Listen up: Some say we are sliding down a slippery slope toward a distant climate apocalypse, perhaps in 500 years. It’s not just me saying these things.
“We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff,” Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at World Wildlife Fund, says.
Climate change doesn’t mean the world is ending or that the world is going to end in 12 or 100 years. Even the bearded visionary climate philospher David Roberts says we have much more time than those stark black-and-white numbers.
No, to speak generously, we have at least 30 more generations to prepare for what is coming down the road, 500 more years at least, and journalists and TV producers can play an important role in the world as humankind prepares to meet its fate.
For example, just the other day, an American TV news program for news junkies and political pundits, “Meet the Press” (hosted by Chuck Todd), did something unusual. It devoted the entire one-hour show to the topic of climate change, and it set up a panel of guests who were all on board about the reality of man-made climate change, and didn’t invite any climate denialists to speak and offer their usual head-in-the-sand schticks. Instead, the entire 60 minutes was devoted to the reality of runaway global warming and the experts were front and center.
“This morning, we’ll report on the challenge of climate change, the science, the damage to our environment, the cost, and the politics. Welcome to this special edition of ‘Meet the Press,’ ” the announcer intoned on national TV.
Then, according to the published transcript of the show, Chuck Todd looked straight into the camera and delivered his introduction.
“Good Sunday morning, and a happy New Year’s weekend to everyone,” Todd said. “This morning, we’re going to do something that we don’t often get to do, dive in on one topic. It’s obviously extraordinarily difficult to do this, as the end of this year of 2018 has proven, in the era of Donald Trump. But we’re going to take an in-depth look, regardless of that, at a literally Earth-changing subject that doesn’t get talked about this thoroughly on television news, at least, climate change.”
Then Todd said something that has never been said before on an American news show: “But just as important as what we are going to do this hour, is what we’re not going to do. We’re not going to debate climate change, the existence of it. The Earth is getting hotter. And human activity is a major cause, period. We’re not going to give time to climate deniers.”
“The science is settled,” he added, ” even if political opinion is not. And we’re not going to confuse weather with climate. A heat wave is no more evidence that climate change exists than a blizzard means that it doesn’t, unless the blizzard hits Miami.”
Todd next introduced his guests to viewers across the nation.
“We do have a panel of experts with us today to help us understand the science and consequences of climate change and, yes, ideas to break the political paralysis over it. Kate Marvel is a scientist at Columbia University and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. And she writes the ‘Hot Planet’ column for Scientific American magazine. Craig Fugate was President Obama’s FEMA administrator for eight years. And he led emergency response for republican governor Jeb Bush of Florida before that. Michele Flournoy served as undersecretary of defense under President Obama, where she dealt with the national security threat climate change poses. She’s also the cofounder and managing partner of WestExec Advisors. Anne Thompson is our chief environmental correspondent right here, at NBC News. And Congressman Carlos Curbelo represents the southernmost part of Florida, which is particularly threatened by climate change. I’m also going to have conversations with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and California governor Jerry Brown, both of whom have been on the front lines, dealing with climate change over the last few years.”
This was pioneering American television. A news show about climate change without any climate denialists on camera to try to deny the obvious and serve as distractions to the most important issue facing humankind at this point in history: man-made climate change and how to grapple with it, with both scientists and politicians invited to speak their minds.
The show went off without a hitch, millions of viewers got a chance to hear a spirited discussion about an important issue without any distractions, and for the first time in American television history, a news anchor stood up for what he believed in without giving in to the deniers in the conservative rightwing camp. Marc Morano and Anthony Watts be damned. Rightwing climate denialists be damned. This was going to be a discussion that mattered and mattered it did.
Todd started off with the American scientist. Kate Marvel. He asked her how she could explain the urgency of the climate change to his viewers.
“Can you explain the urgency of what we’re facing?” he asked.
Marvel was quick to answer: “Oh, my gosh. I wish I knew. I wish a had a good answer for this. Because as scientists, what we want to do, what we’re always tempted to do, is show more data and more graphs, like there’s going to be some magic equation that’s going to convince everybody. And there isn’t. You know, I don’t think that a lot of the reluctance to accept climate change, I don’t really think that’s about the science. I think that’s about values. I think that’s about the sort of deep story of how people see themselves. So I think it’s really important for scientists to go out in communities, engage with what’s important to people in communities.”
“The science feels overwhelming,” Todd, the non-scientist said. “I’ll be honest. It just does. Is there a way of figuring out how to prioritize the challenge?”
Without missing a beat, Marvel went straight to the meat of the issue: “I mean, that’s the thing. It is overwhelming. Because we are talking about something that affects the planet that we live on. We’re talking about global warming. But we’re also talking about changes to rainfall patterns, changes to extreme events, like heat waves and floods and droughts and hurricanes. So it should feel overwhelming, because it is overwhelming, I think.”
All nations deserve more TV news shows like this, and one hopes we will see such programming in future years in countries such as China, Japan, Norway, Germany, France, Mexico and Italy. Climate change doesn’t mean the world is ending or that the world is going to end in 12 or 100 years. No, so let me repeat what I said at the top: to speak generously, which I always try to do, we have 30 more generations to prepare for what is coming down the road, 500 more years at least, and journalists and TV producers can play an important role in the world as humankind prepares to meet its fate.
Thank you, Chuck Todd.