Today I want to talk about media and climate change, and challenge myself to a media diet that focuses more on climate change and cuts out the silly stuff. Take a listen:
Welcome to “This Situation”! I talk about my time in Tino Sehgal’s fascinating installation/performance piece at Gropius Bau this past month, and how it felt to be an often lone voice on climate action. Then I get real about this podcast and promise to get back to my intended focus on positive visions of the future and degrowth.
Media and climate change
If you’re listening to this podcast, you know that climate change is real, humans are causing it, and the window of time to make drastic changes to all aspects of society and the economy is closing fast. The signs are all around us, and they’re blinking red. Last week, the Guardian’s article of the week cited Fatih Birol, director of the International Energy Agency, who warned that we only have six months to turn the ship around. The way politicians pay for the coronavirus recovery will have far-reaching effects, and could “lock in” emissions that will prevent us from reaching the 1.5-degree target. So for, about $550 billion has been earmarked for polluting industries, with only $12 billion to low-carbon industries. Climate journalists Amy Westervelt, Mary Heglar, and Emily Atkin are yelling at increasing pitch about all the ways that fossil fuel companies—the most profitable industry in the history of humanity and the largest single contributor to climate change—are trying to get handouts in the corona bailouts happening in the United States. On the earth systems end, Ben See, a climate scientist and communicator, has been tweeting like crazy about disappearing Arctic sea ice and the heat wave in Siberia, pointing out that we may have less time than even the experts think. This is all important stuff to know and stay on top of.
Now let’s get to what else is happening around the world. If you read the Washington Post (like I do), some of the past week’s top news stories were a fresh wave of coronavirus, the turnout of Trump’s Oklahoma rally, and how the U.S. Justice department is trying to shield Trump allies from prosecution. If you are partial to Held der Steine, a YouTuber who talks about Lego, then you’ve seen the new catalog and a pirate ship set. And if you have a Netflix account in Germany, you may have watched the top shows Dark, Modern Family and Floor is Lava. You could spend your entire day consuming media content and not hear a peep about climate change.
For my part, I try to stay apprised of the climate conversation. I subscribe to several climate newsletters and podcasts, follow countless writers, thinkers, and organizations on Twitter, and regularly check in on writers and news sources I trust. I also read a lot of climate fiction and watch relevant TV shows and films when I can. If I were to quantify this, I’d say I spend at least 5-10 hours a week consuming media relevant to climate change.
But I have limited bandwidth—like we all do. In addition to the time I spend keeping up with climate change—and action—I probably spend another 10-20 hours on unrelated news (i.e. hating on Trump, but also important issues like Supreme Court rulings, coronavirus updates, and analysis of police reform efforts). What would it look like if I cut out some of the silly stuff? Would I have more capacity to really dig into what’s important?
I want to see. So for the next month, I’m challenging myself to consume less media overall, and to be more mindful in curating the media that I do consume. That means thinking more about what stories, individuals, and forms of media matter, and trying to spend less time with those that don’t. Specifically, I’m doing 3 things:
- I’m cancelling my Netflix account for the next year, and will not watch any paid streaming service. I can still buy or rent individual shows or films, but without Netflix I’ll save myself some “boredom watching,” where I watch what’s available through Netflix’s curation rather than seeking out what I would really rather watch. The DC Environmental Film Festival has turned me onto dozens of fascinating films about environmental topics, and I’d like to watch more of them, for example. I also want to read more in the evenings.
- In terms of news, I want to read far fewer “news of the moment” stories and far more longer and more analytic pieces about larger trends, context, and potential action. I spend a lot of time reading about the latest Trump outrage in the Washington Post. And this is even though I know that you could publish the same article from two or three years ago with a few details changed: Trump said something racist; Trump wants to end a policy that helps millions; Trump and his family are enriching themselves financially; Trump only watches and listens to extreme views on cable news; the Republican party again chooses to aid and abet Trump rather than criticize or reign him in; a tell-all book is about to be released that says Trump is incurious, unhinged, wrathful and narcissistic, etc. See, now we’re all caught up on 90% of the news about the Trump presidency that will be printed this year. Instead of this, I’m going to seek out 1-2 climate stories each day and really read them. It took me a week to get to the Guardian piece after reading the headline; in that time I must’ve read half a dozen articles about Trump’s Oklahoma rally. That’s just dumb.
- I’m going to seek out new sources to play a larger role in my media diet. I signed up for a two-week trial of Perspective Daily, a solution-oriented news site that only publishes one article per day. In the past three days, it has released articles on the German-language site about a proposal to increase diversity in the Bundestag, international climate justice, coronavirus in Yemen, the new “insect atlas” and what it says about biodiversity loss in Germany.
Why is this so important? Well, we’re running out of time to address climate change. But ignoring climate change as a news issue makes it feel less urgent. So I hope that by reading more about climate change, and staying informed on relevant current issues and events, like a green recovery after the coronavirus, that I can be part of the solution, if only by being able to talk more knowledgeably about what that means.
Next time I’ll check in on my Perspective Daily experiment, since that’s two weeks, and decide whether to stick with them. There are a lot of news sources out there that I enjoy and respect, but haven’t supported financially. So hopefully in starting to be more mindful of my news diet, I can find one or two to subscribe to as well.
What’s giving me hope this week
I’ve been working on a short story about species extinction, and came across an article in The Revelator about a tall flowering grass in Appalachia that was thought to be extinct, but was recently found by Wesley Knapp, the “Indiana Jones of botany.” This little piece of serendipity totally made my day, because the story I’m working on includes a tall flowering grass—one which I had made up in earlier drafts because I couldn’t find an appropriate threatened species. Because the story is about bringing back endangered species through the act of conjuring them into a storybook, this felt like an odd, magical moment for me. And it gave me some hope.