Now Is The Time to Talk About Climate Change, So Why Aren’t We?

As the United States is in the midst of two back-to-back monster hurricanes, and another two gaining strength in the Atlantic, now is the time for the media to talk about climate change. Unfortunately, most of the weather reporting surrounding hurricanes Harvey and Irma has failed to address what makes climate change a part of the bigger story. Shortcomings aside, it’s important to point out why the media isn’t entirely at fault.

There is little debate among scientists about how climate change affects the weather. Without getting deep into the weeds: climate change heats our global atmosphere, which heats ocean waters. Warm water is the essential fuel that drives large storms and hurricanes like Harvey and Irma. So, temperate waters result in rapidly intensifying storms. And that’s just one of the many ways climate change contributes to weather phenomena.

There are certain climate change-related factors that we can, with great confidence, say worsened the flooding [in Houston],” writes Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann. “Harvey was almost certainly more intense than it would have been in the absence of human-caused warming, which means stronger winds, more wind damage and a larger storm surge.”

Obviously the most important part of a storm watch is informing viewers about weather conditions, explaining evacuation and preparation and relaying information from government officials. But in our 24-hour news cycle, it’s not impossible for outlets like CNN and NBC to take time to explain the implications of a warming planet. Any casual cable news viewer can tell you the storms were not contextualized with talk of manmade climate change in the coverage thus far.

For the people of Texas, Louisiana and Florida who were affected by the storms, it’s time to ask some hard questions. Will this happen again? Is it sustainable to keeping living where I live? Is my community prepared for things to get worse?

And these questions extend to communities all along the eastern shore of the US and Mexico, including my home town on the Jersey shore that was ravaged by hurricane Sandy five years ago. It’s essential that the people of these areas, and the greater public, understand how human activities are making these storms worse. Therefore, it’s the responsibility of news and institutional sources of information to make the facts on climate change clear and accessible for their viewers (or constituents).

But the media is not really to blame for not always talking about climate change.

Through all of their hurricane coverage so far, the Weather Channel hasn’t once brought up climate change. Why is that?

“I believe in Climate Change and I believe it’s man made” said Weather Channel chief David Shull. “But I’m not a big fan of the term. It’s been politicized.”

The problem isn’t that news outlets don’t want to report on climate change, it’s that they’re scared to. With the credibility of mainstream media and institutions on thin ice with most on the political right, reporters are afraid of alienating conservatives, and therefore they refrain from talking about it. They have a point too; talking about the issue could run the risk of turning off viewers who can’t afford to ignore essential storm coverage.

The only fix to this problem is changing the minds of climate skeptics. And that will never happen as long as they are encouraged by dangerous climate deniers like EPA head Scott Pruitt and the majority of Congressional Republicans who ignore the issue altogether.

By misleading their supporters into climate denial, Republicans are not only encouraging ignorance, but they are setting dangerous standards that carry serious implications in our media environment. The devastation of Harvey and Irma show how reckless and irresponsible it is to ignore a broader conversation on climate.

The media should never be afraid to speak the truth, especially when it matters so so much.

2 thoughts on “Now Is The Time to Talk About Climate Change, So Why Aren’t We?”

  1. Louisette Lanteigne says:

    Tar Sands Jet heat thermals generated changes to the Jet Streams and it co-relates to the movement of cod going north in Canada and the UK. Cod stocks declined globally because of it. We also saw flight times change between NY and London and Reading University did a study on those jet stream changes. Again the time lines of the changes is when Tar Sands ramped up production.
    This year we had leaky oil and methane pipes in BC and articles were published on that. When the BC fires started these leaks made things worse. We had fires where the water evaporated before they hit the flames because the heat was so intense. When BC’s fire thermals linked with Alberta’s heat thermals at the Oil Sands, we had a huge heat thermal that pushed into the Arctic sending down a jet stream of cold Arctic air into the Houston area. All the hurricanes drew strength from it.

  2. Louisette Lanteigne says:

    Currently, nobody is speaking of the heat island effect of Tar Sands even though it is a massive sandy deforested area with black tailing ponds and plenty of production. The Jet stream data is obvious. We have a persistant arc of heat going over Alberta repeatedly. Meanwhile we have TV stations showing maps of only Canada or the US in isolation. They need to see the full view to understand how weather works. Even online reasonable jet stream mapping of North America or the global view is tricky to find.
    The public needs to know what a heat thermal is. They need to know what the Tar Sands heat island effect is doing so they can stay informed and stay safe. We can’t allow private industries to keep the public in the dark about jet stream impacts of their operations. It’s time to put public safety first and that comes with proper information and education and disclosure of actual weather systems data based on based on a global view because we are one planet and all nations of the earth have jet streams that affect each other. Start showing that to people.

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