A new book by Canadian science journalist Ziya Tong contains a central idea that spurred me to reflect on the state of political reporting in our country.
In The Reality Bubble: Blind Sports, Hidden Truths, and the Dangerous Illusions That Shape Our World, she reveals how human beings often don't perceive things that are obvious to other species and that exist in nature.
It's a compelling journey into the history of scientific discoveries and a palpable and humbling exposition on the shortcomings of our ability to comprehend.
“To see the world clearly, we must first become aware of the veil; we must recognize our blind spots,” Tong advises readers. “The way we've come to perceive reality is so deeply ingrained, so socially and intergenerationally enrooted, that we've lost sight of the manner in which we think. This is important, because what we think creates reality.
“Clock time, with the five-day workweek and the nine to five of the 'real' world, exists not because of some cosmic temporal order but because we invented it, we maintain it, and it's become the reality we adhere to,” she continues. “Inheriting a reality makes it that much harder to see it for what it is.”
The long-time cohost of The Daily Planet TV show points out in her book that imaginative thinker Isaac Newton revealed the invisible force of gravity. She goes into great detail about how the father of microbiology, Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek, exposed the reality of invisible "animalcules".
Tong, who did her undergraduate work at UBC, also delves into why Copernicus and Galileo concluded that Earth circumnavigated the sun. That was a heretical idea in its day.
Nowadays, the compelling scientific reality, largely hidden from public consciousness, is that we're on the eve of a planetary apocalypse.
This reality is also mostly invisible in the day-to-day coverage of politics in Canada.
In fact, Tong uses this exact term—planetary apocalypse—to describe the fragile state of the natural world as a result of human beings' seemingly insatiable desire to own things, shrinking biodiversity, and the relentless rise in human-generated greenhouse gas emissions.
“And now more than ever, we need to see clearly, because we are at a critical juncture in human history,” she writes. “Our species is locked on a deadly collision course, one that threatens to extinguish life on Earth precisely because our vision of reality is incompatible with scientific truth. Instead, what we call 'common sense' thinking has blinded us for far too long.”
This misplaced “common sense” was obvious in a recent Times Colonist editorial moaning about a street protest over the federal government's approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline. The deep concern expressed by local residents was characterized as a "plodding farce".
It was apparent in CKNW Radio host Mike Smyth's sneering response to a Vancouver council motion that seeks to recover costs imposed on taxpayers for expensive infrastructure to adapt to rising sea levels and other consequences of the climate crisis.
It was on display during a recent CBC At Issue panel on the National when moderator Rosemary Barton declared that she couldn't see how environmental issues would be a major issue in the upcoming federal election.
Postmedia went even further this morning in the Edmonton Journal, publishing a climate-change-denying column by former Wildrose party leader and Fraser Institute alumna Danielle Smith.
This blindness also exists in the way that the national media covered this week's gathering of first ministers in Edmonton.
Like stenographers, the journalists dutifully reported Jason Kenney’s meanderings on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion without raising hard questions about the project’s downstream emissions.
They've been estimated at 71.4 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per year—more than the entire annual output in British Columbia.
Most of the premiers also seemed blithe to this reality.
This conventional, old-school style of political reporting continues in Canada, with a few exceptions.
This is occurring even though more and more Canadians are recognizing the magnitude of the threat to humanity posed by the climate breakdown.
Frankly, I find it exasperating.
South of the border, a group called Extinction Rebellion recently held a demonstration outside the offices of the New York Times to protest its relatively tame coverage of the planetary emergency.
Today, young people will be holding climate-strike protests outside other U.S. news outlets, including FOX.
Before long, I expect that we'll start witnessing demonstrations in front of the offices of mainstream Canadian newsrooms, which have done a far worse job than the Times.
Giant media corporations, like CTV and CBC, are content to confine much of their climate coverage to shows like The Daily Planet and The Nature of Things.
This hives this subject off from newscasts more focused on the latest shooting or vicissitudes of the economy than the future of humanity on Earth.
The evidence of the crisis can be observed in smoky B.C. cities during forest-fire season, blistering heat waves in Europe, once-in-500-year floods repeatedly occurring along Canadian river systems, and devastating hurricanes and typhoons in the Caribbean and Asia.
Sure, it gets covered when something really dramatic happens.
But Canadian politicians like Justin Trudeau, Jason Kenney, or Andrew Scheer are never asked really hard questions, like: "How worried are you that one day, you'll be hauled before a courtroom or a public inquiry to answer why you were so blind to the climate crisis when it was so obvious to scientists?"
It's already a scary situation for anyone paying attention to what these scientists have been saying for years.
Tong's book is an attempt to alert the public to how the natural world really functions. Nature is the basis for life itself. And she shows why we, as a species, have been fairly blind to how this actually unfolds for a whole bunch of reasons.
“According to the World Wildlife Fund, by 2020 we will have seen a staggering 67 percent decline in wildlife populations around the planet since 1970,” Tong writes. “With threats from food systems and agriculture, habitat loss, and species exploitation, more than half of vertebrate life—more than half our wild mammals, birds, and fish—has already gone.”
For many citizens, this apocalypse is a voting issue, even if political journalists don't feel that this is part of their beat.
Notwithstanding Barton’s comment, it will affect the next federal election in Canada because widespread species extinction and the climate crisis are now too obvious for many voters to overlook.
It's hard to remain ignorant when reality is staring people right in the face.
I will go out on a limb right now and predict that the unfolding ecological holocaust will lead to the election of New Democrat Svend Robinson in Burnaby North–Seymour. And when this happens, some of the journalists in the Ottawa press gallery will express surprise, mainly because of the reality bubble enveloping them.
Some of them seemed dumbfounded when Green candidate Paul Manly recently won a landslide victory in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith by-election.
For these reasons, I'm recommending that anyone covering politics in Canada take some time this summer to read up on the climate breakdown.
There's a veritable climate-crisis publishing boom, in part because the mainstream media has not done nearly enough to satisfy the public's curiosity with its coverage.
For novices to the subject, a very good start would be Ziya Tong's The Reality Bubble.