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In the Wake of Hurricane Harvey: Now Is the Time to Talk About Climate Change


September 8, 2017
Amy Goodman and Naomi Klein / Democracy Now!

The World Meteorological Organization has declared that Hurricane Harvey's devastation is linked to climate change. All past US rainfall records have been shattered and the devastating storm is expected to bring even more rain to Louisiana and Texas in the coming days. And yet, the corporate networks have avoided linking the record-breaking storm to climate change. We examine storm coverage with Naomi Klein, best-selling author of "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate."

https://www.democracynow.org/2017/8/30/naomi_kleins_message_to_the_media

Now Is the Time to Talk About Climate Change
Naomi Klein's Message to the Media Covering Houston

Amy Goodman and Naomi Klein / Democracy Now!

(August 31, 2017) - The World Meteorological Organization on Tuesday announced that Hurricane Harvey's devastation is linked to climate change. All past US rainfall records have been shattered, and the devastating storm is expected to bring even more rainfall to Louisiana and Texas in the coming days. And yet, the corporate networks have avoided linking the record-breaking storm to climate change. We examine storm coverage with Naomi Klein, best-selling author of several books, including "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate."



Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with RenEe Feltz, who, well, is from Houston, Texas. RenEe?

RENEE FELTZ:Thanks, Amy. As we continue our coverage of the devastating floods in Texas, we're joined now by Naomi Klein, the best-selling author of several books, including This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Her latest piece for The Intercept is titled "Harvey Didn't Come Out of the Blue. Now is the Time to Talk About Climate Change."

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein writes, "Now is exactly the time to talk about climate change, and all the other systemic injustices -- from racial profiling to economic austerity -- that turn disasters like Harvey into human catastrophes." Naomi Klein joins us now from her home in Toronto.

Naomi, welcome to Democracy Now! You have a message to the media.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah. Hi, Amy, and hi, RenEe. It's really good to be with you. And I want to thank your earlier guest, Bryan, for all of the tremendous work he's been doing for so many years in exposing the toxic risks and the unequal burdens of this extremely toxic industry.

So, you know, my message is, this is not a time for some misguided idea of what is polite and what is appropriate about what we can talk about in the midst of a disaster. You hear this from a lot of journalists, that they don't want to politicize a human catastrophe by talking about climate change, which they know is a controversial subject, although it really should not be, especially in the midst of a storm that they're saying, over and over and over again, is unprecedented.

I mean, you turn on any coverage, and you hear that word over and over again, but what you don't hear, or you hear very, very rarely, is an explanation for why the word "unprecedented," "record-breaking" -- why these words have become, you know, meteorological clichEs. We hear them all the time, because we're breaking heat records year after year. We're seeing record-breaking wildfires, record-breaking droughts, record-breaking storms, because the baseline is higher.

So, nobody is saying that climate change caused this storm. What we're talking about are what are the superchargers of this storm, the accelerants that took what would have been a disaster, in any situation, and turned it into this human catastrophe. One of those chargers, one of those accelerants, is climate change. Another, as we heard from Bryan, is the presence of this highly unregulated, toxic industry that is so unevenly distributed, with communities of color bearing the greatest risks.

Another accelerant is poverty. I mean, if you don't have the ability to organize your own evacuation because you don't have a car, then you're stuck. Another one is racism. If you are an immigrant and you want to get to dry land, but you're hearing that the border checkpoints are staying open everywhere where the highway isn't flooded, as we showed at The Intercept, then you are not -- you are less likely to seek safety. So these are accelerants to a disaster that would have happened anyway.

And it's the job of journalism, Amy, to provide key facts and context for people to understand their world. And without these contexts, particularly without a fulsome discussion of climate change, without hearing from people like James Hansen, who we're about to hear from here, then it seems like an act of God. It seems like it came from nowhere.

And if that's the case, well, then we're going to avoid a discussion of who -- what could have been done to prevent this, which is a very important discussion to have. And we're also not going to talk about what we can still do to lower emissions very, very rapidly to prevent a future filled with many more such megastorms and other climate-accelerated disasters.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, it's very interesting. Certainly the media, a lot of the media, is extremely critical of President Trump. He flew in to Texas yesterday. Yes, there was a lot of criticism, but also they praised him for going there. But there was almost no discussion of him being a climate denier. If you watch the media -- and I'm not even talking about Fox, I'm talking about MSNBC, and I'm talking about CNN -- almost 24 hours a day, on Texas and on the tropical storm, the hurricane, almost no mention -- almost no mention of climate change, although they are devoting all of their time to this.

You know, we don't have state media in the United States, but if we did, you have to ask how it would be any different. We know that the Trump administration has cleansed websites of the words "climate change" and "global warming." But what about the media? Have they done the same, Naomi?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, effectively, they have. We are seeing this cleansing that is happening at the White House filter down to the media. And it is not just about federal politicians. It's also about state politicians, who -- in Texas and Louisiana, who systematically deny climate change.

Now, if you are denying the reality that the Earth is warming, then you are not going to prepare in the same way for what we are seeing now, for these unprecedented events. They will take you by surprise. If you deny the reality that the Earth is warming and that humans are a major contributor in this, then you will just go ahead and rebuild the oil capital of the United States exactly how it was, as if there's no connection between this very industry that is being hit right now, as we heard from Bryan, and the storm itself.

If we did talk about it, we'd be having a very different discussion, Amy. We'd be having a discussion about what financial responsibility companies like ExxonMobil have for a storm like this, a company like Exxon that was doing its own research into climate change in the 1970s and publishing peer-reviewed papers saying it is happening, forecasting unprecedented events just like this, and then, when the world got serious about lowering emissions, Exxon was a leader in spreading misinformation, doubt, lies about the reality of climate change. There is a legal discussion to be having here, and that's the kind of discussion that we need to have.

The other thing that is so -- you know, you mentioned the fact that, of course, this disaster is being seen through a political lens, right? I mean, there's endless debate about Melania's ridiculous shoes. There is a lot of talk of the double standards between how various congresspeople have voted to deny aid to Sandy-struck New York and New Jersey and how they have their hands out now for Texas.

This is all a kind of politics that fits inside this conventional partisan lens. So it is all -- it is being politicized. It's just being politicized in a way that doesn't challenge the fact that the failure to take climate change seriously, the creation of an economy that is so profoundly unequal -- and we see this exposed in a moment like this -- has been a profoundly bipartisan affair. So that's a much more complicated discussion to have.

But, you know, think about what happens in the aftermath of a terror attack. These same politicians aren't worried about manners. They don't wait to get all the information before they blame an entire religion for a single bombing. They have no qualms about that. And I think, frankly, Amy, what we're seeing is a little bit similar to what used to happen after school shootings, when you would hear from the NRA crowd right away, "Don't talk about gun control. Don't talk about guns. You're politicizing the disaster."

And finally, you know, about five years ago, people had just had it and said, "You know what? This is exactly the time when we have to talk about guns. Don't tell us we can't talk about it when people are seeing the tremendous human cost. That's when we need to talk about it." And the same is true now about climate change, which is why now, you know, we -- forget manners. This is about reality.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Naomi Klein, I want to thank you for being with us. Naomi Klein, we will link to your piece at The Intercept, as you give this message to the media: Talk about climate change. Best-selling author, journalist, senior correspondent for The Intercept. Her most recent book, No is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. And we'll link to your piece at The Intercept, "Harvey Didn't Come Out of the Blue. Now is the Time to Talk About Climate Change."



Harvey Didn't Come Out of the Blue. Now is the Time to Talk About Climate Change
Naomi Klein / The Intercept



(August 28 2017) -- Now is exactly the time to talk about climate change, and all the other systemic injustices -- from racial profiling to economic austerity -- that turn disasters like Harvey into human catastrophes.

Turn on the coverage of the Hurricane Harvey and the Houston flooding and you'll hear lots of talk about how unprecedented this kind of rainfall is. How no one saw it coming, so no one could adequately prepare.

What you will hear very little about is why these kind of unprecedented, record-breaking weather events are happening with such regularity that "record-breaking" has become a meteorological cliche. In other words, you won't hear much, if any, talk about climate change.

This, we are told, is out of a desire not to "politicize" a still unfolding human tragedy, which is an understandable impulse. But here's the thing: every time we act as if an unprecedented weather event is hitting us out of the blue, as some sort of Act of God that no one foresaw, reporters are making a highly political decision. It's a decision to spare feelings and avoid controversy at the expense of telling the truth, however difficult.

Because the truth is that these events have long been predicted by climate scientists. Warmer oceans throw up more powerful storms. Higher sea levels mean those storms surge into places they never reached before. Hotter weather leads to extremes of precipitation: long dry periods interrupted by massive snow or rain dumps, rather than the steadier predictable patterns most of us grew up with.

The records being broken year after year -- whether for drought, storm surges, wildfires, or just heat -- are happening because the planet is markedly warmer than it has been since record-keeping began.

Covering events like Harvey while ignoring those facts, failing to provide a platform to climate scientists who can make them plain, all while never mentioning President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords, fails in the most basic duty of journalism: to provide important facts and relevant context.

It leaves the public with the false impression that these are disasters without root causes, which also means that nothing could have been done to prevent them (and that nothing can be done now to prevent them from getting much worse in the future).

It's also worth noting that the Harvey coverage has been highly political since well before the storm made landfall. There has been endless talk about whether Trump was taking the storm seriously enough, endless speculation about whether this hurricane will be his "Katrina moment" and a great deal of (fair) point-scoring about how many Republicans voted against Sandy relief but have their hands out for Texas now.

That's politics being made out of a disaster -- it's just the kind of partisan politics that is fully inside the comfort zone of conventional media, politics that conveniently skirts the reality that placing the interests of fossil fuel companies ahead of the need for decisive pollution control has been a deeply bipartisan affair.

In an ideal world, we'd all be able to put politics on hold until the immediate emergency has passed. Then, when everyone was safe, we'd have a long, thoughtful, informed public debate about the policy implications of the crisis we had all just witnessed. What should it mean for the kind of infrastructure we build?

What should it mean for the kind of energy we rely upon? (A question with jarring implications for the dominant industry in the region being hit hardest: oil and gas). And what does the hyper-vulnerability to the storm of the sick, poor, and elderly tell us about the kind of safety nets we need to weave, given the rocky future we have already locked in?

With thousands displaced from their homes, we might even discuss the undeniable links between climate disruption and migration -- from the Sahel to Mexico -- and use the opportunity to debate the need for an immigration policy that starts from the premise that the US shares a great deal of responsibility for the key forces driving millions from their homes.

But we don't live in a world that allows for that kind of serious, measured debate. We live in a world in which the governing powers have shown themselves all too willing to exploit the diversion of a large-scale crisis, and the very fact that so many are focused on life-and-death emergencies, to ram through their most regressive policies, policies that push us further along a road that is rightly understood as a form of "climate apartheid."

We saw it after Hurricane Katrina, when Republicans wasted no time pushing for a fully privatized school system, weakening labor and tax law, increasing oil and gas drilling and refining, and flinging the door open to mercenary companies like Blackwater.

Mike Pence was a key architect of that highly cynical project -- and we should expect nothing less in Harvey's wake, now that he and Trump are at the wheel.

We are already seeing Trump using the cover of Hurricane Harvey to push through the hugely controversial pardoning of Joe Arpaio, as well as the further militarization of US police forces.

These are particularly ominous moves in the context of news that immigration checkpoints are continuing to operate wherever highways are not flooded (a serious disincentive for migrants to evacuate), as well as in the context of municipal officials tough-talking about maximum penalties for any "looters" (it's well worth remembering that after Katrina, several African-American residents of New Orleans were shot by police amid this kind of rhetoric.)

In short, the right will waste no time exploiting Harvey, and any other disaster like it, to peddle ruinous false solutions, such as militarized police, more oil and gas infrastructure, and privatized services. Which means there is a moral imperative for informed, caring people to name the real root causes behind this crisis -- connecting the dots between climate pollution, systemic racism, underfunding of social services, and overfunding of police.

We also need to seize the moment to lay out intersectional solutions, ones that dramatically lower emissions while battling all forms of inequality and injustice (something we have tried to lay out at The Leap and which groups, such as the Climate Justice Alliance, have been advancing for a long time.)

And it has to happen right now – precisely when the enormous human and economic costs of inaction are on full public display. If we fail, if we hesitate out of some misguided idea of what is and is not appropriate during a crisis, it leaves the door wide open for ruthless actors to exploit this disaster for predictable and nefarious ends.

It's also a hard truth that the window for having these debates is vanishingly small. We won't be having any kind of public policy debate after this emergency subsides; the media will be back to obsessively covering Trump's tweets and other palace intrigues.

So while it may feel unseemly to be talking about root causes while people are still trapped in their homes, this is realistically the only time there is any sustained media interest whatsoever in talking about climate change. It's worth recalling that Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord -- an event that will reverberate globally for decades to come -- received roughly two days of decent coverage. Then it was back to Russia round-the-clock.

A little more than a year ago, Fort McMurray, the town at the heart of the Alberta boom in tar sands oil, nearly burned to the ground. For a time, the world was transfixed by the images of vehicles lined up on a single highway, with flames closing in on either side. At the time, we were told that it was insensitive and victim-blaming to talk about how climate change was exacerbating wildfires like this one.

Most taboo was making any connection between our warming world and the industry that powers Fort McMurray and employed the majority of the evacuees, which is a particularly high-carbon form of oil. The time wasn't right; it was a moment for sympathy, aid, and no hard questions.

But of course by the time it was deemed appropriate to raise those issues, the media spotlight had long since moved on. And today, as Alberta pushes for at least three new oil pipelines to accommodate its plans to greatly increase tar sands production, that horrific fire and the lessons it could have carried almost never come up.

There is a lesson in that for Houston. The window for providing meaningful context and drawing important conclusions is short. We can't afford to blow it.

Talking honestly about what is fueling this era of serial disasters -- even while they're playing out in real time -- isn't disrespectful to the people on the front lines. In fact, it is the only way to truly honor their losses, and our last hope for preventing a future littered with countless more victims.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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