Curtain Raiser

Climate Change Is Packing Heat, Colltalers

Let’s leave the matter of whether we’ve been changing as a society for those who enjoy discussing that sort of thing.
There’s something in it, though, that may warrant a thought or two: how to report the news in an age when increasingly what’s considered news often isn’t.
Take the use of boldface names as an anchor to grab readers by their throat, for instance. It’s what most print manual style books prescribe as a fast, most effective way to deliver the news: get its agents to show it, rather than attempting to describe, or ‘telling’ what’s happening.
But what if a particular set of news, as serious and powerful and far reaching as they come, lacks that individual personality to gather and attract the short-span attention of the masses? Will it still be reported?
But first, fine, fair enough: the past week was dominated by a few boldface names, whose role as newsmakers brought up some crucial issues concerning our life and times.
Will the appointment of John Brennan for the CIA usher a new era of increased government’s secret assassinations, since he’s the well known architect of the U.S.’s repulsive drone policy and alleged ‘killing lists’?
Does Hugo Chavez’s death mark the end of a particular brand of populism in Latin America, socialist rhetoric et al, even if lacking much substance, or is his legacy destined to be countered by the new conservative political wave already taking hold on the continent?
Finally, will the process to replace the troubled leader of a billion Catholics only help to further erode the church’s credibility, as a growing rosary of sex and financial scandals continues to be shoved aside, along with Joseph Ratzinger, from its visible agenda?
What all these three news have in common is the fact that each has a center of gravity in the figure, or absence, of a polarizing name. As such, to mention these names is to instantly invoke a cluster of issues attached to each of them.
But what about climate change, how can news about such an overreaching and potentially civilization ending phenomenon have any enduring power as a headline generator without a person, flesh and blood, brain and consequence, attached to it?
That’s one of those cases that no style manual will help many a dedicated and experienced editor. And the result, at least in part, is the absolute oblivion about global warming-related news from the part of the general public.
Take the latest report on the subject, for example, a study conducted by Oregon State University Shaun Marcott and published on the Science journal. According to it, we’re now living through the Earth’s hottest climate period since at least 4,000 years ago.
With all due respect to Dr. Marcott, he’s far from a household name, so the headlines have been focused on the hard, cold fact that man-made pollution is causing an even faster and way more serious damage to our ecosystem than previously thought.
And you know what happens: no one seems too impressed. Of course, that can be also credited to our celebrity-obsessed culture, and our pathological need to only pay attention to something if it has an added, showbiz, glamorous even, factor linked to it.
It’s our loss, naturally, and says something not very flattering about our society. Then again, it’s something that’s been said so many times that, in all likelihood, it’s no longer news. At the very least, it can’t compete with the latest rumors about Rihanna.
The end result is that headlines centered in hard statistics, however shocking or how directly they affect us all, hardly ever can be sustained, in the world of 24h news cycle. And that’s not necessarily the media’s fault, per se.
You see, and risking getting in too deep a discussion about what tickles people’s communication bones here, even the tabloid media follows a set of quite strict rules, which explains how pervasive they are, despite their shallowness.
The tragedy of that is that we lack the proper paradigm to convey the gravity of something so relevant to our survival on this planet such as climate change. In the meantime, its march seems unstoppable, as the latest study shows.
Thus we either come up with a way to frame the urgency of the many implications that climate change will have on our lives now, now, now, or we risk under reporting the most important news of our time: ‘the Earth is catching fire.’
This is obviously not an either or situation. Even if it wasn’t enough to derail Brennan’s new job, the discussion over drone killings may have turned its first corner and be on the verge of reaching the same level of importance in the U.S. as it already has abroad.
Latin America’s growth and potential to play an even bigger role in global geopolitics is still a developing story, with not yet completely understood implications to the world economy. And the pope, well, we don’t really care much about that one.
The rise in ocean levels, though, an immediate consequence of rising global temperatures, can affect right away millions of people, including in New York City, as a relatively mild hurricane such as Sandy just showed us all.
We may need to come up with sharp and acute ways of describing in capital letters how the climate patterns are changing, and why that’s important, without having to resort to the tiresome trick of using a movie star or even the occasional well-meaning politician.
For if we’ve already managed, in just a couple of centuries, to warm up the world more than in the previous 40, just imagine what we’re capable of doing, in the most nefarious possible ways, in the next hundred years or so. Be smart and stay well. WC


One thought on “Curtain Raiser

  1. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    Informed & articulate. You are what we need.

    I’m not 1/10th as political (how can I believe in politics if I don’t believe in politicians), but I love it when people say what I’m thinking,

    out loud.


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