Friday, December 08, 2017

Climate and the Dog in the Night-time

It's a sobering story that quantifies the obvious though elusive.  It shows that the state of the climate crisis is not about crying wolf.  It is about the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime.

The Guardian headline and subhead to the story by Lisa Hymas provide the premise: Climate change is the story you missed in 2017. And the media is to blame/Some of Trump’s tweets generate more national coverage than devastating disasters. As the weather gets worse, we need journalism to get better"

That the media doesn't cover the climate crisis with the frequency, depth or urgency it deserves is of course not new.  It never has, just as even our best leaders did not talk about it enough or with the appropriate urgency.

But the story doesn't focus on covering the topic of climate change--it looks at the easier aspect to cover, which is the visible, tangible real world result: the devastating storms, fires and other weather-related phenomena, directly related in occurrence, severity or in some other meaningful way to global heating.

This is in a way astonishing.  If it bleeds, it leads is the supposed journalistic law--though it trotted out mostly as an excuse for not covering more complicated stories with greater impact.  But now it's a law being routinely violated, at least in this case.

For a lot of people bleed due to hurricanes, floods and fires.  But these days those stories can't even compete for the lead.  (Or "lede" in the new oafish spelling.)

The Guardian article begins: Which story did you hear more about this year – how climate change makes disasters like hurricanes worse, or how Donald Trump threw paper towels at Puerto Ricans?

If you answered the latter, you have plenty of company. Academic Jennifer Good analyzed two weeks of hurricane coverage during the height of hurricane season on eight major TV networks, and found that about 60% of the stories included the word Trump, and only about 5% mentioned climate change. Trump doesn’t just suck the oxygen out of the room; he sucks the carbon dioxide out of the national dialogue."

In terms of reality this is more important because of the anti-president's climate crisis denial, and because scientists are more confident than ever that these disasters are causally linked to global heating.

 But it's also not really shocking because underplaying if not virtually ignoring the climate crisis has been going on forever.  If you really factor the extent to which the climate crisis threatens people, their places and the long term existence of civilization, as well as a lot of life on this planet as we know it, there's virtually nothing else we're obsessed with that measures up.

But the surprising difference in this year of multiple disasters is that not only didn't the role of global heating in these disasters get a lot of coverage, neither did the disasters themselves, and especially the "aftermath," or the longer term consequences.

This was especially true of Hurricane Maria, probably because it struck Puerto Rico and nearby islands, no longer on the beat of reporters or news bureaus, which hardly exist anymore outside of Washington and New York:

"The weekend after Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, the five major Sunday political talk shows devoted less than one minute in total to the storm and the humanitarian emergency it triggered. And Maria got only about a third as many mentions in major print and online media outlets as did Harvey and Irma, researchers at the MIT Media Lab found."

Coverage bulged during the anti-President's noblesse oblige paper towel-slinging visit and declined to nada immediately afterwards-- "even though many residents to this day suffer from electricity outages and a lack of clean water, a dire situation that deserves serious and sustained coverage."

If the media needed a news hook for this coverage, Hymas provides one: the nature and severity of these weather events were exactly as climate scientists predicted.  That might mean something, do you think?

Sure, the anti-president is viscerally as well as actually a clearer and more present danger, but failure to link these storms etc. to the climate crisis allows people to continue to believe that the consequences of the climate crisis are far in the future:

"But while nearly three-quarters of Americans know that most scientists are in agreement that climate change is happening, according to recent poll, only 42% of Americans believe climate change will pose a serious threat to them during their lifetimes. Too many still believe – wrongly – that climate disasters are just something that will happen in the future. They are happening now."

And they are happening a lot:

"In the first nine months of 2017, the US was assailed by 15 weather and climate disasters that each did more than a billion dollars in damage – in the case of the hurricanes, much more. The combined economic hit from Harvey, Irma and Maria could end up being $200bn or more, according to Moody’s Analytics. And then in October, unprecedented wildfires in northern California did an estimated $3bn in damage."

Credit some coverage, including that of the current horrendous fires in southern California (that's right, in December), for relating disasters to the climate crisis. But against the overwhelming noise of relatively trivial stories, it's not nearly enough.

That the climate crisis is happening now--and is only going to get worse-- is the biggest reason why this lack of attention is harmful.  But failing to cover the consequences as they unfold as well as the causes signals to people that unless they live in a big media market, when disaster strikes they will be ignored, abandoned and forgotten.  This is precisely how not to deal with an unfolding era of disasters, what James Kunstler called the Long Emergency, especially at this stage.

Economics may be the unstated excuse for news organizations, and what news media people are left must feel pressure not to upset their consumers lest somebody more amenable take their place.  Disasters are so exhausting for news consumers as well as reporters (all that standing outside in the hurricane and getting blown around like a fool too stupid to come in out of the rain, just to prove you're really there.)  So let's get excited about this tweet I can instantly inflate the importance of without moving from poolside, so to speak.

But there's no excuse for this craven disregard, especially of the consequences--of what's being done and not being done to help those suffering and in need.  And of the role of global heating that ensures there will be a lot more of this in our climate crisis, now playing near you.

This is the "curious incident of the dog in the night-time."  "But the dog did nothing in the nighttime."  "That was the curious incident," said Sherlock Holmes.  Because an intruder was committing a crime, and the dog did not bark.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Senator Moore (with updates)

What little chance that Democrat Doug Jones had of winning the Alabama Senate seat up for special election next Tuesday probably disappeared this Tuesday.  And it wasn't because the Anti-president's endorsement resulted in the RNC turning the money taps back on for Ray Moore, though that's a factor.

On Tuesday Rep. John Conyers retired or resigned from Congress under pressure from Democratic Party leadership because of sexual harassment and related accusations.  Conyers, age 88, is a senior black member of Congress and one of its last ties to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.  He is a hero to many black Americans.

Black members of Congress are already voicing resentment that white members facing similar accusations have not resigned, and that Conyers is the first to do so. House D leader Nancy Pelosi publicly called for his resignation over the weekend.

But black congressional members aren't likely to be the only ones resenting this.  Some black voters will as well.  Doug Jones' only chance in Alabama was a combination of Rs disgusted with Roy Moore's behavior staying home or writing in another candidate, plus a heavy black turnout.  Jones was already having trouble motivating black voters.  This won't help him do so.   They certainly won't vote for Moore, but they can stay home.

Update: Another factor is the very active black voter suppression government and culture in Alabama.  

Could women make the difference for Jones?  It would likely mean many more Dem women are especially motivated to vote by the charges against Roy Moore, along with many Republican women motivated to either vote for Jones or stay home, for the same reason.  But this is a combination that has so far eluded pollsters.  Republican women don't seem to have abandoned Moore.

The only slim hope for Jones is that voters have really had it with the tax bill, the attacks on healthcare and the toxic chaos of the current administration, so bigly as to send a message out of Louisiana.  This too is unlikely.

Though we are talking about dead red Alabama here, these are problems that may recur in the 2018 midterms.  Whatever else there is to be said about the current frenzy over this wide range of accusations of sexually related misconduct, they are very unlikely to improve electoral outcomes for Democrats.  Higher motivation for some women (mostly white, upper middle class) may not be enough.

It's becoming clear that no Republican is going to resign from anything over such accusations, unless or until they become indictments or convictions.  Republican voters will not penalize them for this, especially in this atmosphere.  The election of Roy Moore next week will make this a self-fulfilling prophesy.

 One Democrat has resigned now because of this and other Democrats may.  In terms of numbers, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to lose seats over this issue.

Further updates: Rep. John Lewis, an even more revered black leader and icon of the Civil Rights movement, is personally campaigning in Alabama for Doug Jones.  That may mitigate some of the damage.  

By Thursday, a Republican actually did resign from the House, along with a Democratic Senator, both white, which may also slow further damage to the black vote in Alabama.  More generally I note the essays by Dahila Lithwick and Laura Kipnis on the various political ramifications, and this earnest, thoughtful and yet sadly comic attempt to explain differences over time on culturally accepted sexual behavior. 

Monday, December 04, 2017

Suicide of a Nation.2

As more is learned about the Senate tax giveaway to the stupidly wealthy and other assorted crimes, the worse it gets.

It's clear now, if it wasn't before, that there isn't a Republican in the Senate worthy of any respect.

And December is just beginning, with more disasters piling up, and even more in the offing.

Looking at it strictly in political terms, the daily flood of consequential accusations of sexual improprieties against prominent men has become overwhelming, and might well be having the paradoxical effect of inoculating Alabama's Roy Moore and the Anti-president for their offenses, in the eyes of enough voters to protect them.

Maybe it's time to concentrate on Christmas shopping.  Or back to the late 19th century, when the future was beginning.

Why this melodramatic, apparently hyperbolic title--Suicide of a Nation?  The serious perils of the present will only increase in the near future.  For civilization to survive will require concerted will and wisdom.  Without a strong and wisely-acting America, the chances for that survival are severely diminished.

As our division into not only separate parties but separate realities suggests, the margin for error shrinks.  With the exception of the Civil War, our constitutional institutions have protected us from destroying ourselves in the past.  The received and active respect for those institutions by all but the most extreme elements has preserved enough to allow for this far from perfect country and society to survive and make incremental progress.

Much of that is going or gone, as we are seeing this year and this month.  In less than a year we as a nation have gone from a strong position to meet the future, thanks most recently to President Obama and his administration, to a situation poised at the near edge of breakdown and chaos.

There are positive developments in political activism and the response of some of our media institutions.  It's not over yet.  But everything that this tax bill does is likely to further weaken this country as its already weak points--such as the effects of income inequality and the natural environment. Already we're seeing renewed and emboldened threats along the same lines from the White House, the cabinet and the extremist Republican Supreme Court.

 This mortal threat does not come from outside as murder (not even from Russia necessarily) but as a result of our own politics and political institutions.  It is at least attempted suicide.  That's the point.