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Betsy Rosenberg Headshot

Our Climate is Shutting Down - Does Anyone Care About That?

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As I write this, wall-to-wall coverage continues on the financial emergency brought on by our nation's so-called Republican leaders. However, as damaging as the "fiscal cliff" is for hundreds of thousands of Americans, it pales in comparison to the human crisis we'll all face if we go lemming-like over the climate cliff. We are heading there fast and furious, seemingly with blindfolds and earplugs on, as the nation is slow to come to grips with the full intensity of what we have brought to bear on ourselves, our children, their offspring and beyond.

I am a broadcast journalist who left mainstream media in part because of-pardon the expression- the gang-bang mentality of breaking news, regardless of the event's actual real-world importance. After two decades of covering daily news, I grew weary of the "if it bleeds it leads" editorial approach to story selection. Granted, covering a changing climate, our energy challenges and the growing strain on natural resources from overpopulation and over consumption is less juicy than political scandals, Donald Trump's latest tirade or the omnipresent celebrity news. Yet stories about what we're doing to our only home and its inhabitants seldom, if ever, get above-the-fold headline treatment, despite the irreversible impact of our actions.

There should have been headlines this week with release of the long-awaited Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. While the 2007 version included enough warnings to get us mobilized (or should have), the latest climate conclusions--based on consensus and conservative estimates--should be enough to awaken the slumbering masses. However, they likely won't, in no small part due to the government shutdown occurring the same time those results were released to the public and a myopic media.

I'm not saying the US government hanging a "Gone Fishing" sign out at national parks, monuments and federal offices is not news--but if we can't get wider, deeper and louder mainstream media coverage on the unfolding climate emergency when there IS news, we should know all too well what that means. Yesterday's stories, even if they were inadvertently pushed aside, get discarded as proverbial fish-wrap...and that stinks because there truly is no time to spare. The IPCC report concludes, with 95% certainty, that humans are causing greenhouse gases to heat the planet's atmosphere and oceans, and fuel more extreme weather events of the deadly kind.

Despite the rising heat, once again news of a warming climate gets put on the back burner, right next to the proverbial frog that is boiling so slowly it doesn't know its fate. Unlike that frog, we don't have any place to jump to for our safety--and while the government being closed for business has both direct and ripple effects on thousands of Americans, the long-lasting impacts of poisoned weather is already costing lives and causing hardship for victims of destructive tornadoes, drought, wildfire and floods. If scientists can now connect the green dots, wouldn't the patriotic and prudent thing to do be to treat the threat as the crisis it truly is?

Imagine if the networks and newspapers did cover what's happening to our life-supporting climate as if it really mattered. As if it mattered as much as a government shutdown. Day-in, day-out analysis, commentary and continued coverage--like what we're witnessing now--would surely go a long way towards shattering what I call "the green ceiling", that firewall which heretofore no programmer or syndicator has dared to cross. The resistance and downright refusal on the part of news media gatekeepers is something I know all too well, after fifteen years of trying to break through the barrier and get a dedicated program on national airwaves addressing our many eco-challenges and what we must do to avoid catastrophe.

When drought and heat waves are claiming livestock, livelihoods and human lives; tornadoes, floods and wildfires are leaving entire towns wrecked beyond recognition; and Americans are NOT feeling a sense of urgency and outrage at procrastinating representatives with their heads in the sand (and hands in the deep pockets of Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, and right-wing "think tanks"), something is really wrong with this picture. Even more so than the United States of America shutting itself down.

The common denominator and culprit in both of these man-made disasters is the influence of those who fear big government, higher taxes and lord knows what imagined wrath from Democrats, especially President Obama. What I don't understand is why those fears--however misplaced--are so strong that they blind ideologues to the scariest prospect of all, going forward into an increasingly hostile climate that at some point will wreak havoc across the globe, perhaps even coming soon to a city near you.

Scientists say our climate is near the breaking point, or at least the point of no return. With greenhouse gases last measuring at 400 parts per million in the atmosphere and experts saying we have maybe two to five years--max--to slow the rate of emissions, why are we not getting into high gear and instead continuing to act as if its business as usual? Its politics as usual that is strangling us and when it comes to our climate, we don't have very long to release the choke hold.

A fueled up Mother Nature is certainly not waiting for us to grow up and get our act together. So are we writing off our future--telling our kids we were too busy quibbling while home was burning? Why not take a vote on stopping that actual crisis before it really is too late? The political pendulum swings back and forth; the planetary pendulum, not so much.

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