A Convenient Excuse

By WEN STEPHENSON  |  November 5, 2012

The climate crisis is the biggest story of this, or any, generation — so why the hell aren't you flooding the climate "zone," putting it on the front pages and leading newscasts with it every day? Or even once a week? Why aren't you looking constantly at how the implications of climate change and its impact pervade almost any topic — not just environment and energy stories?

And yet, I'm less worried about the news pages, where editors do seem to be slowly waking up, than about the opinion pages and magazines, the commentariat and wonkish mainstream blogs — the "thought leaders," the Very Serious People who define the conventional wisdom and the parameters of what passes for serious discussion. Because here, there's essentially no debate of any kind that reflects the scale and urgency of the crisis. Forget the pathetic and deeply cynical climate silence in the presidential debates — and forget CNN's Candy Crowley, who can't be bothered to select a question from "all you climate change people." Even on the left and center-left, climate is barely mentioned when the stakes of this election are discussed — and when the topic does come up, it's without any sense of urgency. Witness the recent endorsement issues of The Nation, the New Republic, and the New Yorker. It's as though many of the best journalistic minds of multiple generations quail at the thought of seriously addressing what a crisis of this magnitude implies about their long-held assumptions — the unquestioned primacy of endless economic growth, for example, or the notion that there can be economic justice without climate justice.

The same goes for these pages: why has the Phoenix covered the Occupy movement and not, until now, the climate movement?

At the end of the day, I think we agree, a journalist's ultimate responsibility is to the public. And yet, by that measure, you are failing. You are failing to treat the greatest crisis we've ever faced like the crisis that it is. Why?

Look, unlike most of your critics, I know you. You're not just names on a page or a screen to me: you're living, breathing human beings, with lives and families. I've shared the stresses and anxieties of journalism in this era. I know how hard you work, and how relatively little (most of) you are paid. I know how insecure your jobs are. And I know that your work — even your very best work — is most often thankless. Believe me. I know.

I also know that you take your responsibility as journalists, as public servants, seriously. Why is it, then, that you are so utterly failing on this all-important topic? I could be wrong, but I think I understand. I'm afraid it has to do with self-image and self-censorship.

Nothing is more important to me as a journalist than my independence. Yes, I'm still a journalist. And I'm as independent as I've ever been — maybe, if you can imagine this, even more so. Because leaving behind my mainstream journalism career has freed me to speak and write about climate and politics in ways that were virtually impossible inside the MSM bubble, where I had to worry about perceptions, and about keeping my job, and whether I'd be seen by my peers and superiors as an advocate. God forbid.

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