Climate confusion and the $4.5-billion Kinder Morgan pipeline bailout

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      It was another frustrating night watching the CBC's flagship TV news program, The National.

      Yesterday, I turned on the tube to see how our publicly funded broadcaster covered the Trudeau government's decision to purchase Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline system for $4.5 billion.

      Many, many billions more will be spent building the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.

      If it's completed, this will increase diluted bitumen shipments from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day to the Lower Mainland.

      Once again, to my chagrin, there was no exploration on The National about the implications of this decision on the climate.

      Nor was there any analysis of Canada's capacity to meet its commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement as a result of Trudeau barging ahead. 

      It was a similar story on CTV News.

      The public is clearly interested in this topic. Yesterday when I wrote about the links between the Kinder Morgan announcement and the climate, it was the third-most read article on this website.

      It received more page views than all four other articles about the Kinder Morgan deal that were posted on Tuesday (May 29).

      It's exasperating that media organizations as large and as influential as CTV and CBC's national newsrooms couldn't scrape together enough resources to even post a graphic on-screen about global greenhouse gas emissions.

      It's almost unimaginable that either newsroom would do a documentary on the climate implications of the Kinder Morgan project.

      Alberta premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau know they won't face tough questions about climate change from the vast majority of Canadian journalists.

      CBC tears into banks, but not oil companies

      Climate-conscious Canadians are inclined to attribute the failure to cover climate change to the advertising influence of Big Oil.

      But other major advertisers, notably the airline companies and the banks, are regularly ripped to shreds in the national media, particularly on CBC.

      Why is this the case?

      One reason is that many Canadians are not intellectually or emotionally tuned into the climate crisis. 

      This means there isn't as much web traffic for these types of stories. In an era when journalists' output is constantly measured, that can dissuade coverage.

      That's a problem.

      There's also more of a pushback by the climate-change-denial movement than there ever is over investigative reports about malfeasance by banks or airlines.

      But this morning, it dawned upon me that there's another factor: overall ignorance about climate change within newsrooms.

      There's a steep learning curve when it comes to understanding the impact of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.

      Wrapping one's mind around feedback loops isn't easy.

      Most people, including journalists, don't understand that when the average global temperature rises around 2 °C above the period before the Industrial Revolution, we lose control over the situation.

      At that point, the deadly combination of the loss of Arctic, Antarctic, and Greenland ice means less sunlight will be reflected back into the atmosphere, raising sea levels and warming the oceans.

      If there's less cold water near Greenland, that interferes with the Gulf Stream.

      Once the oceans warm to a certain point, massive amounts of carbon dioxide will likely be released.

      Think of it like a glass of beer going flat at room temperature and all the fizz escaping into the air.

      Only with the oceans, this fizz is a heat-trapping gas that will accelerate the warming of the Earth.

      That's to say nothing of the potential massive release of methane from areas ringing the Arctic Ocean and carbon from the soil as the planet warms.

      Methane is a far more potent heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide, even though it doesn't remain in the atmosphere nearly as long.

      The melting of glaciers and snowcaps will radically affect agriculture, likely leading to famines in heavily populated countries like India, Pakistan, and China.

      That's a recipe for strife and civil war, not to mention the movement of tens of millions of refugees.

      Much of Bangladesh could find itself under water for extended periods of the year.

      The National's new hosts are younger than their predecessor, Peter Mansbridge, but there's no indication that they're rethinking how the show should cover climate change.

      There are pockets of expertise

      The National on CBC has an environmental specialist, Margo McDiarmid

      I've concluded that some on staff see that as her beat so they don't need to worry about covering all these unpleasant climate-related realities, let alone understanding all of this.

      Yet these same staff are increasingly being dispatched to report on extreme weather events, including floods and forest fires, that are linked to climate change.

      The problem for viewers is that McDiarmid is not spending much time on the Kinder Morgan pipeline story because there are so many other environmental issues that warrant attention.

      And these same viewers are not receiving the context they deserve around developments like Trudeau's bailout of a Texas pipeline company.

      McDiarmid isn't the only climate-literate broadcaster at the CBC, of course. After all, this is the network that gave David Suzuki a program.

      The host of Quirks & Quarks, Bob McDonald and Cross Country Checkup host Duncan McCue are also on top of this issue.

      The same can be said of CBC meteorologist Joanna Wagstaffe and CBC national news producer James Roberts.

      But as a viewer, I don't get the impression that the hosts of The National and particularly Rosemary Barton (as well as her At Issue political panel) appreciate the magnitude of the threat.

      CTV is even worse in this regard. Evan Solomon's CTV Question Period sometimes comes across like an extended commercial for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

      I suspect that many climate-conscious Canadians collectively cringe whenever they watch the host and the panellists talk about pipelines.

      Journalism schools need to step up their game

      This is an issue that warrants serious attention from Canadian journalism schools, whether they're offering graduate programs or training reporters at colleges and institutes.

      Environmental reporting and climate literacy need to be embedded in journalism curricula across the country.

      It must be taught by those who have genuine expertise and strong communications skills, and not by generalists whose passion resides in other areas.

      It's the only way that this situation will change.

      Even if the baby boom and Generation X journos have gone missing in action on the biggest news story of the century, it doesn't mean the next crop of reporters and editors can't do a better job.

      This is a life-and-death situation for people dealing with the consequences of climate change.

      And with carbon dioxide levels exceeding 410 parts per million in the atmosphere, we're running out of time.