It’s been a curious experience, each evening recently, turning on the NBC or ABC nightly news, with historic levels of flooding in Iowa as the lead story. ("Uncharted territory," National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Pierce called these floods.) After all, there are those stunning images of Cedar Rapids, a small city now simply in the water. The National Weather Service has already termed what’s happened to the city an "historic hydrologic event," with the Cedar River topping its banks at, or above, half-millennium highs. (That’s an every 500 year "event"!)
But here’s the special strangeness of this TV moment as the flood waters head down the Mississippi: Network news loves weather disasters, and yet, as with historic droughts in the Southeast or Southwest, as with the hordes of tornadoes coursing through the center of the country, as with so many other extreme weather phenomena of recent times, including flooding in Southern China and the Burmese cyclone, when it comes to the Midwestern floods, night after night no TV talking head seems ever to mention the possibility that climate change/global warming might somehow be involved. (Nor, by the way, are our major newspapers any better on the subject.) As an omission, it’s kinda staggering, really, for an event already being labeled "a Midwestern Katrina."
All that soggy Iowa acreage and an estimated 20% of the corn and soya crops in the region already lost — forget ethanol, but think soaring food prices — and yet not a word. Of course, it’s true that no single weather catastrophe like this one can be simply and definitively linked to climate change — and undoubtedly some may have nothing to do with it. But when the weather is this extreme, wouldn’t you want, as a reporter or news editor, to make sure the subject was at least raised and considered? Or is it simply: been there, done that?
My theory of life is that, when you see a four-legged, black-and-white striped horse-like animal on a savannah, you should call it a zebra until evidence proves otherwise. You would certainly think that, this late in the game, this post-Al Gore, this post-all those melting icebergs, icecaps, iced-over seas, and glaciers, such levels of denial might have abated a bit, but no such luck, it seems.
And in this case, where the mainstream media leads, Americans seem inclined to go. So, can we be truly surprised that an April poll from the Pew Research Center actually found a modest decline since January 2007 in "the proportion of Americans who say that the earth is getting warmer"? Or that, while a majority of the world, in Pew’s latest Global Attitude Study, blames the U.S., at least in part, for accelerating global warming, we are one of the countries "where majorities do not define global warming as a very serious problem."
Fair warning, then. John Feffer, co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus, has written a piece over at Tomdispatch.com–"Mother Earth’s Triple Whammy"–that you should think of as the equivalent of the Surgeon General’s caveat on a cigarette pack: If you value the health of your state of denial, you will read his post, in which he suggests that we may now all be North Koreans–remember what happened to them under the pressure of rising energy and food prices and extreme weather events back in the 1990s?–slowly, carefully, and at your peril.