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Nabi: Has Climate Change Become Taboo?

July 24, 2011

Our political dialogue foolishly looks at climate events in isolation.

In the past few weeks, you may have heard about giant icebergs — what researchers are calling “ice islands” ­— breaking off from Greenland’s Petermann glacier and making their way towards Newfoundland’s coast. At 60 square kilometres, the largest of these is as big as a small country.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was nothing more than a curious story to fill a slow news day. The concerns of local fishermen have been widely reported, as have the potential impacts to the shipping industry. Everyone seems to be in agreement that this giant chunk of ice is not normal. However, reflection on the root cause has been surprisingly meagre.

But, shh — don’t mention the elephant in the room. Perhaps it’s better that way. More comfortable, I suppose. If we don’t use the c-word, it’s easy to portray the icebergs as rogue wonders of nature, imposing themselves for a moment upon civilization. The reality, of course, is 200 years in the making.

You know what I’m getting at. Climate change (don’t say it too loud) has caused a steady warming of our Arctic oceans for decades. Glaciers are retreating the world over, and this case is just the latest data point in a long string of evidence that human civilization is fundamentally altering Earth’s climate.

Those facts don’t seem to be particularly fashionable these days. In this story’s coverage, the references to climate change (where they exist) serve to give us false hope that things aren’t as bad as they seem. The Toronto Star, CBC, and local Newspapers have either sidestepped the climate change issue completely, or played down its significance.

CBC Radio’s The Current, which often does a good job of exploring “the story behind the story” — managed to miss the point spectacularly in its 20-minute segment about these massive icebergs. Near the end of the show (which aired June 28), the host finally, tediously, broached the subject of climate change. When his guest, a NASA glaciologist, affirmed the anthropogenic causes of glacial deterioration, the host changed the subject quickly, quipping: “It’s an ill wind that blows no good.”

Why has climate change all but dropped off the radar from our national dialogue? Is it because of our country’s embarrassment in Copenhagen? The fact that the oil sands pay for our health care? Have we simply become desensitized to the issue?

This is a worrying trend that is not confined to the Petermann glacier story. Take, for example, last month’s flooding of the Manitoba Souris River. We all heard the reports about the flooded homes, the military assistance, the brave efforts of disaster relief workers. But at the heart of the matter is this year’s unusually high levels of rainfall and snowmelt at the headwaters of the Souris River. Another data point.

The record-breaking heatwave across the eastern U.S. and Canada has certainly made headlines, but not for its role in the larger transformation of our climate. No, we seem to be content with reading articles telling us to stay indoors and drink lots of water, as if there’s nothing we can or should be doing to mitigate the risk of extreme weather. Never mind the fact that our community centres are filling up with evacuees from Northern Ontario, who have experienced some of the most widespread forest fires in recent memory.

I’m afraid that because it has become politically correct to avoid the c-word in our national dialogue; each natural disaster or case of unusual weather gets examined in isolation. As long as we turn a blind eye to these climate patterns, the root problem will grow ever more unmanageable.

Now, I know I’d be shouting at a brick wall if I called on the federal government to take action on climate change. We’ve been “Turning the Corner” since 2005, because Stephen Harper seems to be spinning his wheels in neutral.

The truth is, we need political leadership on the climate change front, even when it’s not fashionable or profitable in the short-term.

To that end, news media has a responsibility to think critically about what the real story is. Sure, a huge iceberg poses some logistical problems for crab fishermen. That’s not the real story.

The real story is this: if we continue ignoring climate change, Newfoundland won’t have a crab fishery much longer.

This article originally appeared in Imprint, the University of Waterloo’s official student newspaper.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. klem permalink
    July 24, 2011 8:55 pm

    “news media has a responsibility to think critically about what the real story is..”

    The news maedia HAS been thinking critically about what the real story is, and that’s why the media has turned against the AGW herd. Up until the fall of 2009, the news media would not allow anyone who opposed AGW to be heard, they rediculed opposition, the deleted opposition, the warmers were the olny voices which were allowed to be heard. But in the fall of 2009, suddenly the news media began listening to opposing views, then along came Climategate and that was it, it was game over for the warmers. You’ve had your chance, your time has passed.

    Climate change is dead. Go home, you lost.

    Cheers.

  2. July 25, 2011 4:43 pm

    Like creationism

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