Morgan Margulies: Climate change is happening now, Mr. President
December 16, 2018
I'm sorry Mr. President but the name is Paradise, not Pleasure.
More than 52,000 civilians were displaced, 88 lives lost and just under 19,000 structures burned to the ground. Is that not enough for you to remember the name?
We Californians should've dedicated more time to raking the leaves you say. Our forest management was insufficient, right? If only we had known all of this before the sparks flew just east of Pleasure, I mean Paradise.
None of your Twitter insults or gardening recommendations were uncalculated. The solutions you have put forward are nothing but political posturing, so we don't have to confront the real problem at hand. The fourth and most recent report by the National Climate Assessment has confirmed that the increase of atmospheric temperatures is the single cause of the increase in wildfire frequency and intensity. The combination of drought and changing weather patterns have made forests more susceptible to combustion for much longer.
The discussions we have regarding natural disasters must no longer be divorced from the changing of the climate.
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However, Mr. President, in the face of overwhelming scientific data, you have done nothing to help the people displaced by a fire that you correctly have identified as a "really, really bad one."
Don't worry, we can't place all the blame on you, this is a national problem originating in the media's reluctance to acknowledge the root cause of these catastrophic events. Melissa Joskow from Media Matters recently uncovered an important statistic regarding the media coverage of the California fire. While ABC, NBC and CBS ran a total of 107 segments between the dates of Nov. 8 and Nov. 13 covering the wildfires, only four of them mentioned climate change as a potential factor. This lack of coverage, however, is not surprising at all. Cable news and TV reports on natural disasters rarely are willing to acknowledge the link between extreme weather events and rising temperatures.
In 2017, only 15 segments were run on major news networks that acknowledged the connection between climate change and any natural disaster.
The virtual silence on this overwhelmingly scientifically proven correlation is a major cause for concern. Specifically in the context of climate change, the nightly news has a massive influence in the views that individuals hold. Lauren Feldman's study from 2016 shows that the way climate change is covered on cable news is "significantly correlated" with the viewers' "levels of concern" regarding climate change. The language used to discuss certain issues is important and absolutely shapes the way that people respond.
The media's refusal to address climate change in discussions of natural disasters has had subversive effects. Divorcing the abstract concept of climate change from its concrete effects has demobilized progressive environmental movements. Reforms aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change suddenly aren't viewed as immediate necessities to the general population, thus derailing the momentum the movement has generated over the past couple of years.
The media's inability to contextualize reports of natural disasters in conversations of climate change has also justified rhetorical scapegoating. Discussing natural disasters not as a result of climate change but instead a result of local mismanagement or even "god's wrath" is a strategy deployed by the profiteers of environmental exploitation. Political elites with financial investments in climate denialism intentionally separate the conversation about these catastrophes from its root cause. By doing this, multinational corporations and the consumers of their products no longer are forced to confront their complicity in the environmental destruction associated with production.
When Donald Trump suggested Paradise's devastation could have been avoided had they followed Finland's lead and raked more, he engaged in the same diversion the right has been using for years, albeit in a less suave manner. He avoided a conversation that was meant to be about climate change and instead blamed the victims and the heroes within the fire department for the catastrophe that ensued in Northern California.
Now is the time to recontextualize this conversation.
The discussions we have regarding natural disasters must no longer be divorced from the changing of the climate. For young and old people alike, climate change is no longer a problem of the future. Climate change is now, climate change is tomorrow, and climate change is the day after that. We are witnessing the capacity of its devastation, and we won't be able to stop it until we can collectively recognize it.
Until that happens, maybe we should just all gather our rakes and hope our houses don't burn down.
Morgan Margulies is freshman at Columbia University in New York City. He grew up in Nevada City.