Why Climate Change Is Everywhere But in the News
Issue #
178

It’s fucking hot — that’s the phrase throbbing in our heads this summer. We blast the air-conditioner; rub ice cubes on our necks and fan ourselves in the shade. And after a snowless winter the city’s fatigue with heat is growing. As the mercury shoots up, people are forced to ask the question, “why?” It’s our job as progressives not just to answer that question, “yes of course, the planet is slowly boiling.” But to ask why, in the face of international scientific consensus, does anyone have to ask that question in the first place?

The answer is — ideology and dissociation. The first creates the latter. Ideology is the worldview that sets one’s goals and actions. Determined by one’s class interest, it becomes a narrative filter that lets some part of reality through but keeps another part out. Example one: a 2012 survey by Forecast the Facts showed that nearly half of TV forecasters don’t believe in climate change. Here’s the picture — well-dressed, well-paid corporate weather men and women, watching satellite maps on computer screens in air -conditioned offices, tell us that the increasingly weird and dangerous weather is just nature temporarily off its meds and going bipolar.

Why the nonsense? The first reason is social networks. TV forecasters work at corporate media outfits funded by corporate ads and after work, they drink and mingle with the corporate elite. The daily work environment is a total atmosphere of capitalist “get some.” Second is professional jealousy. TV forecasters don’t have doctorates, just master’s degrees and most often not even in science-related fields. And yet, our teeth-whitened teleprompter readers are divas of science in their small soundstage worlds. In turn, the institutions they work for shape their consciousness to protect the corporate status quo, which determines how they read the weather. And that, friends, is the classic definition of ideology.

On the other hand, climate scientists, who often work at universities or nonprofit foundations don’t have the profit-motive to warp their work. Instead, they trudge far from the cameras to the poles of the earth to test ice and measure carbon levels. They compile the facts. They write reports pointing to a warming, out of control atmosphere. But they are awkward in front of the camera. They don’t have the money or connections from the late night corporate mingling. And that means they don’t have the mass audiences of TV forecasters.

So here is the social contradiction. The climate scientists who work in public institutions have the least access to the public. While TV forecasters, who work in for-profit, private businesses have the most access to the public. And that is ideology as social reproduction.

What is the consequence of all this? Dissociation — it’s a psychological term to describe a state of being in which one is detached from physical or emotional reality. Now, when Americans see forests on fire or dying crops, they’re completely disconnected from the true urgency of these events. Instead, they simply fall back on the explanation that corporate ideology offers time and again: “Hey, that’s weird.”

Even worse. this dissociation leaves people not just without a reason but also without a way forward. Can we stop the severe weather? What do we do? In the absence of an answer, people will go with individual comfort strategies — blasting the air-conditioning, or jumping in the pool or sitting in the shade. But as New York gets closer to becoming Soylent Green, individual survival strategies won’t be enough.

And that means we are the “Tipping Point” generation. We don’t experience climate change as the “New Normal” because we have the experience of the decades before to measure reality against corporate ideology. And it’s telling that after decades of dissociation, American trust in media is at a low, a 2011 Gallup poll showed 55 percent did not trust the news media while in April 2012 a poll by Knowledge Networks showed that 69 percent believe global warming is causing the wild weather.

Occupy Wall Street was the slap to the face of the plutocracy that has made it possible to talk about economic inequality and be heard proving once again that how we frame problems shapes how we see the solutions. To get the Green Deal and the post-carbon future we need, we have to use every means at our disposal to force a similarly radical and honest conversation about climate change. This is the essential first step.