115,000 — that’s about how many years back into Earth’s past we’d likely have to go to find one that was hotter than 2016 globally. 0 — that’s the number of Presidential debate questions that raised the issue of human-caused climate change during this critical election year.
What do we call this? According to David Leonhardt at The New York Times, it’s a complete failure of journalism.
Debate Moderators Fall Asleep as Climate Threats Worsen
In a year in which the very existence of the 25 million year old Great Barrier Reef was threatened by climate change, at a time during which climate change has brought more droughts, fires, floods, extreme weather events, sea ice losses, glacial melt, threats to global security, and negative impacts to ocean health than at any time in human history, and during a period in which the formation of dangerous entities like ISIS and the generation of mass waves of refugees now crossing the world are being spurred by droughts and floods and losses to food and water security related to climate change, you’d think that just one Presidential Debate question would have mentioned the subject.
(Climate change has been linked to the 1,000 year scale drought event that spurred unrest, mass migration and extremism in Syria. As the world warms, climate change will threaten the stability of an increasing number of states. Failure to adequately mitigate climate change multiplies threats across the globe. From Michael Mann’s twitter feed.)
Instead, a critical issue of security and survival for every child, woman and man now living in the United States and around the world was utterly and completely ignored.
In fact, based on the questions presented, we can only assume that the mainstream media entities hosting the U.S. Presidential Debates were dramatically uninformed on an issue that is now guaranteed to represent the greatest threat of our age. And the simple failure to ask these essential climate questions generates a state of denial in both our politics and in our news reporting. A denial that helps to freeze a necessary societal response to a growing existential threat facing our nation.
Failed Journalism Presents False Frame to American Public
How did some among us become so irresponsible? So willing to turn a mass media deaf ear to the pack of climate wolves now howling at our collective doors? The level of failure in journalism is so great that it generates bafflement over possible, understandably rational causes.
To be very clear, not all mass media sources are contributing to the problem. And there are many responsible journalists who are aghast that moderators have so greatly failed the public interest in this way. David Leonhardt from the New York Times noted today:
The failure to ask about climate change is a failure of journalism. I thought that the debate moderators had some very fine moments over the last few weeks, calmly drawing out the candidates. But the lack of a single question on the world’s biggest problem was a grievous error.
But Lester Holter of NBC, Anderson Cooper of CNN, and Chris Wallace of the climate change denial proliferating Fox News, all failed the public in this respect. One might especially expect more from Cooper, who at least seems to show some appropriate concern for climate change related threats. But even this somewhat more responsible debate moderator failed to deliver on a subject of serious concern for the American people.
(According to NASA, September of 2016 was the hottest September in the 136 year climate record. This most recent record hot month occurred during a year in which global temperatures are fast approaching the dangerous 1.5 C climate threshold. Image source: NASA GISS.)
Climate Change Debate Denial Prevents Awareness and Response
What I can say is that there is no way to generate an adequate response to climate change unless the issue is taken seriously and presented to the public in an honest and open fashion. One that includes how our fossil fuel burning is generating worsening climate impacts with each passing year. A rational person observing us from afar might think that by 2016, during a year in which global temperatures will hit 1.19 to 1.25 C above 1880s averages, in which very damaging events due to climate change are now encroaching and multiplying, this issue would be placed squarely in the public eye by moderators who are at least concerned about the well being of their own properties and families.
But no. Nothing. Nada. Not a chirp.
As a result, the debate moderators and their hosting media agencies have presented a false framing of issues during 2016. For all practical purposes — an alternate reality in which climate change does not appear to be happening in the media sphere has been generated by this lack of discussion. And so we are all once again tumbling down the rabbit hole of unreality as outside conditions continue to worsen. This essential failure is as tragic as it is both shameful and morally wrong.
Hat tip to Wili