Posted on in On Our Radar by Betsy Rosenberg

It’s Time To Identify the
Green Elephant in the Room


By now it should be apparent that our democracy is treading water, and not just in the halls of DC—more dysfunctional than ever—or in Miami, where the flooding of city streets on sunny days is now a reality.

I am referring to something that rarely gets voiced, if identified at all. It’s America’s eco-literacy crisis, and it is now more painfully clear than ever before. The president, too many politicians, and too much of the public are suffering from a failure to grasp urgent and obvious scientific realities. Whether by design or default, being devoid of facts has somehow become okay in a country that was supposed to be the smartest and strongest in all the land, though not the healthiest.

Where else, and why else, would there be enough “poorly educated” voters to elect a leader so arrogant about his ignorance just on the climate crisis alone? We are facing many other environmental threats, but most are exacerbated by a warming world, the mother of all eco-challenges. How else could a president in 2017 get away with appointing to major positions three climate stooges, most notably EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt?

Even though it has been several weeks, I am still reeling from the EPA head’s ability to look straight into a TV network camera (CNBC’s) and with a straight face declare that humancaused carbon emissions do not contribute to climate change. Never mind that he is running, and ruining, the same agency he sued over a dozen times while Oklahoma’s attorney general. How about Rick Perry heading the Energy Department—where nuclear physicists and climate scientists toil—the very agency he was not sharp enough to recall for his chopping list in the 2012 presidential debates? And with the man who led ExxonMobil through years of climate cover-up now leading the State Department, shouldn’t we all be losing sleep knowing the foxes, fueled by Fox News’s hot-air echo chamber, are not only guarding the henhouse but intent on burning it down?

Speaking of the networks, you may have missed the latest analysis of television news coverage on perhaps the greatest threat to humanity. According to Media Matters, major news channels spent just 50 minutes on climate change coverage, combined, in 2016—and in one of the most important presidential elections in my memory. As the planet warmed for yet another record year, what we’re doing to Mother Nature got 66% less coverage than it did in 2015.


Presidential polling, tweets, salacious quotes caught on videotape, wiretapping accusations, and political pundits took up all the air in the room. As our atmosphere warms and its concentration of CO2 reaches 407 parts per million while climatologists say 350 PPM is the likely “safe level,” there was no lack of important stories and records to report. A warming, acidifying ocean killed a reported 22% of coral on the Great Barrier Reef last year alone. Throw in a rash of alarming weather events and the signing of the Paris climate deal, and it is hard to imagine how the so-called “news leaders” could do such a good job of minimizing, if not ignoring, all these precipitous events. Then there were the presidential debates, where nary a single question was asked about how the finalists would address a warming world. Bernie Sanders brought it up every chance he could, and even Hillary Clinton mentioned climate change in a passing reference during her contests against the man who would become president. A huge opportunity was missed by reporters, if not by Hillary, in not grilling Trump on his dismissal of human-caused climate change as a hoax.

Such nonsense paved the way for Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, to call climate research funding a “waste of money.” And on it goes—slashing EPA budgets and staff, cutting environmental safeguards along with the purge, news that gets lost in the shuffle of daily scandals and investigations.

Where is the public outrage? Given that the health of our families and futures are in jeopardy with this scorched-earth presidency and its hatchet men, something is truly amiss in the relative silence. Yes, environmental groups are raising a ruckus and organizing pipeline protests, but where are the average citizens? Not in the streets, other than the climate-concerned who joined the historic Women’s March. Where is the nightly news, and why are they failing to cover the fact that humanity is heading for a climate cliff?

I contend that a big part of the reason is that Americans are still mostly what I call CODs (complacent, oblivious, and in denial), whether for psychological or sociological reasons. Too many Americans are all too happy to let someone else solve the problem, if they even acknowledge we are in a bit of a planetary pickle. However, if there previously was any sense that our government was addressing mounting ecological threats to our ability to thrive, that wishful thinking is no longer tenable.

So what happens when the country’s leaders are either intentionally or ignorantly in the dark, and news media does not think the sixth mass extinction underway, the first caused by humans, is worthy of a mention in their broadcasts? What happens is you get a preoccupied public and a disengaged democracy. For without an informed citizenry—and by all accounts our collective eco-IQ is in the barely passing range, if that—democracy cannot work. If ever there was a sign of it not working, it is everything that is now unraveling. However, unlike immigration, tax cuts, or health care, the matter of our weakening climate cannot be put off after years of too much neglect. Mother Nature will not wait for us to wake up and smell the carbon.

So what will it take to get America off its gasses? It will take my former profession, broadcast news, to offer recurring programming that treats the planet going down like it covers a plane going down—from all angles. Mostly we need content accessible to, and by, the mass public that also shares the good news about solutions, green jobs, investment opportunities, an increasingly affordable clean energy future, and lastly hope. Because unlike doomed passengers on a crashing plane, we can take over the controls and change course. But only if we know what we’re dealing with and what we must do to avert disaster.

Betsy Rosenberg is a speaker, blogger, and former CBS Radio news anchor and reporter. Over the past decade she has hosted and produced hundreds of programs on the former Air America network and the Internet.

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