All signals flashing red
Fires are still raging across the country but already they’re slipping from the headlines. And the legacy media is even less interested in the alarm signals flashing all at once around the globe. You wouldn’t know it from your newsfeed but if we had a global command centre, it would be chaos.
This is what’s happening in the world’s oceans right now.
All that squiggly spaghetti is the record of rising ocean heat, year by year. But that solid black line veering up and off on its own is what’s happening this spring, well ahead of the El Niño many scientists are predicting for later this year.
And that’s just one of the flashing alerts. The North Atlantic is even more anomalous.
And other signals are headed off the charts in the opposite direction.
You might already be thinking, these charts are disturbingly similar to Canada’s wildfires.
Update on the carbon emissions from the wildfires. As of June 14, 5.4 million ha have burned, which translates into 765 Mt of CO2 equivalent.— Marc Lee (@MarcLeeCCPA) June 14, 2023
This is larger than total GHG emissions in any year in Canada's inventory (2021 was 670.4 Mt, peak 2007 at 748 Mt) pic.twitter.com/bSz3QU12iS
Even on the broadest measurements, warning lights are flashing all over the control board: for 11 days this month, global temperatures spiked into the no-go zone beyond 1.5 degrees.
So, why isn’t the news media tripping over itself to let us know the klaxons are sounding? It is, after all, very much news. These aren’t projections for the future spit from a computer model — they are actual observations from thermometers on ocean buoys and underwater gliders, readings from satellites — crazy temperatures, hectares burned, all happening right now.
And the fact that scientists are trying to figure out what the hell is going on, makes it even more newsworthy.
“This is totally bonkers” says one hurricane expert at the University of Miami.
“People who look at this stuff routinely can’t believe their eyes. Something very weird is happening.”
Climate change is obviously the background amplifier, supercharging heat. And the oceans have been working overtime, absorbing 90 per cent of global warming. It’s an astonishing amount of heat: 396 zettajoules (no, not a measuring stick I’m used to either) since the 1970s. The equivalent energy of over 25 billion Hiroshima atomic bombs.
We can’t really be surprised that might have some effect. But why such drastic anomalies so suddenly? Why right now? And if we don’t have good answers to those questions, isn’t that even more reason to boost coverage?
Instead, you will scroll a good long way through most new sites even to get the latest on Canadian wildfires. And then perhaps you run into a happy news story about a brewery finding workarounds for blocked highways or international firefighters arriving to help out.
The media has a lot to answer for in its failure to cover climate breakdown and inform the public. Sometimes, it’s negligence — a failure to prioritize the most consequential news, like the sizzling seas.
Sometimes, the problem is more active — decades of both-sidesing whether climate change is even a thing. Seeding the confusion we’re stuck with today. Lately, it’s often a more nuanced role, amplifying the fossil-Conservative denial complex.
I was stopped cold earlier this week when our algorithmic masters thought I should see the National Post’s daily newsletter from Tristin Hopper: “Are eco-terrorists causing all the fires?”
Hopper may not have written that headline himself. There are probably still editors at Postmedia. And you can be sure they know the game they’re playing. It was well summed up by George Lakoff’s admonition, “Don’t think of an elephant!”
Did you? That’s the game.
Whoever wrote the headline, you had to read seven paragraphs deep before Hopper concedes: “But the balance of the evidence suggests that most of these fires are likely being sparked by their usual cause: Lightning.”
Why the “but”? Well that’s because Hopper had just asserted that “Canadian enviro-extremists have certainly never shied away from large-scale property damage.”
And he’d spent the previous paragraphs reciting claims from the likes of Alberta Premier Danielle Smith that arsonists are behind the fires. Hopper highlights one post from a “former Google engineer” that claims “Canada’s deep state arson fire is worse than you think.” Apparently it already had over 3.5 million views on TikTok. Hopper reproduced it with links for his audience.
You’ll remember that Australia’s Black Summer of 2020 resulted in a similar barrage of disinformation about arsonists, laundered and amplified by the Murdoch media empire. It was, for many, the point we realized there would be no “holy shit” moment when the public got a clear view of the crisis and rallied to save itself.
But I don’t remember Australian disinformation taking as political a bent as it has in Canada. I won’t link but you should know this is the kind of diet many Canadians have been feasting on. It comes courtesy of former CBC Dragons’ Den panellist, Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame inductee and winner of the Oil and Gas Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award, W. Brett Wilson.
How those shadowy firebugs simultaneously caused extreme drought across southern Alberta goes unquestioned. Nevertheless, farmers are “on the road to ‘zero production,’” according to Global News.
If I’m giving the legacy media a hard time, it’s because it’s deserved. But amidst the negligence, there are still admirable journalists and columnists. And there are still conservative voices insisting on the importance of character against the shortsighted selfishness engulfing the conservative movement.
This week, the Globe’s Gary Mason wrote a powerful column marking the anniversary of D-Day. “There were millions who didn’t want to fight in the Second World War. But thank goodness there were millions who did, many of whom paid the ultimate price.
“We now need to find the same measure of unselfishness to defeat the greatest enemy this generation has ever faced,” Mason wrote, echoing Seth Klein’s The Good War.
Mason tore into the current federal Conservatives as well as the leaders of Alberta and Saskatchewan for obsessing over the carbon tax and refusing to act on climate. And he got kudos from conservative commentator Charles Adler. “This country doesn't just have a forest fire problem — an air quality problem,” says Adler. “Canada has a character problem.”
Which may be true but really doesn’t plumb the vicious extent of conservatives’ assault on the climate movement. For that, we have to turn to Sandy Garossino, who conducted a four-part “data-based dismantling” of conservative conspiracies for Canada’s National Observer. Canadian environmentalists were “hounded, vilified and intimidated for almost a decade,” she found.
This week, Garossino itemized how “the Conservatives launched a near decade-long campaign smearing Canadian environmentalists as dangerous radicals.
“They exploited public fear of terrorism to discredit anyone pushing for climate action.”
The new leaders of the conservative movement seem intent on continuing that strategy of vilifying the messengers while the legacy media ignore the flashing alerts.
“This is where we are,” writes Garossino. “Where people will betray our children and grandchildren for money, or votes, or clicks, or drinks & chuckles with billionaire donors.”