It's hard not to feel a sense of deep despair when observing the Canadian media's coverage of the climate crisis.
As someone who has been writing articles about rising greenhouse gas emissions for a quarter century, it's been utterly depressing seeing how this issue has been grossly underplayed—and sometimes outright denied—by influential writers and broadcasters in Canada's largest newsrooms.
I recently told a UBC practicum student that I believe the Canadian national media's coverage of climate change could be the worst in the western industrialized world. It's certainly been inferior to what's being offered to residents of European countries.
He was surprised to hear this. But as someone who's been watching national newscasts, listening to national radio programs, and reading national newspapers for much of my adult life, I can't count the number of times I've felt exasperated over how this issue has been addressed.
The future of humanity on Earth is at stake.
Yet I suspect that even this can't motivate some highly paid broadcasters and columnists to read a single book on the subject.
If it weren't for "fringe" outlets like the Narwhal, National Observer, Tyee, Huffington Post, Common Ground, Discourse, Rabble, and Ricochet, there would have been remarkably little worth reading, viewing, or listening to on this topic in recent years in the media.
It appears that Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May shares my concern.
At the recent Vancouver Pride parade, I asked her what letter grade she would give the Canadian mainstream media for its coverage of the climate over the past decade.
She responded by saying an "F".
Sure, the brilliant David Suzuki has been the host of a nationally televised TV science program. And the nationally broadcast CBC radio show Quirks & Quarks, hosted by Bob McDonald, sometimes has exceptional coverage of climate science. But these are like rare oases in a vast desert of nothingness, with the occasional exception, in the national media.
Now, those who run Canadian national media outlets may be about to get their comeuppance.
On Thursday (August 8) evening, Vancouver members of the Extinction Rebellion will gather at St. James Community Square (3214 West 10th Avenue) to discuss the latest climate science and discuss solutions.
For those unaware of the Extinction Rebellion, it's a nonviolent, radical, and loosely affiliated international group of climate-justice advocates who disrupt everyday activities with direct action to draw attention to the crisis. The local chapter held its first gathering late last year.
Its demands are three-pronged:
1. Governments must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions [including the media] to communicate the urgency for change.
2. Governments must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
3. Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens' Assembly on climate and ecological justice.
Many of those who've participated in the Extinction Rebellion's direct actions know that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports are quite conservative.
That's because computer models forecasting rising average global temperatures often don't take into account feedback loops.
Those include ocean acidification that can lead to huge releases of carbon. Then there is the potential of mass escape of methane from melting permafrost in Arctic, as well as the release of huge amounts of carbon from soils degraded by forestry, agriculture, and other activities.
To put it bluntly, we're in deep shit.
The Extinction Rebellion is going to be taking action to bring this to Canadians' attention, just as it has done in other countries since its creation last year.
This week in Brisbane, Australia, for example, the Extinction Rebellion blocked traffic and heckled the mayor during a news conference.
In September, the Extinction Rebellion plans to shut down London Fashion Week, according to the Independent.
Earlier this month, it blocked traffic in five British cities in a demonstration of nonviolent resistance.
It has also targeted the advertising industry, blocking the entrance for an awards event earlier this year in Cannes, France. That's because demonstrators felt that advertising executives weren't telling the truth.
And in June, Extinction Rebellion demonstrators in New York City shut down traffic on Eighth Avenue outside the New York Times building to stage a die-in. This was to protest the newspaper's coverage of the climate crisis.
Extinction Rebellion demonstrators often have no qualms about being arrested.
In fact, one of its tactics is to clog up the courts to send a message that the status quo is unacceptable.
There will be those in the Canadian media who will, quite predictably, slam these tactics as these protests gather momentum in Canada.
The defenders of the expansion of Alberta oil production and the B.C. liquefied-natural-gas industry will initially find that they have supportive friends in the national media. They have almost always offered sympathetic coverage to the establishment on these matters.
But those in the Canadian national media may be underestimating the appeal of the Extinction Rebellion nowadays, when the carbon dioxide equivalent count exceeds 415 parts per million in the atmosphere.
These protesters have already shown that they're not afraid to take on Big Media directly, especially when they feel that influential outlets like the New York Times are not telling the whole truth about humanity's predicament.
In comparison to the New York Times, national Canadian media outlets have been mere flunkies on this topic.
Recently, Global National beefed up its climate cred by hiring respected environmental journalist Mike De Souza.
It's late in the game, but a welcome move for those who are paying attention to the issue.
There are no others currently working in national newsrooms who've demonstrated anywhere near his zeal to alert Canadians to what's really going on. One of the CBC's better environmental journalists, Chris Brown, was shipped off to Moscow.
We've had to rely on authors like Naomi Klein, Ziya Tong, Peter Carter and Elizabeth Woodworth, Am Johal and Matt Hern, and Suzuki, among others.
In a perfect world, there would be no need for an Extinction Rebellion.
People with common sense in authority would see the reality, understand the science, and start making monumental changes to the way energy is produced, transportation systems operate, vehicles are powered, and buildings are constructed.
The public would understand that there have been massive advances in the storage of renewable energy and that the cost of generating green power has crashed.
And the media would make coverage of this a priority, focusing enormous attention on the environmental, legal, health, socioeconomic, and financial impacts of climate change.
A good start would be steady and repeated coverage about the concept of carbon budgets and stranded assets to educate the public about the limits to fossil-fuel production
But that's not happening nearly as much as is necessary.
We have politicians on both sides of the aisle in the B.C. legislature peddling the fiction that fracking natural gas that is later liquefied and transported overseas will magically result in fewer overall global emissions.
"Journalists" routinely repeat this rubbish without even acknowledging that significant amounts of carbon are released in the supply chain.
So in response to all of this, we're likely to see a great deal of disruptive protests and plenty of arrests in a variety of locations.
Some demonstrations will undoubtedly occur within a stone's throw of Canadian newsrooms.
On these occasions, protesters might want to consider holding up mock media report cards.
These could show letter grades for individual columnists, talk-show hosts, TV anchors, editors, and news directors for their efforts to alert their readers, viewers, and listeners to the most important issue facing the world.
I suspect that like Elizabeth May, the demonstrators might award an "F" from time to time. Or an "I" for incomplete or, in the case of some who write for the National Post, "MIA" for missing in action.