A Convenient Excuse

By WEN STEPHENSON  |  November 5, 2012

But in the end, even more than any play of events, or any rational analysis of the hopeless political situation, perhaps it was this: I found it increasingly difficult to look into my children's eyes.

As an editor and producer covering national and global issues since the mid-1990s, I'd always been relatively well informed about climate change. Or so I thought. In fact, like most of my peers, I'd never really wrapped my head around the full implications of climate science, or internalized how little time we have left to make a difference. As I dove into the subject in 2010 and 2011, going deep in a way that time-pressed editors and producers rarely do, I felt an overriding responsibility — especially in light of my own lackluster record covering climate — to engage. If that meant working outside the bounds of mainstream journalism, then so be it.

I knew that if I was really committed to the path of activism, I would almost certainly never be hired again by a mainstream media outfit like WBUR or the Globe, or PBS Frontline (where I was managing editor of the web edition from 2001 to 2004), or even a magazine like The Atlantic (where I was an editor from 1994 to 2001 and served as editorial director of TheAtlantic.com). I knew that once I'd crossed the line to the "other side," there could be no turning back.

Over the past 18 months, I've helped organize and spoken at rallies, joined the board of Better Future Project, and helped launch 350 Massachusetts, a statewide grassroots network, allied with 350.org. And as I've become deeply involved in the climate movement, I've often thought about what I'd say to my old friends and colleagues in the mainstream media if we were all together in the same room, or if I could address them in an open letter.

Now the Phoenix has offered me that opportunity, and this is what I want to say.

Dear friends and colleagues:

This is hard. Coming to grips with the climate crisis is hard. It's frightening. It's infuriating. It's heartbreaking.

Likewise, what I have to say here is hard. But it's honest, and it's necessary. And it's for real.

Our most respected climate scientists, people like NASA's James Hansen and MIT's Kerry Emanuel, as well as global energy experts such as Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency — people who, it's fair to say, may not always agree on politics and policy — are increasingly clear and vocal about one thing: we're rapidly running out of time to address climate change in any meaningful way and avoid the risk of global climate catastrophe, with the incalculable human suffering that it will bring, quite possibly in this century.

In the face of this situation — as much as it pains me to say this — you are failing. Your so-called "objectivity," your bloodless impartiality, are nothing but a convenient excuse for what amounts to an inexcusable failure to tell the most urgent truth we've ever faced.

Let me be clear: the problem isn't simply a matter of "false balance" — for most of you, that debate is largely over, and you no longer balance the overwhelming scientific consensus with the views of fossil-fuel lobby hacks. No, what I'm talking about is your failure to cover the climate crisis as a crisis — one in which countless millions, even billions, of lives are at stake.

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