Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Modest Proposal

Kyle Farmer takes issue with The Star's failure to 'connect the dots' between increasingly destructive weather and climate change:

At a global warming tipping point

What will it take before the Star commits to covering the unfolding crisis of environmental sustainability?

The Star dutifully reports on droughts and floods when they are topical. When they afflict a rich country the news is generally on the front page. When they afflict a poor country we tend to find this news in the World section.

What we don’t get is any credible, informed connecting-of-the-dots, which is that the global increase in droughts and floods is just one of the smoking guns of progressing climate change.

Will it take a certain number of species extinctions before the Star takes notice? Populations of wild pollinators have already diminished by as much as 90 per cent, threatening the global food supply. World-renowned Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson estimates that by the end of this century half of all life on Earth will be extinct.

Dr. Anton Vaks of Oxford has a recently published work suggesting that we are already committed to passing an irreversible global warming tipping point. As such, the actions we take today, right now, will determine the climate of the world we are leaving for our children. By the time they inherit the world we are creating, it might be entirely out of their hands to avert or even slow self-sustaining global warming.

We get daily sections reporting on sports and entertainment. Lately Star readers could be forgiven for thinking that Rob Ford and the Senate are the only news items available. Meanwhile, the world around us is dying.

History will remember us as criminals and fools. They will be amazed that we were too busy guessing the gender of Will and Kate’s baby to report on a looming global warming tipping point. They will be amazed that we followed Justin Bieber’s tweets more closely than rising atmospheric carbon levels. They will wonder how we could have been so selfish and stupid.

Kevin Farmer, Toronto

While I realize that no given hurricane, tornado, drought or flood can be attributed to global warming, here is a simple addition that all papers could make to their reporting that would permit concerned and aware readers everywhere to draw their own inferences:

Each time a destructive weather event takes place, it could be ranked in relation to other such storms occurring, say, within the previous three decades in terms of property damage, loss of life, and economic costs.

Climate change may still be a contentious proposition for some; statistics are far less so.

A perfect illustration of what I am proposing is found in today's Star here, here, and here.


  1. Journalistic objectivity does not mean that events can't or shouldn't be placed in context, Lorne.

    1. Agreed, Owen, and probably a much better use of resources than simply being conduits of the corporate message.

  2. It is fascinating, in a depressing sort of way, how the subject of "tipping points" drifts in and (mainly) out of the public consciousness. It is, after all, these tipping points that ultimately matter - the point at which man-made warming is overtaken by much more powerful natural feedback mechanisms utterly beyond our control.

    Researchers bore holes in Alaskan lake ice and set alight the escaping methane. Russians video streams of methane bubbles reaching the ocean surface from seabed clathrates that are thawing. In our own north, tundra thaws and dries leading to fires that expose the permafrost beneath, the massive greenhouse gas sponge that underlies the global Arctic. The loss of Arctic sea ice and the absorption of ever more solar energy further warming that region is a feedback mechanism. It transmits heat energy into the Arctic atmosphere creating this new, powerful Polar Jet Stream and meandering Rossby Waves that whipsaw the northern hemisphere with sustained droughts and devastating floods.

    A tipping point in a canoe is where water begins spilling in over the gunwale. It usually ends poorly and very quickly. Rarely, however, is it fatal.

    The sort of environmental tipping points that loom large today are unprecedented in human experience. There may be several of varying consequence. Some may be stand alone, others linked so that a worsening in one may be a catalyst for another.

    It's entirely conceivable we have crossed or at the cusp of one or more tipping points that represent the point of critical mass of runaway climate change. Yet as Chomsky points out today in a piece from TomGram, the developed world, the U.S. and Canada in particular, are merely ramping up the effort to extract and burn hydrocarbons as never before.

    1. It is surely a madness that has gripped the industrialized world, Mound, making it even more incumbent for as many voices as possible, both within and outside mainstream journalism, to point out what should be increasingly obvious to more and more people, both victims and observers of weather-related catastrophes: we are in deep deep trouble.

      Good to hear from you, Mound. Hope you are enjoying your hiatus. I also hope you won't mind if I place your comments here within a guest post a bit later on today.

      Oops! I just checked. I see you are back in full force. Welcome back!