The Climate Crisis Is Slipping From The News Right When It Needs Our Attention Most

With front pages dominated by Israel-Palestine, we are losing sight of the worsening catastrophe that needs to remain a top priority

Over the past few weeks I have had the same experience more than once. I sit down to read the newspaper and see the front page headlines, which are usually about Israel and Palestine. Then, turning to the inside of the paper, where the less important news is kept, I find some horrible, dire piece of news about climate change. “Surely in a sane society this would have made the front page,” I think to myself.

Take today’s New York Times. On the front page, we have (with caps in original): 

  • ISRAELIS INVOKING TOLL OF U.S. WARS AS MORAL SHIELD – an article about how Israel is using past atrocities by the U.S. to justify its own atrocities. 
  • VOTERS IN OHIO APPROVE RIGHT TO AN ABORTION – good news, and important. Definitely worth front page status.
  • When Americans Are Hungry, It’s Not for Human Interaction – article about how Americans are getting more into drive-thrus.
  • Golden Gate Bridge’s Suicide Net Comes After Decades of Tragedy – article about the inexplicable decades-long delay in putting a suicide net on the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • The Hero of the Next Blackout: The School Bus – Article about how electric school buses could store power and thus be useful during outages.
  • Nearly 109, Survivor of a Massacre Seeks Justice – Article about one of the last survivors of the Tulsa massacre.

I’m going to call 5 out of the 6 stories front-page worthy, with the drive-thru story less so. But turning to page A14, we find this one:

Production of Fossil Fuel Far Outpaces Global Goals

This little story turns out to be pretty damned important. “The world remains on track to produce far more oil, gas and coal than would be consistent with relatively safe levels of heating,” we are told. The facts are alarming:

In 2030, if current projections hold, the United States will drill for more oil and gas than at any point in its history. Russia and Saudi Arabia plan to do the same. They’re among the world’s fossil fuel giants that, together, are on course this decade to produce twice the amount of fossil fuels than a critical global warming threshold allows, according to a United Nations-backed report issued on Wednesday. The report, which looked at 20 major fossil fuel producing countries, underscores the wide gap between world leaders’ lofty promises to take stronger action on climate change and their nations’ actual production plans….Wednesday’s report squarely lays the onus of curbing fossil fuel production on the world’s richest nations. For each fossil fuel — coal, oil or gas — the combined levels of production being planned by the 10 highest-income countries alone would already warm the world beyond 1.5 degrees by 2040, said Ploy Achakulwisut, who led the research. State-owned companies control about half the world’s output of oil and gas, and more than half of coal. But even in countries like the United States, where the private sector is dominant, government policies like fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks continue to prop up production. Global fossil-fuel subsidies jumped to a record $7 trillion last year, according to a tally by the International Monetary Fund. That is more than governments around the world spend annually on education.

I find that last statistic utterly shocking. Around the world, our species spends more money subsidizing industries that are killing us than on education! 

There have been many other disturbing climate stories recently, often buried in the back pages. The United Arab Emirates has inexplicably ended up presiding over this year’s major climate talks and has not used the words “fossil fuels” in its public declaration about the problem. Wind power projects are running into trouble. The U.K.’s Conservative government is ditching climate commitments and pretending oil and gas are fine. Clean energy stocks are suffering while the fossil fuel industry is thriving, because destroying the planet remains (for now) extremely profitable. The Times tells us: 

[T]he shares of a broad range of clean energy companies have been crushed lately, in a rout that encompasses just about every alternative energy sector, including solar, wind and geothermal power. At the same time, rather than weaning themselves off oil, Exxon Mobil and Chevron, the two biggest U.S. oil companies, are doubling down. They have announced acquisitions that will vastly increase their oil reserves. Exxon intends to buy Pioneer Natural Resources, a major shale drilling company, for $59.5 billion. Chevron plans a $53 billion purchase of Hess, a big integrated oil company. These are enormous bets on oil for years to come.

This is madness! We know that we are losing all hope of meeting the 1.5 degree target for limiting warming. We know that the consequences of climate change are going to be terrible. We know that profit-seeking companies are incapable of putting the long-term interests of the planet as a whole above the short-term interests of their shareholders. We know that we have to get off fossil fuels. And yet we are plowing ahead toward disaster.

The rich countries are more to blame than anyone else, as today’s Times piece confirmed. The U.S. is doubling down on its fossil fuel production, because our political leaders are either lunatics who think this is a good idea (the Republicans, for the most part) or ineffectual hypocrites incapable of taking on the industry (the Democrats, for the most part). Instead of taking the problem seriously, we get fake fixes. But in the long run, you can’t fake a solution to this problem. It will catch up with us, and people are going to suffer. 

Newspaper headlines now dominated by the Israel-Palestine crisis, quite understandably. I’ve written about it myself. It’s important, especially because the U.S. is complicit in worsening the harm. But the planet is not going to stop warming just because we’re distracted by other things. And fossil fuel companies will be delighted by the opportunity created by reduced public attention to their rapacious, destructive, sociopathic activities. Media organizations need to be responsible and make sure that the climate crisis does not slip from view. They need to expose politicians who fail to act, and they need to document the harm being done. Otherwise they contribute to our species’ steady stumble toward complete catastrophe. 

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