Ready your rain boots and clever weather portmanteaus: there’s an environmental apocalypse coming and no, it’s not snowmageddon or #blizzard2016.
Last year was the hottest year on record, and even though 2015 hosted historic climate talks, scientists say the results are not enough to stymie warming at 2 degrees Celsius a year, widely acknowledged as “the goal for preventing a climate catastrophe.” Those living on the Pacific Islands are facing permanent relocation, along with the literal washing away of their traditions, cultures and lifestyles due to rising sea levels. Findings out of Davos last week pointed out that every minute, a garbage truck of plastic is emptied into the ocean. Times that number by four and welcome to 2050, where plastic in our oceans outweighs fish. Add in drought, fresh water scarcity, the upheaval of vital ecosystems in the Arctic and we are still just scratching the surface.
So where are our concerns for #maldives2085, or #ArcticNow? We may not see it every minute of every day, depending on your vantage point, but the consequences of exploiting the planet for centuries are here, and will continue to happen in big, irreversible and largely foreseeable ways.
In order to give citizens the ability to inform themselves during the 30 inches of snow that struck Maryland City recently, “multiple newsrooms in cities bearing the brunt of the storm allowed readers to browse an unlimited amount of content without asking for a credit card number.” I support The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun in their decision to temporarily lower their paywalls. But there is a hard limit to how much weather-related news can be consumed before it morphs into Snowzilla fanfare, and that limit arrives long before “unlimited”. Unless readers are starved for something to do, endless content – which includes the features, and feel good stories, and Instagram snaps – decreases in relevance as it increases in prominence and en masse. It loses newsworthiness too as we mourn our losses and find people to blame and eventually, move on to the next American environmental disaster.
There exists a Doomsday Clock, and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has it set at three minutes to midnight. What has it wound so tightly are insufficient attempts to address the coming impacts of climate change. (That, and general nuclear armament.)
Why don’t we address the slow-to-boil crises that are starting to boil with the alarm we bring to other-than-average American winters? If newspapers owe their readers information in times of crises, and have a responsibility to act in the public interest, why isn’t there more accessible coverage of the ever-pressing, shocking and global environmental crises of the 21st century (accessible in understanding, in prominence, for free)?
In this globalized world we all contribute to everything. But the biggest contribution, the one that needs to change and is arguably the easiest to change, is how and where we divert our attention. Unfortunately for the environment, that attention seems directed more at extreme weather than extremism in our environmental choices and behaviours. And ironically, that’s what leaves us with #snowmygod, gawking and tweeting at the effects of ignoring, minimizing or challenging the cause.