Sunday, July 1, 2012

Rising tides of laziness

Last week, National Geographic News reported that the Atlantic Ocean was rising on the east coast of the United States, approximately three to four times faster than other areas in the world. Consequently, Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore could experience more frequent future flooding. Instead of floodwaters occurring every three to four years, they are likely to hit these urban centers three to four times annually.

Don’t panic. The real high tides won’t rise until the year 2100. But if you care about your grandkids and their children, then this might be reason to take notice and action.

What really got my attention was a report this week that the big boss at ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson, is now acknowledging climate change. Wow! So, global warming is no longer flawed science? What triggered the shift in company opinion? Maybe it’s the triple digit temperatures from sea to shining sea, the raging forest fires in Colorado and the mega storm that depowered several east coasts states and Washington, D.C., leaving two million Americans in the dark this weekend.

The oil company’s CEO went on to declare that instead of trying to prevent the higher temperature trend, we should begin investing in ways that will allow us to adapt to a planet that’s growing too hot for humans. “It’s an engineering problem,” he said. In other words, keep consuming fossil fuels at record rates and turn up the AC or some super solar shield that enables us to keep things just as they are. Spoken like a guy who makes his living selling energy. Why bother inventing groundbreaking alternative energy technologies when you can subsidize the fossil fuel industry and secure the status quo? The ExxonMobil chief also said the impact of climate change is being exaggerated.

Although I don’t agree with Tillerson’s analysis, he did say something that I support at some level. He blamed our misunderstanding of climate science on a “lazy” press. He believes our failure to grasp climate change issues is due to journalists who simply accept and reprint environmental rhetoric.

In my opinion, Tillerson is half right. It’s not that tree huggers are on the wrong side of the issue, but it’s the failure of the researchers, reporters and editors to dig and independently develop the story and guide readers and viewers to genuinely validated and transparent information.  And many consumers have refused to explore and educate themselves, as well. We tend to accept what we’re fed, which is generally a sensationalized screaming match about hot topics producing all heat and no light.

Case in point. When we have a severe cold snap or blizzard, the pro-business lobby mocks the global warming crowd, as if an ice storm means that NASA scientists are quacks. After all, before it was global warming it was global cooling, right? The reality is that our climate is definitely changing. And even if we can’t control it by altering our behavior, I can’t imagine that the average citizen would fight for more pollution. Unless, of course, their livelihood depended on spewing more crud into the air or turning a blind eye to dumping toxic wastes.

Our professional media, the fourth estate, is a necessary filter between the public and propaganda artists. Without vetting, how do you know who to believe or trust? However, you are on firm ground if you doubt media sources for a number of reasons. For example, today, local television stations routinely produce programs for sponsors and pass them off as quasi-documentaries or feature reporting. In reality, they are nothing more than paid infomercials. In the old days, late-night TV junkies might watch a presentation about a new kitchen gadget at 2 a.m. Sunday. It was obvious the manufacturer bought the time. Today, you can see a primetime special about technology at a local hospital, bought and paid for by the healthcare institution, and produced by the station’s news crew. The lines between journalism and marketing have become so faded, you have to ask, is the press dead? No questions about the impact of the technology on healthcare costs; the proven, long-term effectiveness of the therapy or the tradeoffs. Of course not. You don’t do that with marketing, even when it’s disguised as reporting.

During this week’s wall-to-wall coverage of the Supreme Court’s healthcare ruling, one interviewer on Bloomberg News was surprised to learn that hospitals lose 20 to 30 percent of their billings, because uninsured patients fail to pay. How could any competent journalist or literate American not know by now that healthcare providers routinely eat a steady diet of unpaid bills?

Today, about six large corporations control some 80 percent of the U.S. distribution of news. Some 50 companies once shared that business. Visit the Web sites for Disney, NBC Universal, News Corp and Viacom, and see how much media each of those giants own. Unparalleled consolidation has occurred.  Our perspective has narrowed significantly and there are far fewer voices with access to booming amplification. They sing from the same song sheet. The rest of us tweet.

For example, the last time an independent political candidate made a significant impact on a national election was 1992. That’s twenty years ago, before the consolidation that has chilled alternative perspectives.

Meanwhile, it surprised me how little I heard about ExxonMobil’s climate change admission. But then again, all that matters now is healthcare. A major energy company admitting fossil fuels contribute to rising temperatures is a little bit like big tobacco finally acknowledging smoking kills. Yet, where’s the coverage?

So, what have you decided? Is the trend toward ultra dry, hot weather just a blip in Mother Nature’s hormonal cycle or is it a sign of things to come that we should address? In this age of endless information and hundreds of sources do you know where to go to learn?

Big oil says climate change is real, but don’t sweat it. Personally, I'm glad I live in the Great Lakes State.

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