Climate crisis behooves Canadian media to craft better response to disinformation

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      (Warning: this commentary is longer than what often appears on media websites.)

      On Boxing Day, I read an enlightening essay by NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen about the mainstream U.S. media.

      It highlighted the "strategic blindness" of NBC political director and Meet the Press host Chuck Todd and others in dealing with the Trump administration and the Republican Party.

      Rosen described Todd's response to the onslaught of lies as "malpractice" and "willful blindness to what the Republican Party had become".

      "The right wing ecosystem for news does not operate like the rest of the country’s news system," Rosen pointed out. "And increasingly conservative politics is getting sucked into conservative media. It makes more sense to see Fox News and the Trump White House as two parts of the same organism." 

      Yet Meet the Press and other mainstream current-affairs network programs operate on the premise of a "symmetry between the two major political parties", according to Rosen.

      He insisted that mainstream media figures like Todd have no idea how to respond to the spread of disinformation that occurs on their shows.

      Here in Canada, media outlets face a similar predicament, though not quite as obvious because Fox News doesn't have a large footprint in this country.

      The Conservative Party of Canada and its provincial allies, including the B.C. Liberals, refuse to acknowledge the gravity of the climate crisis.

      They're ready to march straight into the abyss by promoting more fossil-fuel production and more fossil-fuel exports.

      The Liberal Party of Canada professes to accept the reality of climate change. But in government, it continues approving fossil-fuel projects, ensuring that the country won't meet its international obligations under the Paris Agreement.

      Both major parties are aided by mainstream media reporters, columnists, and editors, who are willfully blind to the magnitude of the problem. And it can be argued that many of them, like Todd, are committing "malpractice" by failing to focus sufficient attention on the climate. 

      Since Donald Trump was elected in 2016, the U.S. mainstream media has given him a platform to spread lies and disinformation.

      Canada's major issue is fossil-fuel production

      Meanwhile, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers forecasts oil production in Canada to rise from 2.9 million barrels per day in 2018 to 4.25 million barrels per day by 2035.

      CAPP states that global demand will rise by 12 percent by 2040, reaching 106.3 million barrels per day.

      It's surreal.

      But this math is very rarely seriously challenged in the Canadian mainstream media. Nor is it often juxtaposed with the national carbon budget under the Paris Agreement.

      The Global Carbon Budget project noted this month that annual emissions of carbon dioxide equivalents in 2019 will probably be 62 percent higher than when the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was prepared in 1990. That's appalling.

      "Oil Co2 emissions are dominated by national transport with almost linear growth over five decades," the Global Carbon Budget project stated. "Road transport is half the total growing at 1.9% while national and international aviation is 8% growing at 3% per year."

      In B.C., the NDP government talks a good game on the climate. Its CleanBC plan will take the province part of the way toward its legislated 2030 emissions targets.

      But Premier John Horgan remains on exceptionally good terms with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Both support a greenhouse-gas-spewing LNG plant that will gobble up an increasingly large share of the province's carbon budget.

      This will probably make it impossible for B.C. to meet its targets, according to Green MLA and climate scientist Andrew Weaver. 

      By 2030, Horgan and his environment minister, George Heyman, will likely have sailed into retirement, leaving the problem for future generations of politicians.

      Horgan also shows no signs of using every tool in the toolbox, as he promised, to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

      It will generate more downstream emissions each year than those emitted by the entire province of British Columbia on an annual basis. This fact is almost never mentioned in mainstream media coverage of the issue.

      The $9.3-billion pipeline project won't lower gasoline prices in B.C., as commentator Martyn Brown has documented. And this mania for fossil-fuel production is leaving Canada ill-equipped to adapt to a world in which there's far greater demand for renewables.

      Wildfires a sympton of huge problem

      This year, about 50,000 square kilometres of land have been scorched by wildfires in Australia.

      That's double the amount of land burned in British Columbia over two springs and summers in the record wildfire years of 2017 and 2018.

      This was entirely predictable more than a decade ago, according to climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf.

      In November, he coauthored a commentary in Nature stating that the "growing threat of abrupt and irreversible climate changes must compel political and economic action on emissions".

      The scientists pointed out that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change introduced the idea of tipping points two decades ago.

      Back then, it was believed that "large-scale discontinuities" in the climate system were likely only if global warming exceeded 5 °C above pre-industrial levels.

      That was reassuring at the time. But more recent IPCC special reports have come to a sharply different conclusion—these tipping points are now possible if warming only increases between 1 and 2 °C.

      This should be a wake-up call to media around the world because the average world temperature has already risen by about 1 °C over the pre-industrial period.

      The scientists also noted that Greenland's ice sheet "could be doomed" at 1.5 °C of warming.

      At 2 °C of warming, 99 percent of tropical corals are likely to be lost, having a devastating impact on marine biodiversity.

      "With the Arctic warming at least twice as quickly as the global average, the boreal forest in the subarctic is increasingly vulnerable," Rahmstorf and the others wrote. "Already, warming has triggered large-scale insect disturbances and an increase in fires that have led to dieback of North American boreal forests, potentially turning some regions from a carbon sink to a carbon source."

      And on it goes.

      Yet it's full steam ahead when it comes to Canadian and global oil production—with the full support of Canadian premiers and the prime minister.

      Alberta premier Jason Kenney and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appear to be on different sides of the political spectrum, but they both agree on ramping up fossil-fuel production.
      Adam Scotti/PMO

      Symmetry just isn't working very well

      So, getting back to NYU professor Rosen's essay, how should the media respond to politicians who mislead the public on important issues like climate change?

      During the recent federal election campaign, I chose not to accept an invitation to interview Max Bernier, leader of the People's Party of Canada.

      It just felt wrong to give a platform to a politician who was going to spew nonsense about global warming and immigration.

      I also had a problem with Bernier campaigning vigorously for a candidate who wanted to roll back the LGBT-friendly SOGI 123 initiative in B.C. schools. 

      I wasn't put on this Earth to help him undermine the human rights of transgender kids.

      The old paradigm of symmetry, as Rosen points out, isn't working in a world in which politicians deliberately pick fights with the media to pander to their base.

      It's time to tell the truth about the climate—and the politicians be damned.

      That should be the new media standard on national current-affairs shows like CBC TV's Power & Politics, CTV Question Period, Global TV's The West Block, and CBC Radio's The House.

      Nobody's under any obligation to give a platform to the likes of Bernier or Alberta premier Jason Kenney, for that matter.

      Especially if they're spreading disinformation in order to promote an industry that's threatening the very existence of millions of people on Earth.