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Auden Schendler

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Selma, Montgomery, and Climate Change

Posted: 07/03/2012 3:53 pm

How weird would it have been if, in the 1960s, the press had reported from Selma, Birmingham, and Montgomery like this:

"Selma, Al. March 7 (AP) -- Protests Swell in the South! Hundreds marched out of Selma on Highway 80 today. Many protesters were left bloodied, coughing, and severely injured when State Troopers used tear gas and Billy clubs on the crowds. Man, people were pissed off. They really were demonstrating!"

Of course, what's weird about that reporting is that the article doesn't say why the people were angry. To not report that would have simply been bad journalism. More pointedly, it would have been stupid. But look at some of the recent press on the heat wave and extreme weather crushing the U.S.

From the AP: "Washington -- Millions across the mid-Atlantic region sweltered Saturday in the aftermath of violent storms that pummeled the eastern U.S. with high winds and downed trees ... killing at least 13 people and leaving 3 million without power during a heat wave."

From the NY Times: "Hill City, Kansas -- For five days last week, a brutal heat wave here crested at 115 degrees. Crops wilted. Streets emptied. Farmers fainted in the fields. Air-conditioners gave up. Children even temporarily abandoned the municipal swimming pool. Hill City was, for a spell, in the ranks of the hottest spots in the country."

From the superstorms to the heat, from the flooding to the early hurricanes nary a mention of the kicker behind all this stuff -- climate change. Even though James Hansen in 1988 testified that we'd see more intense floods, droughts, and storms as a result of global warming -- as well as heat -- and even though the science over the past 25 years has confirmed that, few in the press seem to think that's relevant. Even with the outskirts of major cities in Colorado on fire and a governor who acknowledges climate change as a problem, the mainstream press fails to make the connection here either. There are exceptions, by they are very, very rare.

The sick and unfortunate result is that you find people saying (or more typically, thinking) things like what my friend, a retired foundation director active on climate solutions, wrote to me recently: "I'm hoping for a big fire season solely for purpose of policy changes related to climate." Like Cassandra, we're waiting for someone to finally say: "Ah, I get it, you were right!" Only to find that the next big catastrophe comes true and people go back to not believing. Words like Katrina, Waldo Canyon, Irene, and Duluth should have the same chilling ring as the litany "Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham" do today. But they don't.

Friday's high of 103 in Memphis broke the record for the date. As MLK said in his speech from the Mountaintop: "Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world." But like MLK, while the promised land of media and public recognition of the dire nature of climate change will happen one day, many of today's reporters may not get there with us.

 

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