[Scroll down for my three-point call to action.]
With the arrival this week of two hurricanes — Marco and Laura — in the Gulf of Mexico, the New Climate Era ushers in yet another unprecedented weather event.
Meanwhile, major wildfires are burning in the West, with more than 20 fires in California alone. Active California fires this month have already burned more than double the total acreage burned in California in all of 2019. Currently in the West, there are 86 large fires in 15 states.
The impact of these fires isn’t limited to the West. The haze is now visible in Iowa, and August 19 set a one-day record for the amount of wildfire smoke emissions coming from California fires — the equivalent of 3 million tons of carbon pollution!
The mainstream media continue to underreport the reality that climate change is impacting both hurricanes and fires. But at least climate chaos in the Gulf and the West made the news. The unprecedented derecho that flattened parts of Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana on August 10 was largely ignored by the national press, though eventually we saw headlines like this:
“Iowa Derecho Disaster Gets Scant National TV Coverage” (Market Share, August 18)
“An inland hurricane tore through Iowa. You probably didn’t hear about it.” (Washington Post, August 14)
“Iowa was leveled by what amounted to a level-two hurricane. But you wouldn’t know that from reading, listening to or watching the news. While the storm did garner some coverage, mostly via wire stories, its impact remains underreported days later.” (News Break, August 15)
Even worse than the scant attention paid by the mainstream media to climate chaos in fly-over country is the extent to which climate disasters around the world are ignored. Here are a few examples from 2019 non-stories:
AFRICA. Cyclone Idai killed 1000 people in Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, drought in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia killed livestock, ruined crops, and left 15 million people facing a serious shortage of food and clean water.
ASIA. After unusually intense monsoons, floods, and landslides, 12 million people were forced out of their homes in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, deadly floods are becoming more common, with one recent flood submerging 30 percent of the country.
CENTRAL AMERICA. Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua are suffering through year six of intense drought. Crops are failing and millions of poor farmers are losing their livelihood, experiencing food shortages, and finding themselves forced to emigrate to Mexico and the US.
AUSTRALIA. Down-under witnessed its worst-ever bushfire season in 2019 (that story did grab some US media coverage). Twenty-five million acres burned, 28 people were killed, entire communities and thousands of homes were destroyed, millions of people were affected by wildfire smoke, and more than one billion animals were killed.
The media must cover all climate disasters, not just those that affect the US coasts. Politicians shouldn’t need the media to motivate them to take action. If our elected officials are paying attention, they know the climate emergency is upon us. A growing number of officials are stepping forward with efforts to reduce fossil fuel dependence and adapt to climate change. These efforts must be more aggressive, launched with a deeper sense of urgency, and implemented at all levels of government.
We need to take action in our own lives, too. Mahatma Gandhi said, “As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”
Here’s my three-point call to action:
1. Think deeply about your own climate impact and make changes to live more gently on the Earth.
2. Vote in November, and do more as you are able. Help candidates who understand the urgency of our situation, who pledge to tackle the climate challenge, and who have a track record of civic involvement to back it up.
3. Call or write the media and tell them we expect deeper and better coverage of the climate crisis.
One more thing: Tell me what you’re doing in response to climate change at both the personal and political level. I want to hear your stories. With your permission, I’ll share what you’re doing with others. These are difficult, dangerous, and uncertain times. It’s important to stay connected and inspire each other. Thank you.
Here’s the line-up:
— Media covers coastal climate chaos, but not the Midwest or poor nations;
— Senate Intelligence Committee releases damaging report on Trump, with Charles Goldman;
— Celebrating 100 years of (some) women receiving the right to vote, with Charles Goldman;
— When the bee stings, with Kathy Byrnes, Birds & Bees Urban Farm.
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