A Convenient Excuse

By WEN STEPHENSON  |  November 5, 2012

But that wasn't the conversation Peter was prepared to have — and we never got around to having it.

Canellos, the paper's former Washington bureau chief, was more interested in the short-term politics of the Keystone pipeline debate, and the economic impact of natural gas expansion in Massachusetts, and what raising renewable energy standards would mean for regional jobs. Smart, sensible questions. Balanced. Analytical. Above the fray. In short, what counts as serious on the opinion pages of mainstream American newspapers.

And, it has to be said, they were questions that revealed precisely the kind of narrow, incremental, politically straitjacketed mindset that's leading us off the climate cliff. Indeed, they were the kind of questions that make you wonder whether the speaker is even aware of the cliff we're racing toward — or what planet we're living on.

Yes, the Globe's editorial page supports policies to curb greenhouse emissions. It recently called, in the lead editorial on August 26, for lowering the emissions cap imposed by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which has already reduced carbon emissions from power plants in the Northeast faster than expected.

Good for them. But that same editorial was telling, and representative, in a far more important way. With its underlying message that, hey, we're making real progress here, things are going better than planned — that, in short, we're winning —it revealed an utter failure to grapple with the scale and urgency of the climate crisis. It revealed the same outlook that was on display in that meeting.

But it's not only the Globe. This failure is repeated across the mainstream media landscape — the product of a mindset in which climate change is simply another environmental problem, albeit a particularly complex one for which we'll eventually find a technical fix, mainly by doing more or less the same things we're doing now, only more efficiently and with better technology. It's nothing to get too excited about.

It's certainly not anything to sacrifice your career over.

About a year and a half ago — having left my job as the senior producer of NPR's On Point the year before — I took a deliberate leap of conscience and became a climate activist.

There was no single moment when I knew that I had to jump — any more than there's a single moment when night turns to day. It was a gradual process of coming to see the facts that were right in front of me. In December 2009, while still at On Point (a show that has since done better than most in conveying the urgency of the climate crisis), I watched the collapse of the UN climate talks in Copenhagen, a make-or-break moment for the planet. In the voices of cool-headed climate experts, I now heard the sound of something new: something like fear, and disbelief, and the sound of real anger, bitterness, outrage. Then in the spring and summer of 2010, as it became clear that Congress would fail to pass even the weakest bipartisan climate legislation, and that the president of the United States would fail to lead, and that all the lobbying the environmental movement could muster would fail to match the power of the fossil fuel lobby, I watched the tragedy of our democracy unfold and felt in my gut the futility of a corrupt and paralyzed political system.

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