-making march.
The big networks may well feel obligated to do more, which I predict will be an interview with the King of Climate Change, Al Gore, the newest eco-celebrity and “fractivist” Mark Ruffalo, (I mean that in a GOOD way—Ruffalo “rocks”!) and the movement’s most thoughtful and understated rabble rouser, Bill McKibben.
CNN also employs the dashing Philippe Cousteau for occasional ocean and climate segments, so I expect he’ll offer insightful commentary. In fact, the Cousteau clan seems to be filled with intelligent, camera-ready commentators, complete with the kind of name recognition that programmers believe is appealing to mainstream audiences (nothing wrong with that approach, but I know for a fact there are MANY more of that articulate green ilk, having interviewed hundreds of passionate environmental experts, activists and eco-innovators over the past decade).
What I am advocating for — and I welcome more eco-collaborators! — is at least one of the major television and/or radio networks to launch a green-themed talk show that highlights the avalanche of environmental changes afoot both in terms of challenges and solutions — already underway.
Given the current media landscape — with hundreds of networks if you include cable TV and satellite radio, and thousands of programs available (many of questionable, if not laughable, merit) — the continuing fact that there is NO dedicated programming on our “eco-evolution” anywhere on commercial outlets is appalling, and should not be allowed to continue. (Shout out here to Living On Earth, NPR’s long-running stalwart show on sustainability.
I love it, and listen every week, but the Americans who most need to have their eco-literacy levels raised are not the ones tuning in). But what it will take, and what I’ll be knocking on big lettered doors (CNN, CNN Headline News, ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC) hoping to pitch, is a lively, empowering informative and inspirational interview format program that addresses the mountain of interconnected eco-crises and what leaders across the green front lines are saying and doing to turn the Mother ship around.
Because if not now, when? Programmers, and to a large extent the public, don’t know what they don’t know. If we can engage a critical mass of citizens outside the choir — before the compounding damage to climate, oceans, forests, species and everything else under our power generating sun, is beyond the point of no return — than we’ll really have something to celebrate next Earth Day, the 45th anniversary of the moment Americans first tuned into their environment en masse.
So wish me luck and stay tuned. If we can get more Americans to join the conversation about a brighter green future, then we will ALL benefit, especially our children and theirs. When you stop to think about it, how can we afford NOT to make this happen? As Bill McKibben said on my program a decade ago, in the end it’s a question we each have to answer ourselves: “How DO we love our kids, country and planet?” Now stop reading, put down your laptop, and come march with us into the next chapter of America’s energy future.