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“A Convenient Excuse” by Wen Stephenson: It’s More Than Climate Change

November 2, 2012

Photo from Etsy

In his timely article A Convenient Excuse,” Wen Stephenson speaks out to former colleagues in the mainstream media (MSM) world in a conversation open to the public. Speaking from the heart on matters that matter is what he ultimately accuses them of not doing on one specific issue: the omnipotent, looming climate change crisis.

As climate change dances in and out of the fore of a multitude of media channels in our daily lives, is the MSM really giving the issue the attention it deserves? Wen believes the answer is an unequivocal no, and here I do agree.

Many people of unconventional thought, however, use today’s social media platforms to voice themselves boldly on the issue, while arrays of organizations stress urgency to address climate change. They just don’t have the ability to reach the mass public or influence their thinking on the scale of MSM. The media needs to speak truth and these grassroots efforts need to be heard in order to gain the attention and support they deserve.

All the while the most vulnerable populations in developing nations are taking the most heat–and droughts, floods and climatic abnormalities. Volatility is high and abnormal climate patterns are on the rise. The effects are cascading and will slowly begin manifesting in our Western lives, or a tipping point may be reached and everything could come crashing down like a cliff side house in a landslide.

Climate is the most pressing threat to the world and humanity over. Wen points to grassroots movements as a primary tactic towards amassing success in addressing climate change at an effective level: one where the social awareness is raised to a widespread level capable of changing social expectations and restrictions blocking not only journalists from giving it to the people straight and breaking the restrictive leash they are allowed to run, but to create a transformed frame of mind among the public towards climate change. Marget Mead would surely agree.

If the public can not only recognize the true crisis that faces our future generations, but also change the ways they act, they will wield the power to force MSM to address their action and speak in relevant dialogue. Of course, there in lies the trouble that MSM is heavily funded and lobbied by big money powers trying to keep them in check.

It’s similar to the big money powers that keep “edible food like substances,” as Michael Pollan calls the majority of what you find in supermarkets, feeding an obese and sick populous to an unjust, booming healthcare system.

To state the problem more clearly: people need to know in order to change, but those in position to tell them are following orders against.

Not being exposed to the truth is a complex problem, like climate change, where there are many intricacies of varied scale. Not only MSM is to blame, but today’s social, economical and political paradigm.

More importantly, there is a crisis at bay. We know this, we hear about it and we experience its reality through abnormal climatic effects every year. And yes, media coverage generally sticks to specificities that dampen the reality of an overarching threat imposed on civilization.

A comet hit Earth unexpectedly, striking and devastating life. There was no way to foresee it coming leaving no choice to attempt to prepare. Luckily, we have near boundless scientific gatherings and information on climate change. It’s as if we continue to procrastinate taking action and facing the real challenge of actually dealing with it by continuing to plan, organize and research.

If we continue to support current norms and maintain expectations of fossil fuel consumption and mass production, transit and farming, to name a few examples; if we don’t educateourselves and each other of the potent reality of climate change; if media and journalism don’t have the audacity to tell it how it really is–in the larger scheme of things, then we might as well have been as clueless as the dinosaurs when that comet brought their fate.

Extinctions do occur, check the history books, and the human race, even with all its technological advancement, is not immune.

We will leave our children and their children to suffer the consequences of our non-action, forced to attempt to adapt to a new world without any infrastructure in place. They will step from square one scrambling to change the world as they knew it without any idea where to look for square two–an unacceptable situation.

Think about Hurricane Sandy and the devastation it brought. Without any major turmoil, simply losing power for three days struck me with the regrettable fact that I find comfort in and am set up for a life with electricity. No refrigerator, stove, heat, light, laptops, and cell phones and appliances left me dismayed by my reliance.

If I had been more prepared and acted preventively, I would have oil lamps and flashlights placed at the ready, a fire ready to spark, and on a grander scale, possibly have solar panels, an alternate method of cooking available, a better way to store food and/or more non-perishables, and importantly, a mindset and lifestyle able to function productively and peacefully within a powerless, or alternatively powered, world.

My point is that we must begin setting the stage for a changed climate. The scale is world over and we in developed nations have the moral obligation to take a stand. It may arise from the bottom up through grassroots momentum that is on the rise with a new generation of leaders and innovators with proper understanding and values, or appear from mid air–we just don’t know.

We must come to terms with our uncertainty and accept that the issue is real. Even if devastation does not strike in our lifetime, we need to make changes for the better both to prepare for climate change and to center our lives that are currently tacking along through shifty winds with an unbalanced keel.

We need to start making profound changes in infrastructure and social expectations towards a life adapted–both for ourselves and to lay the groundwork for those to come.

But how are we supposed to go about these ambitious tasks?

We have proved to be a nation that acts more reactively than preventively–in healthcare or crisis situations, for example. Once you get sick, you are doled a so-called remedy that may help, even heal, or may cause more harm than good.

Health is a foggy situation, where our interconnected bodies and minds manifest ailments in varied locales spreading from unknown regions. There is a lot to understand and no clear way of doing so, leaving a healthcare system operating reactively to acute diagnoses, as we react to acute climatic events respectively.

Of course, preventive care is the best care and there is a lot of misguided advice within media–similar to climate change–as to what is and isn’t healthy due to the powers that lead. Media here, as well, must take a stand to give it to the people straight. The problem is, many don’t have the facts ironed out, people believe different angles, and what is right or wrong runs through a field of gray.

The media, as Wen says, does have a moral obligation to speak freely and give the raw truth to the public about climate change. It’s a service they owe the public. MSM does not provide this honest service, however, and not only for climate change, but MSM must speak loudly and cut through the slop in all areas of society:  food and food systems, health and healthcare, politics, economics, and environmental issues.

Wen does present a strong, valid argument coming from someone who has spent significant time working within the media world he addresses, but addressed the media crisis acutely with climate change in his sites.

It’s not only climate change that media needs to step up and tell it to the public in all its kidnapped truth.

Also, his article is twofold, telling the media to speak blatant truths to the public and sending a message to the public that climate change is a crisis not to be overlooked, as real and pressing as 9/11, only lacking the blunt, palpable objective reality. He serves as an example to his words by speaking not only what he feels, but also what needs to be heard.

Media tells the public, the public needs to act, we need to recognize climate change for the crisis it is and treat it accordingly.

The problem resides blended within the last sentence: treat it accordingly. Right, and that we will! But in reality, inertia results partially from public and grassroots movements not knowing exactly how to treat it accordingly.

How can we start adapting to a changing climate? Answers are essential to the full message.

As a journalist, Wen is speaking to the media world, telling them one thing: start sharing the harsh realities of the climate change crisis and tell it loud and wide, scream it from the mountaintop and voice what you know is true, but leaving where to go with the information out. Leaving the supposedly responsible “experts” to the task has its inherent faults. Experts easily become confined to predisposed practices and thought, unable to shine light on necessary novel innovations such tumultuous times warrant.

As people of varied fields and lives find common ground in the climate crisis, bounded with a strong belief and recognition that it exists, clearly heard from impassioned journalists and fellow citizens, they will indeed want to act accordingly and will indeed need support, direction and education to do so fittingly.

Direction and motivation help us chase change. A clear goal and steps to get there are a vital starting point, followed by commitment, plans and action. If the public is essential to bringing change, they must have these catalyzing elements.

The climate crisis becomes messy and even more daunting when we think about how we can actually make pragmatic, tangible steps towards a sustainable and resilient future in a volatile world.

The media needs to warn the public, but they can’t just yell “bomb!” or “fire!” and everyone knows what to do. People need to see the crisis for what is, and then see a tangible goal, an evacuation plan, so to speak, which will present in wide and numerous areas with the lightest to most dramatic significances.

If people begin to envision what end goals need to be reached and which direction to take, figuring out the means will stand probable.

Inherent in the problem lies Wen’s argument: people need to know and media is the main outlet for their knowledge, but aside from MSM’s restrictions, who is to say confidently what definitively needs to be done.

Taking the most significant steps towards a sustainable world and nulling the possibly already met thresholds of climate change are in the feet and hands of mega corporations who most threaten our atmosphere, natural environment (and our health and well being). Corporations who most affect our climate and lives, however, will be most reluctant to change.

If I’m out to make money, solely, and selling a defunct product, paying to purport falsehoods about its utility and gain the public’s trust and loyalty to continue purchasing it while raking in profits, I’m not going reveal the truth, or the malpractice and exploitive means used to produce what I sell.

Those that are making the most significant damages to climate change are exacerbating the public to live in a fashion opposed to sustainable living on Earth. Those people, and to note, corporations have been legally regarded as people, do not want to change, do not know how, and are the hardest to reach and persuade with a guiding message.

The media needs to not only change its climate change message, but needs to be properly informed and speak the hard hitting truths in all social, political, economic and environmental sectors if they are to live up to their moral obligation to service us with such information.

We have substantial knowledge and capacity to take preventive action, yet we don’t. Why are we waiting for the comet of our time to strike, watching it as it approaches?

The public faces many challenges addressing climate change. They must understand the urgency, that it is a crisis, and the media must not shy from the truth. The public also must learn what can be done and act accordingly, maintaining belief that their actions will serve future generations.

Our deeds may not be matched with instant rewards as we bask in a world of immediacy, we will have to brave the inertia and manifest change from the grassroots up.

I wish us change. I wish us luck.

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