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Toby Barlow Headshot

Let's Call It "Climate Chaos"

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It is hard to tell which is more intolerable, the current blistering, muggy weather or the current news about the weather, specifically the way the news media is underplaying the incredible drama that is now unfolding all around us.

Yes, there are articles and news flashes about record heat, forest fires, and flooding. But they appear in a random and disconnected fashion. Today's Wall Street Journal's article about record heat and massive crop failure in Russia for some reason showed up buried on A13, despite the fact that the failure of their grain harvest is now sending agriculture futures soaring and will ultimately affect the global cost of food. Don't you think that might deserve mention on A1 or A2? Also, unmentioned in the article is even a passing reference of what's on the preceding page, A12, where you can see a beautiful photo of an enormous garbage flow that is clogging China's gigantic Three Gorges dam, caused by the severe flooding there that killed 1,000 people.

The colossal failure of the media to keep us focused on the planet's larger story is only overshadowed by those who fail to acknowledge there is a story at all. Every single thing that is now happening -- floods, heat, crop failure -- was entirely predicted more than a decade ago by those familiar with the science, and yet there are actually talking heads still debating the existence of climate change. These malicious idiots are spewing confusion and blocking legislation aimed at curbing the problem's human causes. Last week, Fox News paused in their denial of climate change only long enough to run a story about how climate change might cause a surge in illegal immigration, conveniently and momentarily embracing the science in order to help fan the flames of their favorite Tea Party anti-immigrant hysteria. It is as Orwellian and laughable as it is absurd and tragic.

Everything is being affected. Here in Midwest, the Great Lakes' water temperature is at a record high, up to ten degrees warmer than usual, creating shocks in the lakes' ecosystem. One scientist used the phrase "tremendously anomalous" to describe the temperature increase. That sort of language makes me sweat. "Tremendously anomalous" is what movie scientists say in sci-fi films just before the big ugly monster appears. In this case, of course, the ugly monster happens to look a lot like Glenn Beck.

Perhaps part of the problem is the language itself; we once called it "global warming" before people got tired of arguing why it was caused some places to be actually cooler. Fair enough. So we started calling it "climate change," which is perfectly fine except it sounds like something you might be able to live with. After all, we're raised to believe change is good, right? Sounds like we'll merely have to adapt. But what we are experiencing - from the dissolving northern permafrost that's releasing massive amounts of pent up methane to the thousands of miles of ice shelves that are on the brink of melting into the sea -- is something much less quaint. I would like to suggest that "climate chaos" is more appropriate nomenclature. "Climate chaos" is something you maybe can't wish your way through. "Climate chaos" demands some kind of dramatic collective action that will help us begin to correct the terrible course we're on.

To some degree, you have to be sympathetic to the media's failure. It's hard to see the point of even talking about it here. The whole thing inspires a very Beckett-esque "I can't go on, I'll go on" sort of malaise. You just want to crank up the Lady Gaga, pray for Lindsey Lohan, hit the accelerator and get on with your life. But the chaos won't let you ignore it for long. And even though it's undoubtedly going to get worse before it gets better, we need to stay focused on the steps we need to take.

We need to urge the politicians, the press, and the people around us to keep connecting the dots of what is happening today all around us. Because if we don't, those dots are only going to keep growing in scale until they converge into one very large, very chaotic dot that is just about the size of our planet.