Global Warming, Media and the Impending Catastrophe

In Copenhagen, President Barack Obama made his pathetically inadequate proposal to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels by 2020, which in essence will amount to driving off the environmental cliff at 83 miles per hour rather than 100 miles per hour.  This proposal will only place our emissions at 3-4 percent below 1990 levels.  We know that the planet’s temperature in the 1980s was greater than in the 1970s and that the 1990s was warmer than in the 1980s. The period from 2000 – 2009 is the warmest decade in modern record.  So simply going back to a level slightly below 1990 will mean that global warming will still be on the rise.  In fact, we need to bring an immediate and complete halt to the rise in global warming emissions and then follow this by its steady reduction.

President Obama’s proposal will not forestall the melting of the north polar ice caps, which are already 40 percent gone.  Al Gore predicts they will be entirely gone in 5 to 15 years, if current trends continue. The proposal will not stem the record-breaking flooding in much of the country.  And it will not bring a halt to the millions of trees in the west that are dying due to drought conditions that are caused by global warming.  We would need to enforce an absolute decrease in the levels of greenhouse gas emissions rather than simply slow their increase in order to adequately address these calamities that are engulfing much of the country, leaving millions of people suffering in their wake.

But why have protests around global warming been so muted in the U.S. while so intense in Europe?  In part, the explanation lies in how the U.S. media has been covering global warming, which has sowed confusion, complacency, and paralysis.

For example, recently CNN spent almost a week focusing on the hacked e-mails from a British scientist’s computer, as if these e-mails seriously cast doubt on the overwhelming evidence that proves, not only the existence of global warming, but the catastrophic results that are already unfolding before our eyes.  Their broadcasts were headlined with questions along the lines of:  Do these e-mails prove global warming is a hoax?  But once CNN let their two so-called experts respond, it was virtually impossible to arrive at any definite conclusion.  But the question itself, which was repeated ad nauseam, was seared into the viewers’ consciousness, leaving them in a perpetual state of doubt.

Even more recently, after a short cold spell, AOL asked on its home page (December 12, 2009):  "Does this mean there’s no global warming?" suggesting that a few days could somehow undermine decades of data.

But the Associated Press with an article by Seth Borenstein, "Be prepared, adapt or die, experts warn" (The San Francisco Chronicle, December 4, 2009), takes the prize for worst coverage.  It begins: "With the world losing the battle against global warming so far, experts are warning that humans need to follow nature’s example:  Adapt or die. That means elevating buildings, making taller and stronger dams and seawalls, rerouting water systems, restricting certain developments, changing farming practices and ultimately moving people, plants and animals out of harm’s way."

The article went on to mention the Adonis blue butterfly of Britain that was threatened with extinction because it could not fly far and global warming was making its habitat unlivable.  But it evolved longer wings, making flight possible.

The various implications of this article, only slightly veiled, are absurd. The article makes global warming seem impossible to stop but something to be accepted fatalistically. It offers "solutions" that are completely untenable, such as moving plants and animals out of harm’s way.  It proposes steps to take that are entirely beyond the scope of single individuals, such as rerouting water systems, elevating buildings, and so on.  And it makes us look for solutions in the direction of what is patently ridiculous, like evolving fins or perhaps 20-foot long legs to cope with rising water levels.

Given this media coverage, one can only marvel that any people in the U.S. are convinced that global warming is a threat and want their government to act aggressively to combat it.

But in the final analysis, behind the media stand powerful corporate interests that lobby intensely against any measures that would seriously attempt to combat global warming.  Automobile industries have fought against fuel efficiency requirements.  Coal industries have tried to convince us of the existence of "clean coal," which shares the same kind of reality as unicorns and tinkerbell.  Oil companies eagerly anticipate the melting of the north polar ice caps, since vast new oil explorations will be opened up.  And many of these corporations have paid scientists to cast doubt on the existence of global warming.

Capitalism, by promoting greed and self-interest, is once again sacrificing the common good for the profit margins of a small powerful minority as it allows greenhouse emissions to steadily expand.  But this time capitalism is threatening, if not the very existence of humanity, life on this planet as we have known it.

Ann Robertson is a Lecturer at San Francisco State University and a member the California Faculty Association. Bill Leumer is a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 853 (ret.). Both are writers for Workers Action and may be reached at Photo from