‘All the Warning Signs Are There, Loud and Clear’

Janine Jackson: New research on attitudes to climate change suggests that people believe they are entitled to their own facts on the matter, even as scientific evidence points one way, only one way, and every day more urgently. Corporate media bear some responsibility: years of matching every piece of evidence with some statement of doubt or denial, years of placing scientific consensus alongside politicians’ folkloric ideas as though they merited the same sort of attention.

Even today, media say the words about human-caused climate disruption being a very important problem that requires immediate attention—but it somehow doesn’t merit a single question, so far, in the presidential or vice-presidential debates.

So are media treating climate disruption seriously—much less seriously enough? We’re joined now by Dahr Jamail, staff reporter at Truthout and author of, among other titles, The End of Ice, which is forthcoming from The New Press. He joins us by phone from Washington state. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Dahr Jamail.

Dahr Jamail: Great to be with you.

JJ: Let me ask you, first, about language. I noticed that you use the term ACD, or “anthropogenic climate disruption.” I take it you find that a more satisfying descriptor than just “climate change,” or certainly “global warming.”

DJ: It’s more scientifically accurate and it leaves no room for error, which given the climate that those of us reporting about climate disruption are in in this country right now, with denial continuing, which is amazing to me, I use it to be as specific and accurate as possible. When the denialists say climate is always changing, they are factually correct. This way, it’s being disrupted by the introduction of massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and it’s human-caused, hence anthropogenic. So this way it just basically leaves no room for error, no wiggle room for the denialists.

JJ: And that language can help, as you say, really help shape the conversation. I appreciate that. Well, if you tried to understand the United States’ 2016 approach to anthropogenic climate disruption from media coverage, I think you’d be very confused. You’ll find a story in the October 4 New York Times chastising media for going “a little crazy” just because we passed what the paper called the “unhappy milestone” in which CO2 levels, that usually drop in September, instead stayed above 400 parts per million. You won’t, though, find many stories actually going crazy about that fact, which is perhaps why the Times’ only example is Vice Motherboard.

You’ll find stories saying how important it is that the Paris Agreement gets firmed up right away, but then there’s an item about how a group of senators wants to declare the burning of forests “carbon neutral” because, after all, trees grow back, and that’s kind of a back-pager, you know. Now, maybe that confusion just reflects confused policy, but big picture, how far is so-called mainstream media coverage from where it needs to be?

DJ: The short answer to that would be—and that’s something that people could write several books about—but it’s a situation where, look at the coverage that you’ve been exposed to, and everyone right off the top of their head has an idea of what that is, and you just talked about some several really, really good examples of that. And let’s then hold that up to the fact that there’s as much CO2 in the atmosphere now as there was during the Miocene period, 15 million years ago, at which point the oceans were 80 feet higher.

So another way to put that is, we’ve had recent reports that I just wrote about, that we published on Monday, that came out, one of them showing that the ocean conveyor belt is actually slowing down, which basically is a giant underwater current that transfers energy around the globe, and couldn’t play a much more critical role in the entire climatological system of the planet. And the study is worried, because they’re worried about any change of this could “jam the world ocean circulation.”

And then another recent report coming out talking about how the temperatures in Earth’s oceans are the greatest challenge of our generation, and are going off the charts and continuing to warm, even as we’re moving into fall.

So just off the top of my head, a few of these things that are extremely alarming. I mean, all the warning signs are there, loud and clear, and they keep getting more intense by the month, and yet mainstream coverage of climate disruption is not keeping apace.

JJ: Not to put too fine a point on it, if we want to keep the Earth’s temperature from rising more than this 2 degree Celsius, which we understand is the upper limit that has been identified, we really can’t do any more new digging or drilling. Is that correct? Like zero.

DJ: Not only that. That is absolutely correct. Not only that, but there needs to be ways to start getting carbon out of the atmosphere. Because what’s already in the atmosphere, according to the head of the UN’s environment program, who stated this just about a month before the Paris talks last December—she said that if we stopped all CO2 emissions on a dime right this minute, there’s already enough CO2 in the atmosphere that we’re going to hit 3.5C by the year 2100. So we need to stop on a dime, any more drilling and discovering new fields and exploiting them, etc., has to be not even considered, and then we need to be finding more ways of sequestration, of getting more carbon out of the atmosphere, meaning more forests, more work on soils, etc., but literally causing a negative trend, instead of even just breaking even at this point.

JJ: See, I just don’t feel as though that’s really taken as seriously, taken as meaning what it says. I think for many in the media, “keep it in the ground” is kind of a slogan, and not really the actual thing that policy has to start from, the square one of it.

DJ: That’s exactly right. And, unfortunately, I think it’s just going to take a continuing worsening of the crisis, which we’re guaranteed to have, until more global governments start to act. And that’s why we’re seeing these letters being penned and signed onto by hundreds of the most distinguished climate scientists on the planet, urging governments to act, that, look, we’re beyond the point of no return, we need to start taking dramatic, serious changes. And there’s frustration throughout the scientific community, the people producing these ongoing reports about different aspects of climate disruption, because the reports are coming out, the facts are there, we really have all the information that we need to know, and yet governments are lagging so far behind in pushing through the dramatic policies that we really have to see put into effect.

JJ: Yes, I think scientists maybe are even shocked that they can say, this is what needs to happen, and politicians will still say, yeah, we feel like we can negotiate a different outcome. It’s almost as though they’re mindsets that don’t mesh. And I guess I think that’s where reporters could step into the breach, and talk about the gap between the way politicians talk, just by their nature, and what really has to happen.

DJ: I think that journalists at this point, given the situation, are in a position where we are obliged to step in and do that. Because scientists can’t; they’re responsible simply for producing the data and the reports. Their job is not to go out and promote them. That’s our job, is to bring attention to these reports, and then put the results more in lay language so that readers can understand what they mean, and that’s just not being done enough. There’s certainly plenty of room where folks can do a lot more of that, and that’s what I try to do every month in my dispatch, is put all of these recent reports together, over the previous 30 days, so that people can see, wow, when you look at this in total and look at the entire web, we are in hot water and we really need to be holding politicians’ and policymakers’ feet to the proverbial fire.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Dahr Jamail. You can find his work, including the latest, “Scientists Sound Alarm on Climate but US Still Toys With Skepticism,” on Truthout.org. Dahr Jamail, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

DJ: My pleasure. Thank you.

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