01.08.2010

Climate Code Red?

The lack of urgency in media coverage doesn't deny the fact of climate emergency on our doorstep, says Adrian Glamorgan. What might it take to wake the world up?

The lack of urgency in media coverage doesn't deny the fact of climate emergency on our doorstep, says Adrian Glamorgan. What might it take to wake the world up?

In Bogata, Columbia, each Sunday is Ciclovia, a car-free day bringing the poor and rich folk of the city together in a celebration of bicycling, street vending, providing moments to promenade down the open avenues: a South American happening. There are even BikeWatch athletes to help fix your bike if you break down. And among this weekly gaiety the city breathes free.

In Britain, there are five towns from Scotland, England and Wales vying to become the 500th Fairtrade town. Fairtrade towns meet five goals, where communities are helping shopping to become more ethical, more linked to the needs and true labour and environmental costs of Third World farmers. There are Fairtrade Schools now, too, Fairplay sport, and Fairtrade fortnights ahead. And the Third World producers connecting with this Fairtrade movement can sleep easier, comforting their own children that they have a future.

At the time of writing, BP has finally capped, if only for the moment, its disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. But the change also starts with little steps. David Gershon's Low Carbon Diet: A 30 day program to lose 2000 kilos is a fun, practical and achievable manual. Connecting self, family, community and nature creates a new way of being alive, less tethered by the material restraints of consumerism.

There are such practical moments, big and little, to hope. But there is also the climate emergency ahead.

Like the frog oblivious to the warming beaker, we can find a moral torpor and slow mindedness to much current public debate about climate change. A study by Climate Analytics in Germany says there is "virtually no chance" the world will keep temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius, as mooted to be agreed to at Cancun in December.

According to Climate Analytics, by 2100, temperatures will rise to 3.5 degrees, which means that any hoped for increase in food production from 2 degree warming at lower latitudes will be wiped out, with much more than the 20-30% loss of species, and the wholesale loss of the Greenland ice sheet. Four degrees is tipped to be the point of mass extinctions around the globe.

Yet if we are to believe the major political figures of our day, climate change is a matter to be dealt with eventually. Anything more pressing than that, we are promised vague measures, not urgently, by means unclear and without sacrifice to our economy. If climate change measures should dare to cost energy corporations, well, let's wait until the rest of the world does something, in the fullness of time. If carbon polluters are to feel the pinch, let's heavily subsidise them, so they don't feel - or for that matter, change - a thing.

The conventional media has a key responsibility for this. Rather than explaining the ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme), the networks and daily newspapers reduced the debate to a clash of school debaters in Parliament House.

A carbon tax, which is looking like it could be a realistic option, is not discussed. Of course, the media loves drama, and conflict, because as casual spectators it gives its readers and viewers a simple prop to follow the story. But at a time of complexity, journalists could serve us well by reporting on solutions to a new paradigm issue. Instead, the significant issue is reduced to the mild and baffling elbowing of political egos. This is not about who is leader of what party, this year. It is about how we can transform our economy and consciousness to generate sustainability, for the next few hundred years. Right now the planet is warming, and warming. We need to find ways out of this. We need solutions.

Apart from the absence of depth or explanation, "balance" in reporting, produced by mainstream journalists and subeditors, only perpetuates and promotes the work of a small number of climate sceptics who cross-quote each other, without much scientific weight, as if it weighs up equally against the thousands of peer-reviewed scientists from many disciplines (not the coal lobby!) who discern, in biodiverse niches and from Sydney Harbour to Macquarie Island, from the Arctic tundra bioregions to Andean glaciers, something is terribly wrong. If this contrast, between deniers and the weight of science, is allowed to be called balance, we are being seriously and systematically diverted from the issue of our lifetime.

A more honest or at least socially useful media balance would accept the overwhelming evidence of climate change, and explore the merits of two significantly different climate change camps within this scientific consensus (occasionally tracking the few voices to the contrary.)

Instead of the media focusing on climate sceptics, the debate becomes: Can we transform towards sustainability steadily, or are we in an emergency, requiring immediate measures?

The slow-but-sure camp would argue that if measures are taken now, steadily, and the world joins together in mutually-supporting action, we can continue as we are now - just using cars that are more fuel efficient, and manufacturing with cleaner production, transferring to renewable energy, action supported by international conventions that enforce and account for steadily improving climate measures.

The other end of the scales in this balanced debate is that we are, in the words of authors David Spratt and Philip Sutton, in their account Climate Code Red, requiring immediate and significant emergency action. This is where the evidence of change, erratic and extreme weather events and tundra and glacier melting, begs immediate response. A government backbencher, briefed by climate scientists with the latest data, privately suggested that if things are as bad as their scientific evidence indicates, then we need the equivalent of a "War Cabinet" to ensure rapid changes are possible. Indeed, Gaia Hypothesis author James Lovelock has pointed out how eerily similar the late 30s denial of looming war is to our current denial of the seriousness of climate change. For him, Kyoto is our variant on Munich.

Dramatic changes to an economy can happen. The American economy went from spending 1% of its national income on war in 1939 to 42% of its income in 1944. It was a national emergency, and the means were found. But it was a Pearl Harbour that made everyone understand. We have not yet had the climate equivalent of this or Chernobyl.

As climate disaster comes, we may have grown used to it, and be less shocked by it. And if emergency does come, are we able to maintain and expand deliberative or participative democracy, or will desperate measures lead to a loss of real liberties? These are the sorts of debates that would be socially responsible for newspapers and current affair programs to explore.

It could be exciting. There is much to explore, invent and learn. In the 1960s, Lanzo del Vasto, founder of the Ark community in France, and a follower of Gandhi, wrote:

What matters is to discover whether there is such a thing as a nonviolent economy, free of all forms of pressure and closed to all forms of unfairness; whether there is such a thing as nonviolent authority, independent of force and carrying no privileges; whether there is such a thing as nonviolent justice, justice without punishment, and punishment without violence; such things as nonviolent farming, nonviolent medicine, nonviolent psychiatry, nonviolent diet.

The climate crisis has given us an opportunity to pose the questions in practical and crucial ways.

The media can play its part, in helping identify opportunities, and to inform a shift in our way of being that might honour the spark of the transcendent in all living things and habitats, find humility in ourselves individually and as a species, and see the value in being a curator to creation.

It is actually choosing a happier way of living, and being - in the midst of climate emergency.

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