Climate Corner: Save the grandchildren
Sep 11, 2021
Dr. Randi Pokladnik
What will it take to motivate Americans into action?
Two of the happiest days of my life were when we welcomed our two granddaughters into the world in 2004 and 2005. At that time their futures were full of possibilities. Today, I fear what the future holds for the next generation and the planet, as nations (especially the USA) fail to take meaningful action to address the climate crisis.
This summer we’ve watched unrelenting wildfires in the western states. Over 7 million acres of federal land and 3 million acres of non-federal land has burned in California to date this year. Hurricane Ida hit the coastline of Louisiana just a few miles shy of a category 5 and was the second most damaging hurricane in that region since Hurricane Katrina, which left 1,800 dead and $125 billion in damages in 2005. As Ida moved along the northeastern coast it brought record rainfalls to the area and caused monumental flooding in parts of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Estimates of the economic damage top $95 billion, and 71 deaths have been attributed to the storm to date.
A question I struggle with on a daily basis is: Why are many Americans, including politicians, unknowledgeable or unwilling to take action on what has been referred to as “an existential threat to humanity?” The answer might be multifaceted. We lack the knowledge; we don’t feel a sense of urgency; and we lack the political will.
In his book, “The Death of Expertise,” Tom Nichols says, “the foundational knowledge of the average American is now so low that it has crashed through the floor of uninformed, passed misinformed and is now plummeting to aggressively wrong.” We live in a world where many people think, “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” Our response to wearing masks and getting vaccinated are proof of that mindset.
It seems media has done little to educate the general public on the issues surrounding the climate crisis. Rarely does a weather reporter mention the term “climate crisis.” In fact, a 2019 report by Media Matters America said that broadcast news only “devoted four hours” to climate coverage in that year. That’s less than one percent of broadcast time.
A few pivotal events have affected the amount, accuracy and types of information Americans receive on a daily basis from our media sources. The Fairness Doctrine which said “controversial issues of public importance had to be reported in a manner that was honest, equitable and balanced” was repealed by the FCC in 1987.
Today, news stories can be reported without allowing for an opposing viewpoint or factual data.
Another issue is media consolidation. In 1983, fifty companies owned 90% of radio, television, newspapers, books, internet, cable, and movies. Since the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, ninety percent of US media is now owned by six corporations. This allows thousands of small media outlets to be controlled by a handful of people. For example, Clear Channel owns over 1,200 stations. When an incorrect or “fake news” story is broadcast, millions of people are getting this false information.
We might blame some of our hesitancy to take action on a “lack of knowledge” or our inability to get real facts, but it is nearly impossible to ignore the death and devastation occurring from record-setting weather events. A recent study showed the 2018 wildfires in California cost $148 billion, killed 97 civilians and 6 firefighters, and destroyed 24,000 buildings. The current wildfire season is on track to break all records. At least 176 people died this past February in the record-breaking Texas snowstorm. The estimated cost of the storm is $20 billion.
If we believe the science and we acknowledge the destruction including lives lost and the costs, why aren’t we screaming in the streets? Are we too anesthetized by lifestyles based on consumerism? Do we care nothing about the other sentient species we are destroying by our addiction to convenience? Have we been lulled into complacency by a media that remains silent on the issue? Are we counting on a solution coming from a political system bought and paid for by fossil fuels?
In fact, many scientists believe that we have less than a decade to make significant changes or face irreversible consequences. The United Nations scientists have called a “code red” for humanity in August saying in their 3,000-plus page report, “unless rapid and deep reductions are made to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions” we will exceed the 1.5 C threshold by 2030.
A major threat to solving or even addressing climate change continues to be the lack of political will. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, “we have the scientific knowledge and the technical means but we lack the political will to put a price on carbon, to stop subsidies on fossil fuels, to stop building coal power plants, and to shift taxation from income to carbon.” Ansel Adams accurately describes the situation, “it’s horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save our environment.”
But sadly, this is what we have to do; fight our own government. Since the passage of the 14th Amendment, the courts have extended corporations rights that were previously only granted to citizens. Corporations are not citizens; their main concern is their bottom line.
Corporate power has increased with the passage of Citizens United. With endless amounts of lobbying money, we now have the best politicians money can buy. Until we end Citizens United and get money out of politics, many politicians will continue to thwart any efforts to hold fossil fuel corporations responsible for their role in the climate crisis. Instead, they will placate the industry and cling to false solutions like carbon capture, blue hydrogen, and recycling.
If you need any motivation to act on climate change and demand politicians take the issue seriously, look at your grandkids. Do you want them to know you sat by and watched their world burn?
Randi Pokladnik, Ph.D., of Uhrichsville, is a retired research chemist who volunteers with Mid Ohio Valley Climate Action. She has a doctorate degree in Environmental Studies and is certified in Hazardous Materials Regulations.