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Addressing Climate Change: Hilarity, a Hurricane, a Pipeline and a Time to Lead

Posted: 09/01/11 07:33 PM ET

Did the media overdose on Irene? Oh, come on. That's not a great debate -- not even a real one. No, the real question is: when will the media stop overlooking the 500-pound gorilla in the extreme weather room? What will it take? A "Day After Tomorrow" scenario?

Despite all the coverage of Hurricane Irene, the media, for the most part, once again managed not to say the words "climate change" or "global warming." Apparently, these words are the Potterian "Voldemort" of the daily news media when extreme weather is reported. Media hawks are noticing this as the slate of extreme weather events continues to pile up, and the words are rarely spoken. Amy Goodman herself noted as much on Democracy Now as she introduced Bill McKibben, who advocates averting climate change.

There is a surreal hilarity to this that bonds well with Comedy Central. Indeed, it is reminiscent of a "Daily Show with Jon Stewart" segment in which Samantha Bee tries, without saying the word herself, to get Republicans to utter "choice" at a convention. Similarly, we play a spectator form of this game with one of the most liberal mainstream broadcast media, National Public Radio. (There is no sport in even attempting this with the lalaland of Fox et al.) In fact, we think a record of sorts occurred as we listened one warm morning this past July to a slate of NPR headline topics. It started with the huge wildfires burning in the West, then smoothly segued into U.S. heat waves, and finally discussed the plight of polar bears watching their habitat literally melt away. All of these events are intimately tied to climate change, as our free online book explains. Each time, we slyly speculated whether we would hear the forbidden words -- would we? would we? -- but they remained forbidden, even with polar bears. We laughed through tears of hilarious sadness.

To be fair, NPR dutifully followed up with a climate change weekend segment a few days later that maundered semi-articulately around the connection of climate change to extreme weather. But that was just the odd five minutes. And besides, climate change isn't occurring every day -- uh, well, at least that's what the media coverage implies. And what much of the public extracts from it.

The reality is that every day, a giant, fluid-covered ball called Earth gets another infusion of heat, some of which transforms into motion. The result is heating and speeding up the planetary cycle of fluids (in this case, air and water), with all sorts of other ramifications, as well. So, expect increasingly extreme weather -- like bigger, stronger hurricanes -- over the long haul. This climate train has left the station and is accelerating. We're not going to adapt to the acceleration. The best we can do is slow and stop the process by switching to clean, renewable energy sources and energy efficiency as soon as possible, preserving old forests, and bringing our populations down to sustainable levels humanely. In fact, it pays for us to do this. Paying for fossil fuel pollution (in terms of human and environmental health), for oil and resource wars, and now, as we're finding out, for climate change, is a lot more expensive.

In the wake of Hurricane Irene, President Obama pledged that the federal government would do everything in its power to ensure that people have what they need to get back on their feet. He can start doing this by seriously addressing the human storm outside the White House. The Keystone Pipeline, a multi-billion-dollar project to transport oil from Canadian tar sands to Texan refineries, is being rightly protested by many, including federal climate scientist James Hansen, who recognize that the pipeline enables us to continue a climatically destructive addiction to oil. President Obama has to power to veto it without Congressional approval. Then he can lobby to allocate the billions to create renewable, clean-energy jobs. This is what people need to get back on their feet, and stay there.

Yes, the oil might find its way to refineries. But President Obama can lead by not being the one to hand the alcoholic another drink. He can lead us out of this bar and toward better ways to spend our resources.