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Monday, November 12, 2012

Wen Stephenson: A Convenient Excuse [this is long but tells it like it is]

by Wen Stephenson, The Phoenix, Boston, November 5, 2012

On October 2, 2012, I led a climate protest inside the offices of the Boston Globe.
OK, it was really a meeting in a small conference room with editorial page editor Peter Canellos and members of his staff. But it was, in essence, a protest.
I used to be a card-carrying member of the mainstream media; just a few years ago, I was the editor of the Globe's Ideas section. Peter is a former colleague.
With me was Craig Altemose, founder and executive director of Better Future Project, a Cambridge-based non-profit dedicated to climate action, on whose working board I serve as a volunteer. We were joined by two members of BFP's advisory board: MIT's Kerry Emanuel, one of the country's leading climate scientists (and, until recently, a Republican); and Boston College's Juliet Schor, a sociologist and economist who is a respected thinker on climate and the economy. Last year, Altemose was arrested protesting the Keystone XL pipeline at the White House along with another advisory board member, Bill McKibben of, and 1251 other concerned citizens.
After a quick round of introductions, I explained to my former Globe colleagues that I wasn't there to "save the planet" or to protect some abstraction called "the environment." I'm really not an environmentalist, and never have been. No, I said, I was there for my kids: my son, who's 12, and my daughter, who's 8. And not only my kids — all of our kids, everywhere. Because on our current trajectory, it's entirely possible that we'll no longer have a livable climate — one that allows for stable, secure societies to survive — within the lifetimes of today's children.
And I told them that I was there, in that room, because the national conversation we're having about this situation, this emergency, is utterly inadequate —or, really, nonexistent. And I looked Peter in the eye, and told him that I'm sorry, but that's completely unacceptable to me. If we can't speak honestly about this crisis — if we can't lay it on the line — then how can we look at ourselves in the mirror?
Since I had requested the meeting, I told Peter that I hoped to frame the discussion around two points:
First: We need to see a much greater sense of urgency in the media's coverage of climate change, including in the Globe's editorial and opinion pages. This is more than an environmental crisis: it's an existential threat, and it should be treated like one, without fear of sounding alarmist, rather than covered as just another special interest, something only environmentalists care about. And it should be treated as a central issue in this election, regardless of whether the candidates or the political media are talking about it.
Second: Business-as-usual, politics-as-usual, and journalism-as-usual are failing us when it comes to addressing the climate threat. If there's to be any hope for the kind of bold action we need, a great deal of pressure must be brought from outside the system, in the form of a broad-based grassroots movement, in order to break the stranglehold of the big-money fossil fuel lobby on our politics. And in fact, there is a movement emerging on campuses and in communities across the country — especially here in New England — and the Globe should be paying attention to it.
But that wasn't the conversation Peter was prepared to have — and we never got around to having it.

Canellos, the paper's former Washington bureau chief, was more interested in the short-term politics of the Keystone pipeline debate, and the economic impact of natural gas expansion in Massachusetts, and what raising renewable energy standards would mean for regional jobs. Smart, sensible questions. Balanced. Analytical. Above the fray. In short, what counts as serious on the opinion pages of mainstream American newspapers.
And, it has to be said, they were questions that revealed precisely the kind of narrow, incremental, politically straitjacketed mindset that's leading us off the climate cliff. Indeed, they were the kind of questions that make you wonder whether the speaker is even aware of the cliff we're racing toward — or what planet we're living on.
Yes, the Globe's editorial page supports policies to curb greenhouse emissions. It recently called, in the lead editorial on August 26, for lowering the emissions cap imposed by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which has already reduced carbon emissions from power plants in the Northeast faster than expected.
Good for them. But that same editorial was telling, and representative, in a far more important way. With its underlying message that, hey, we're making real progress here, things are going better than planned — that, in short, we're winning —it revealed an utter failure to grapple with the scale and urgency of the climate crisis. It revealed the same outlook that was on display in that meeting.
But it's not only the Globe. This failure is repeated across the mainstream media landscape — the product of a mindset in which climate change is simply another environmental problem, albeit a particularly complex one for which we'll eventually find a technical fix, mainly by doing more or less the same things we're doing now, only more efficiently and with better technology. It's nothing to get too excited about.
It's certainly not anything to sacrifice your career over.
About a year and a half ago — having left my job as the senior producer of NPR's On Point the year before — I took a deliberate leap of conscience and became a climate activist.
There was no single moment when I knew that I had to jump — any more than there's a single moment when night turns to day. It was a gradual process of coming to see the facts that were right in front of me. In December 2009, while still at On Point (a show that has since done better than most in conveying the urgency of the climate crisis), I watched the collapse of the UN climate talks in Copenhagen, a make-or-break moment for the planet. In the voices of cool-headed climate experts, I now heard the sound of something new: something like fear, and disbelief, and the sound of real anger, bitterness, outrage.
Read more here:

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