A Convenient Excuse

By WEN STEPHENSON  |  November 5, 2012

COVER_Climate-Silence_ChristopherHarting
On October 2, I led a climate protest inside the offices of the Boston Globe.

OK, it was really a meeting in a small conference room with editorial page editor Peter Canellos and members of his staff. But it was, in essence, a protest.

I used to be a card-carrying member of the mainstream media; just a few years ago, I was the editor of the Globe's Ideas section. Peter is a former colleague.

With me was Craig Altemose, founder and executive director of Better Future Project, a Cambridge-based non-profit dedicated to climate action, on whose working board I serve as a volunteer. We were joined by two members of BFP's advisory board: MIT's Kerry Emanuel, one of the country's leading climate scientists (and, until recently, a Republican); and Boston College's Juliet Schor, a sociologist and economist who is a respected thinker on climate and the economy. Last year, Altemose was arrested protesting the Keystone XL pipeline at the White House along with another advisory board member, Bill McKibben of 350.org, and 1251 other concerned citizens.

After a quick round of introductions, I explained to my former Globe colleagues that I wasn't there to "save the planet" or to protect some abstraction called "the environment." I'm really not an environmentalist, and never have been. No, I said, I was there for my kids: my son, who's 12, and my daughter, who's 8. And not only my kids — all of our kids, everywhere. Because on our current trajectory, it's entirely possible that we'll no longer have a livable climate — one that allows for stable, secure societies to survive — within the lifetimes of today's children.

And I told them that I was there, in that room, because the national conversation we're having about this situation, this emergency, is utterly inadequate —or, really, nonexistent. And I looked Peter in the eye, and told him that I'm sorry, but that's completely unacceptable to me. If we can't speak honestly about this crisis — if we can't lay it on the line — then how can we look at ourselves in the mirror?

Since I had requested the meeting, I told Peter that I hoped to frame the discussion around two points:

First: We need to see a much greater sense of urgency in the media's coverage of climate change, including in the Globe's editorial and opinion pages. This is more than an environmental crisis: it's an existential threat, and it should be treated like one, without fear of sounding alarmist, rather than covered as just another special interest, something only environmentalists care about. And it should be treated as a central issue in this election, regardless of whether the candidates or the political media are talking about it.

Second: Business-as-usual, politics-as-usual, and journalism-as-usual are failing us when it comes to addressing the climate threat. If there's to be any hope for the kind of bold action we need, a great deal of pressure must be brought from outside the system, in the form of a broad-based grassroots movement, in order to break the stranglehold of the big-money fossil fuel lobby on our politics. And in fact, there is a movement emerging on campuses and in communities across the country — especially here in New England — and the Globe should be paying attention to it.

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