Climate Breakdown, Extinction and ‘The Most Stupid Boast’
In a recent Guardian advert pleading for readers to hand over money to the paper, leading columnist Marina Hyde declared:
‘My absolute favourite thing about the Guardian is not being told what to write.’
Hyde – or Marina Elizabeth Catherine Dudley-Williams, as she prefers not to be known – was, in fact, making ‘the most stupid boast’ that could be made by a journalist, to quote George Seldes (1890-1995), the US press critic. He was scornful of journalists who proclaimed:
‘I have never been given orders; I am free to do as I like.’
Likewise, the American political writer Michael Parenti once noted:
‘You say what you like, because they like what you say…. you don’t know you’re wearing a leash if you sit by the peg all day.’
Or, as Noam Chomsky told a young, befuddled Andrew Marr:
‘I’m not saying you’re self-censoring. I’m sure you believe everything you say. But what I’m saying is if you believed something different you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.’
Journalists are filtered by the elite-serving propaganda system such that ‘difficult’, ‘crusading’, ‘awkward’, ‘firebrand’ reporters are usually identified and stifled from clambering beyond a few lowly rungs of the career ladder. Or, if they manage not to be ‘let go’ by their employer early on, they learn to conform to generally unspoken rules on behaving as a ‘responsible’ media professional. One such key characteristic is to rarely challenge state-corporate power, or only within carefully circumscribed limits.
Parenti explained the typical career stages of a ‘successful’ journalist:
‘In the early stage, you’re a young crusader and you write an exposé story about the powers that be, and you bring it to your editor and the editor says: “No, kill it. We can’t touch that. Too hot.”
‘Stage two: You get an idea for the story, but you don’t write it and you check with the editor first and he says: “No, won’t fly. No, I think the old man won’t like it. Don’t do that, he has a lot of friends in there and that might get messy.”
‘Stage three: You get an idea for the story and you yourself dismiss it as silly.
‘Stage four: You no longer get the idea for that kind of an exposé story.
‘And I would add a stage five: You then appear on panels, with media critics like me, and you get very angry and indignant when we say that there are biases in the media and you’re not as free and independent as you think.’
Rare voices of truth have been essentially banished from what is erroneously called the ‘mainstream’ media; in other words, the elite-serving state-corporate media. In 2018, John Pilger said in a radio interview:
‘My written journalism is no longer welcome in the Guardian which, three years ago , got rid of people like me in pretty much a purge of those who really were saying what the Guardian no longer says any more.’
All of this is worth emphasising because, as we have explained (see here and here), arguably the worst crime of the state-corporate media is propaganda by omission. It matters for many reasons; not least because the public is not fully informed about climate breakdown, the greatest crisis that humanity has ever faced. In particular, why it is happening, the powerful forces that are primarily responsible, who is blocking progress, and the radical large-scale action that is needed now to avert the worst possible consequences.
The BBC is happy to highlight Russian journalists who are ‘challenging Kremlin censorship’. But the persecution and torture of WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange, imprisoned for four years in Belmarsh Prison as though a terrorist, while awaiting the outcome of his appeal against extradition to the US, is largely ignored by state-corporate media. This sums up the pathetic state of journalism, ‘freedom of speech’ and democracy today.
Earlier this month, Kevin Smith, head of media at New Economy Organisers Network, noted that police were handcuffing climate protesters in Parliament Square on the same day that the Foreign Office was tweeting criticism of press freedom in Russia.
This state oppression of peaceful activism, while mouthing platitudes about a ‘free’ press, needs to be exposed because we are literally fighting for our lives.
We already know that global rates of extinction are currently tens to thousands of times higher than expected without human interference. Scientists have been warning that we have already entered the 6th ‘mass extinction event’ in the Earth’s geological history. As reported by the ScienceAlert website:
‘Ambitious targets intended to slam the brakes on our current mass extinction may already be slipping out of reach barely a year after they were established, new research suggests.’
This is the conclusion from a study of bird and mammal data showing a huge lag, of up to 45 years, between environmental change and its impact on animal populations.
‘This means the historic “peace pact with nature” pledged at the United Nations’ Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) in December last year may already be out of date, as the extent of this lag was not taken into account in projections of future losses.’
An article in the prestigious Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which maintains the well-known ‘Doomsday Clock’, currently standing at 90 seconds to midnight, warned:
‘While observed warming has been close to climate model projections, the impacts have in many instances been faster and even more extreme than the models forecasted [our emphasis].’
‘Recent research has confirmed that tipping points and cascades are already occurring, not at 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius of warming, but right now.’
This is deeply concerning, to put it mildly. Runaway global warming could quickly turbocharge already dangerous global temperature rise. Recall that in March the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that:
‘There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.’
This did generate some coverage at the time, before the media’s narrow spotlight quickly swept away to other topics. But, today, where are all the major news broadcasts and front-page stories about the climate apocalypse that has not simply disappeared? Governments, corporations and big financial institutions are not being challenged robustly and repeatedly by state-corporate journalists who have learned not to scrutinise power too closely. As our previous media alert observed of journalists:
‘It’s all a game to be played for profit – nothing is to be “taken too seriously” by corporate humans who exhibit “an amazing lack of realism” for everything that matters.’
Last month, climate scientists reported that ocean temperatures have risen to new highs. The Earth’s climate crisis, they observed, has now reached ‘uncharted territory’. Warmer oceans mean a more rapid sea level rise as well as accelerated melting of the ice caps. Higher ocean temperatures can be deadly for marine species, including coral which is already suffering extensive bleaching.
Warmer water is also less able to absorb humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions, as well as the excess heat that this has created. In short, the ocean’s ability to act as a ‘global buffer’ for excess carbon dioxide and heat is reaching its limit. Runaway global warming is a real possibility.
Mark Maslin, professor of Earth system science at University College London, warned:
‘Climate scientists were shocked by the extreme weather events in 2021. Many hoped this was just an extreme year. But they continued into 2022 and now they are occurring in 2023. It seems we have moved to a warmer climate system with frequent extreme climate events and record-breaking temperatures that are the new normal.’
Towards the end of an online BBC News article on these latest shocking climate impacts, came highly significant remarks:
‘Several scientists contacted for this story were reluctant to go on the record about the implications.
‘One spoke of being “extremely worried and completely stressed.”’
No further details were provided. Indeed, it is not unusual for such expert comments to be buried towards the end of a news piece.
‘Big Hitters’ Are Bought Functionaries
Crucially, there is little, if any, intense media scrutiny of how governments are doing so little to respond to the dire warnings of climate scientists. In fact, governments are actively making things worse by continuing to subsidise fossil fuel giants, even as they make record profits. Financial institutions are complicit too. In the last 12 months, the ‘Big 5’ UK high street banks – Barclays, HSBC, Santander, NatWest and Lloyds – gave $37 billion in loans to fossil fuel companies to expand production.
But when did you last see the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg grill a government minister, bank chief or corporate boss on climate? What about Andrew Marr? Robert Peston? Or any of the other media ‘big-hitters’? What about the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme? Channel 4 News? ITV News? Where are the Westminster news reports about Prime Ministers’ Questions pointing out that, once again, politicians are ignoring the climate crisis and mass extinction of species, including homo sapiens? Given the stakes for humanity, Westminster politics and political ‘journalism’ are simply a sham.
Take a look at the main channels’ daytime schedule, crammed with shows like ‘Scam Interceptors’, ‘Homes Under the Hammer’, ‘Bargain Hunt’, ‘Loose Women’, ‘Dickinson’s Real Deal’ and ‘Tipping Point’ (a game show that has an ironic title, given that we are now breaching climate tipping points). The public is being force-fed distracting ‘light entertainment’, while we should be fighting for our futures.
We are literally talking about the likely extinction of the human species if radical, large-scale global action is not taken now to turn away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. We also need huge changes in agriculture, transportation, infrastructure, city and town planning, the economic and financial systems, and much more. A responsible, public-interest media would be analysing these issues with as much, if not more, passion and relentless attention as was given to the coronation of a king sitting atop an unjust, hugely-divided class system.
Journalists who proclaim themselves to be ‘free’, and boast that ‘nobody has ever told me what to write’, are mentally chained to a corporate system that is structurally incapable of critiquing itself. The mass media is the propaganda wing of this planetary-destruction system of state power and economic exploitation. Corporate journalists have only the ‘freedom’ to be reliable servants to power and profit, reporting on mere scuffles between different political factions of the establishment. At best, ‘free’ journalists potter around the edges of the state-corporate behemoth that is driving humanity towards the abyss.
Climate scientist Bill McGuire is clear that although climate cataclysm is bearing down upon us, all hope is not yet lost. First, it is vital to understand certain ‘brutal truths’. One is to recognise that the global temperature is already almost 1.3C higher compared with pre-industrial times. The ‘guardrail’ of 1.5C warming, beyond which climate breakdown ‘becomes all-pervasive’ will almost certainly be breached by 2030. Therefore, said McGuire:
‘we must accept the fact that dangerous climate change is certain. Many countries are coalescing around 2050 as a target for achieving net-zero emissions – in other words carbon neutrality – but by then our planet could easily be 2C hotter.’
So, what needs to be done? McGuire continued:
‘To have any chance of a future worth living, we need to slash fossil fuel usage by 2030. The fossil fuel sector was subsidised by governments to the tune of $1 trillion in 2022, and this has to stop now. At the same time banks need to end the funding of new projects while insurance companies must stop insuring fossil fuel infrastructure.’
This will only happen with large-scale public protest:
‘It is becoming ever clearer that the only way to get governments and world leaders to act as they should is through grass-roots pressure that forces them to do so.’
Politics and ‘democracy’ are broken. It is now up to us, the public, to save ourselves.