Give “Mother Nature” a break

Elizabeth May

Here’s a new campaign; let’s try to force a “connect” in the disconnect between news coverage of the clear and urgent science about the climate crisis and the inane coverage of weather news.  

It has been (dear diary) driving me crazy this month.  Coming from the climate conference in Poznan, carrying an increased sense of urgency, bordering on panic, about the rising greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere, I get home to Canada for a bout of nearly giddy, uninformed “Mother Nature threw us a curve ball” type of news coverage.  Here’s the essence of my complaint. News coverage of the warnings of scientists -- that we are destabilizing global climate and face an increased number of increasingly severe weather events -- is covered as serious, if future-tense.  When we actually experience the kind of destabilized weather associated with the climate crisis, the news coverage shifts to trite, idiotic, wide-eyed, gee-whiz commentary.  And, it seems every other story talks about “Mother Nature” acting up in various non-maternal ways.  Mother Nature makes a convenient rhetorical punching bag. The fact that human influence is driving the climate systems into new and uncharted territory keeps being forgotten.

We have had, across Canada, an unprecedented spell of weird and unpredictable weather.  Sure, no one storm has a fingerprint tracing climate change as the culprit.  Weather is variable by nature.  But we are creating the conditions in which this kind of weather is more likely. We hear the meteorologists talking about how it has never happened that so much of Canada has been in the grip of bad weather all at the same time.  The repeated snow storms on the lower mainland of British Columbia, with snow piling up in usually temperate Victoria and Vancouver Island, would be a major news story on its own.  But the snow storms kept walloping central Canada, and Atlantic Canada, followed by rapid thaws and rain storms and flooding almost everywhere, accompanied with major wind storms.  Hurricane force winds devastated the Yarmouth area.  Downed trees sabotaged repairs of power lines in Ontario.

As I flipped around the TV dial this holiday, news story after news story was the latest storm report, punctuated by news of stranded air passengers and of power outages.  In all of this, I did not hear one reporter ponder, “What’s going on here?  Could this rampage have something to do with the fact we have destabilized our climate? Could it be that the fact we have changed the chemistry of the atmosphere is a factor in all this climate chaos?”

No  Every now and then, you’d hear a wise-crack to the effect of “so much for global warming. Ha ha.”

Very funny.  So for all the reporters on your gift list, please send them a copy of Global Warming for Dummies.  Early reports from those who gave it to sceptical in-laws are that they started worrying about idling the car and the life-cycle impact of the gifts they were giving.  And a friend in BC has started a very handy reference site for the latest on climate science.  Since she couldn’t get out of her house due to the snow, she had lots of time to post recent studies and graphs to the site:

Maybe every time we heard a “weather” story ignoring the climate context, we could throw a shoe at the TV.  Or, more productively, we could phone the “listener/viewer response” phone lines and email site to ask that the media start connecting the dots.

Human activity has changed and is changing the climate.  Weird and wacky “funny” weather stories miss the point.  We are running out of time.  In 2009, let’s get serious about our climate.