In With The New
The big Climate Change story is not rising Sea Levels
by Jo Abbess
1st January 2009
By far the largest mistake of the Media throughout 2008 was to place a magnifying glass on very small fragments of the Climate Change story.
Global Warming ? Well, yes, this is the nub of the big problem, but by focussing on the complexities of temperature data, and giving contrarian and denialist views a platform, the Media have prevented real public debate on the observed data of Climate Change.
You see, it’s not a question of whether the World is warming up or not at any one particular moment. The long-term trend is clear. (And yes, it’s up).
What we really need to focus on is what we can see happening already, and help the public debate move on to productive lines of thought, such as asking : how can we stop the changes ? And how can we adapt to them ?
Rising Sea Levels ? Well, yes, this will be important in 25 years’ time, but it’s not the big story of the moment. The most important water themes just now are the stress on supplies of fresh water, failing harvests due to rainfall changes, meltdown in the snow- and ice-pack globally and increasing storm-related “natural” disasters.
Waste and Recycling ? Well, yes, the enormous waste stream is symptomatic of a throwaway consumer culture, which breeds increasing Greenhouse Gas emissions and wastes Energy everywhere in the trade stream. But the heating and cooling and transport “needs” of the Globalised Retail Economy, and the heating and transport “needs” of modern consumers are the big problem for the Environment.
Polar Bears ? Well, yes, cute furry animals are fascinating and engaging, but the biggest habitat issues are the migration of entire ecosystems, including plants, which is breaking up food chains; and migration of peoples due to Climate Change stress, an effect which is currently explained as the “economic” migration of people to urban areas.
Stressed Marine Life ? Well, yes, a combination of over-fishing and chemical poisoning can be blamed, but the big story is the Marine Change due to the build-up of Carbon Dioxide in the upper waters, acidifying the environment and destroying the marine ecocultures, quite literally by dissolving them in the microscopic realm. This is ruining the food chain, and is leading to gas and liquid fraction imbalances in the sea waters, reducing the oxygen levels in the upper layers, and creating Dead Zones.
The disappearance of old ocean ice in the Arctic is one big flashing red light of a signal that Global Warming is taking place, and the research is now showing that localised warming in the Arctic is having large impacts on the surrounding cold land areas, causing more localised warming again.
But the Arctic is fairly remote and relatively unpopulated, apart from vociferous Inuit (but do we get to hear from them in the mainstream Media ?)
The potential effects of Local Warming in the Arctic include : massive outgassing of Methane from tundra and the seabed (Methane is a potent though short-lived Greenhouse Gas); massive upheaval for water, ground and ice systems in the region; security problems due to a sailable Arctic Ocean; huge losses in Marine life (which will have global impacts).
But none of this means much to the ordinary readers of the newspapers and the casual watchers of the regular TV news.
The Media have a responsibility to tell the real news, the currently observed impacts of Climate Change in the human-populated areas of the World.
In 2009, they should start to focus on the human interest narratives in Climate Change, bringing it home and making it real to their followers, those who choose to spend their 45 minutes commuting time with their noses in their folds.
For example, the big-selling print newspapers could write about the stress on water supplies, e.g. in Europe, the United States, Australia, you know, big economies.
They could task one of their Environment journalists to read Fred Pearce’s illuminating and worrying book : “When the Rivers Run Dry: What Happens when Our Water Runs Out” (ISBN 1903919576)
They could write about the drought, the diverting of agricultural water to human needs, the loss of crops.
If they want to give it city-level scale, they could pick a town or city, say, Atlanta, Georgia. Water problems there are currently being reported on in terms of financial collapse of the American economy, but it runs deeper than that. Atlanta has basically run out of fresh water due to changes in the rainfall patterns.
Yes, the agricultural irrigation needs figure in the equation, but things have clearly changed if human populations are vying with the farmers for what water is there.
“Group pushes water-conservation measures”
“Morris Brown: School will close if water isn’t restored”
“Cope: State water plan doesn’t consider economy”
This story is being repeated in slow motion just about everywhere. It’s beginning to show up in the British Media, but it hasn’t gained a pulse yet :-
“Running dry, running out: we’re wasting too much water despite warnings to turn off taps”
“Half of England and Wales at risk of extreme drought, report warns : Nearly half the households in England and Wales live in areas that are at risk of extreme drought, according to a report by the Environment Agency.”
“Less water per head than Egypt: 25million live in areas which could face drought rationing”
“Supply costs to rise as water levels drop”
“Johann Hari: My New Year resolution is to lose my bottle – and quit Coke : While we merrily sip their water, a third of Fijians have no clean water at all”
And, naturally, it’s worse in Africa :-
“Acute water shortage in Takoradi : Assakai (WR), Dec. 21, GNA – Residents of Assakai, Chapel Hill, New Takoradi, Bankye-ase, and Windy Ridge Extension, all suburbs of Takoradi, have appealed to management of Acqua-Vitens Rand, Operators of Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) to rectify the acute water shortage that has hit the areas over the past month.”