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In our Lifetime

Catastrophic climate change in our life time

You hardly see headings like this in the news. The new IPCC report might very well change that. It’s already brought new words into the climate change glossary.

Long lasting’, ‘irreversible’, ‘unprecedented change’.

All apt words. Words to rouse blood pressures and testosterone levels. And its only right that they should. Words are events and they should be experienced.

The IPCC report made plain that we’ are reaching the climate change threshold and that things are going to get very ugly and very expensive very fast, unless we change everything, right now.

This is not news, in that all signs and warnings have pointed towards a hard outcome. But if the details of the report were news to you, it’s probably because of one of the following reasons:

a) Our Focus on Awareness

The climate change movement has been successful in raising awareness, but awareness required little of us beyond accepting that climate change is happening and acknowledging that something should be done about it.

Most of us, and I include myself in this, made our positions known in company press releases, at cocktail parties, on Facebook and on Twitter. We divested a little here, invested a little there and were instantly awarded with likes.

Most of us, conceded to overwhelming consensus on the issue and then settled into passive nihilism.

b) Culture of Reporting

A recent confirmation hearing, concerning a certain judge highlighted the extent to which the nature of the news and reporting has degenerated. The entitlement, the antics, the spectacle it was allowed to could be mistaken for thinking the news is now functioning as an inverted reality show.

Theatre has infiltrated almost every media outlet and yet amazingly the ‘our brand is crisis’ approach has been applied to everything but raising the profile of and solidifying the climate cause.

There are considerable problems with the current culture. It could be argued that to a degree there is a culture of censorship that infiltrates every level of climate change reporting. For instance, anchors regularly manage to report on hurricanes, without talking about why they are occurring. Our institutional responses to climate change have permeated into the way we report on the issue. We talk about climate change in lukewarm tones. And when we’re not being lukewarm, we’re being defensively positive.

Added to that, climate change coverage and discussion is criminally under reported, so the very little people do take in doesn’t give a balanced or full account of what’s actually happening.

Given the way complex news is handled by some news outlets, it’s perhaps a good thing that climate coverage and discussion is under reported. Fox News, Daily Mail types would do a lot of damage if climate change were to supplant their cyclical freak out stories - AIs taking over, annihilating every living creature on the planet and compromising romantic relationships, not necessarily in that order, but that sort of thing.

It’s arguably one of the reasons people worry that transparency on climate change will lead to panic, but the fault lies with that kind of reporting, not with the news itself. The public shouldn’t have to pay the price by staying uninformed.

Climate catastrophe news isn’t the problem, it simply is. And if we continue to edit or sensationalise it, we are going to end up living in two parallel realities, neither of which really address the big issue at hand.

c) Use of the Conditional

I am a fan of the conditional. I spent my academic years hiding behind it. But my personal proclivities aside, I’m looking forward to a time when we can stop using the conditional to express, or rather not express, an indisputable truth. Headlines like the ones below get in the way of getting things moving.

Argentina: Climate change could dampen recovery

The 'could' in that headline makes the other words null and void. It turns what should be a statement into a weak curiosity of a phrase. For one thing, the how is so ambiguous. It also gets to the heart of the politicism. How does the author anticipate climate change will dampen recovery? In the way that carcinogens cause cancer or the way that smoking causes cancer? Either way, you’re ending up in the same place. If you’re not going to drive the connection home, why bother saying anything at all?

If Argentinians are facing a period of weak economic recovery, surely they deserve to know why. They deserve certainty.

When it’s not coping out entirely, the conditional is introducing degrees of reality that blur the issue, which means that whatever point the author initially set out to make, gets discounted altogether.

The big question here is why does language become curved, abstract and irreverent when discussing global warming?

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