Not Enough Alarm

It snowed here in New York City yesterday. In fact, we got walloped. It’s something that happens in east coast cities. Snow doesn’t come at a steady trickle like it does in the Midwest. It doesn’t pile up over long stretches of below-freezing weather — a somewhat constant presence. Rather, it all seems to come in bunches. A blizzard here, a nor’easter there, and all of a sudden there are eighteen inches of snow on the ground. Such was the case yesterday. Not bad for the first day of Spring, huh?

It made me think of global warming. It’s not nearly the prominent subject in the news that it should be. Part of this is understandable. Right now, the United States is dealing with a much more immediate threat to its continued existence. Donald Trump represents an internal threat as dire to the country as anything since the Civil War. He is presiding over a debasement of political rhetoric and comity that is cementing tribalism as an aspect of regular American life. This doesn’t bode well for the future of the country after Trump is no longer president. In the present day, the constant focus on Trump leaves little energy for much else.

But part of the problem is a failure of coverage. Global warming is a looming disaster for humanity, but finding any news about it, and there is constant news, is a chore. We don’t have to go looking for news about Trump’s latest twitter outburst or who he’s fired. Trump is dominant, on a scale to which even he probably never dreamed.

I’m not advocating for ABC or CNN pushing Trump to the back of the broadcast, after the story about a dog’s amazing journey in the cargo hold of a plane, and giving all the big spots to stories such as, “February 2018 was Sixth Warmest February on Record,” or, “Far Northern Permafrost May Unleash Carbon Within Decades,” or, “Unusually Warm Winter Breaks Up Sea Ice in the Arctic,” or, “January 2018 was Fifth Warmest January on Record,” or, “New Study Finds Sea Level Rise Accelerating,” or…one gets the idea. But more prominence is called for. These stories are from just one source from the last month, and a couple are alarming enough to deserve to be featured up front. These are scary headlines.

No matter what happens with our republic — whether the checks built into the Constitution are able to save us from our own president, or whether we fall into autocracy — global warming isn’t going away. In fact, it’s accelerating. Should one wish to know how dire the situation appears to the experts studying the phenomena, here’s another story. The headline is a touch literary, so it’s not so frightening, but how’s this for a sub-headline: “Among many climate scientists, gloom has set in. Things are worse than we think, but they can’t really talk about it.”

Holy shit! Sure, there is some salesmanship in that sub-headline, but still. Holy shit!

Here’s a fact from just a few weeks ago that should elicit a reaction:

In late February, at the North Pole, a place which hasn’t seen the sun since September, the temperature rose to 0 degrees Celsius, which is about 30 degrees Celsius above normal. It was warm enough at the North Pole, in the dead of winter, to be outside in the same gear one wears to go warm up the car in the driveway.

It is important that this rolling disaster of the Trump presidency is covered. Alarms need to be raised every day over that man’s oafish and criminal behavior, but it’s not as if there aren’t resources to spare.

A couple of weeks back, Trump made a quip about being made president for life. It was off-the-cuff, and far from being a serious proposition. Yet thousands upon thousands of words from journalists and pundits were expended on analyzing and condemning the remarks on TV and in print. This was on a weekend and journos still couldn’t stop themselves from banging out 600 words on it. All of this energy was wasted on covering a nothing moment. And, in perpetuating an emotional reaction about this nothing moment, this coverage contributed to the growing tribalism in American politics.

Global warming is more than just an existential threat to this country. It is a threat to human civilization, yet, to this point, the governments of the world have done little to address it. We’ve been relying on business to slowly change the market, but it won’t be enough. Elon Musk is not going to save the world. Hell, he’s actively planning to get off of the planet before it’s too late.

Global warming is so far off of the agenda in Washington that one can go weeks at a time and see no coverage. But this beast is looming over us. It’s no longer something we can pretend is only happening in the insubstantial mists of the future, or in far off Arctic wastes where hardly anyone is around to see it. This is affecting us now. It’s unconscionable that our leaders are doing nothing, and it’s unconscionable that the issue is largely ignored, or pushed way down below the fold, in the news. We need honest coverage about how dire the situation with global warming is, because then, and only then, will our politicians get the pressure from their constituents that sees results.

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