The logo for this series on global warming
Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I am currently living and teaching in the Gambia; I have been here for several months already. My home, however, is in Toronto. There are very few Canadians in this country, even as tourists. The tourists hail mainly from the UK and the Netherlands. Since I am Dutch by birth, I can also converse with the latter in their own language. But other nations are represented as well. There is an international atmosphere that is reflected in the food that is available.
Even though I am living on the extreme western edge of Africa, I am not lacking for international news. On the contrary, I can get many news channels, including BBC, CNN, France24, and Al Jazeera, which help to keep me abreast of what is happening in the world. This is satellite TV, and it is free. In fact, there are more than 200 channels, many of them in Arabic. For the first month here the system was not working, but now it is and it keeps me well informed. I could not survive without it. I also have regular access to the Internet, at least when there is power. Now that the tourist season is mostly over, power will become more spotty again.
The CBC produces more international news than any other network in Canada. A survey in 2003 revealed that most Canadians want more international news, not less. The other networks in Canada are privately owned and are commercial, which colors their broadcasting. They tend to emphasize local news at the expense of international or even national. Like their American counterparts, the broadcasts start off with local news, followed by provincial or state, national, and finally, international. Last, in this case, means least.
The Conservative government in Canada has slashed the budgets of many departments. The CBC will suffer severe cutbacks and will need to cut programming and introduce more commercials on TV and even on the radio, which thus far has been commercial free.
In the US, a country of more than 300 million people, it is estimated there are fewer than 100 foreign correspondents representing the major American news organizations. In contrast, Al Jazeera alone has more than 400 correspondents. No wonder most Americans know so little about other countries.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. national security adviser, laments the indifference of today’s media to international stories: “I am very worried that most Americans are close to total ignorance about the world. That is an unhealthy condition in a country in which foreign policy has to be endorsed by the people if it is to be pursued.”
What does international news have to do with global warming? A lot, as is evident from the networks that I view daily. These networks often present fascinating documentaries. CNN International recently discussed the UNICEF video on the drought in the Sahel, the part of Africa immediately south of the Sahara. This drought is the result of years of little rain, but the severity is unprecedented. The Gambia, which is enclosed by Senegal on three sides, is on the Atlantic end of the Sahel and experiences a similar problem, though less severe. The ocean is nearby, but one cannot use salt water for irrigation; it does provide food, however.
The UNICEF video alerted the world to the urgent need in that region where one million children could die of malnutrition and 15 million people are at great risk. UNICEF needs $120 million, but only $30 million is currently available. The next day CNN added a note that this video has so far received very little interest, in striking contrast to the Kony video that went viral and got more than 100 million views in only a few days. Why? Are people fatigued with pictures of starving African children? Are people really concerned about global warming?
Except for such programs, how many people would know about this urgent problem? The domestic version of CNN in North America accents local news rather than international news. So how can Americans learn about global warning if they rarely hear about it? Much of the denial of global warning is due to ignorance. An ignorance that is fostered by many multi-national corporations that feed the media with misinformation about global warming.
Canadians are not much better off. The commercial networks limit much of their programming to broadcasts of popular American shows, and devote very little time to investigative journalism, while international items are neglected almost entirely. Thus it is hardly surprising that few Canadians protested when the government proposed to reduce the number and depth of environmental assessments. Many, in fact, support this change. They are more interested in developing the Alberta tar sands than in protecting the environment. These tar sands are far away, and Canada is a large country, they assert. Anyway, we need the gas. Thus domestic ecological damage is quickly dismissed, just as news about the crisis in Africa is largely ignored.
Not only Americans and Canadians but also Europeans are so enamored of an individualist life style that expresses itself in visible consumption that they they turn a deaf ear to the little they hear about the suffering of millions of people in faraway countries. Many watch very little international news, and what little they do has been carefully filtered so as not to disturb their comfortable lifestyle. Denial is the easy way out when they are presented with facts that do not fit into their very limited world view. International news, particularly if it deals with global warming, is therefore ignored and replaced with inane entertainment, which is a modern version of the Roman "Bread and Circuses."
At the risk of turning off those who are not interested in global warming (and attracting those who are very interested in this problem), I want to devote series of posts to what we need to do to combat this serious problem before it is too late. Today only a handful of people worldwide seem to be concerned about global warming, but I realize that there are many who are aware of the issue, but feel helpless in taking the steps that are needed. There number is increasing, however.
I do not pretend to be an authority on global warming; I am only someone who is concerned about the problem and wants to do something about it. In these posts I will discuss both some of the steps that are needed, such as sustainability, as well as some of the changes that are necessary in our lifestyle, our politics, and even our theology.
Global warming is the most urgent problem of our age. I may sound like Cassandra, but I can prophecy without fear of refutation that our world is on the tipping point of this crisis. Unless we take the necessary steps, it will soon be too late. I am not the only one to say this; many voices have been raised in the past, but most of them have been dismissed already by the entire denial industry. I will not be deterred, however; I am prepared to join an august group that wants to save the world, even if few people are listening.
If we fail, then we can say, with more than a tinge of dismay, that we at least have done our best to alert people to the problem. I hope that it is not too late and that people can still be persuaded to change their lifestyles and thus mitigate the coming disaster, if not avert it entirely. As I wrote recently, I owe that much to my grandchildren, who will otherwise blame me for not doing my part when I could.
Who watches international news? Those of us who are concerned about global warming. I hope that you too will watch with rapt attention as the drama unfolds. Watch, learn, and act; that is what I urge you to do.