Hurricane photo courtesy of NASA
“Major Menace” shouts the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s Here” heralds the Orlando Sentinel. Matt-Whew!” crows the SunSentinel. “A Razor-Thin Miss” claims the Miami Herald. “Monster Storm” yells the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Yes, it’s Hurricane Matthew coverage from Florida’s newspapers. The storm is hugging the Florida coast, with wind gusts of up to 120 mph and potentially serious rainfall flooding Georgia, South Carolina, and southern North Carolina through at least Saturday night.
For all the attention the storm is generating—the numbers of printed lines and minutes of TV coverage on how people are packing up, who is leaving and not leaving, how full the shelters are, and spats over how to crate the dog—one major element of this story is receiving the cold shoulder treatment from a lot of major media outlets: Climate change.
Given that it is always the poorest and most vulnerable who suffer the most from climate calamities like the Hurricane Matthew, most glaringly the well over eight hundred dead and thousands without shelter and power in Haiti, the silence on climate change is egregious. Matthew is the most powerful Caribbean storm in a decade.
Because of course, the silence is far from an oversight.
Global climate campaign 350.org activist May Boeve affirms: “We’re seeing a deafening climate silence from journalists and in this presidential cycle." It is “unequivocal” that these storms are worsened by climate change, she emphasizes, especially when we look at increased storm surges resulting from seas that are almost a foot higher.
“We know who is responsible for this problem,” Boeve told Democracy Now!. “We know that the fossil fuel industry benefits when climate change is not discussed, because these storms scare people. . . . And when there’s no discussion of the issue, it leaves the fossil fuel industry players, like Exxon, without any real focus on their activities.
Ruth Conniff observed the total lack of attention to the issue in the recent vice presidential debate (apart from Republican candidate Mike Pence's denunciation of the "war on coal").
In the December/January issue of The Progressive author Naomi Klien put this silence on climate in a compelling context:
“Republicans understand that doing the things we need to do in the face of climate change are utterly antithetical to their political project. If you don’t believe in government, if you don’t believe in taxing corporations or the wealthy, if you don’t believe there is a role for collective action, then there’s not going to be a response to climate change. And even when you have so-called bipartisan efforts by people like [former South Carolina Republican Congressman] Bob Inglis, who support a revenue-neutral carbon tax that is offset by cuts to income and corporate taxes, it’s not much better than denial, because it would do nothing to solve the problem.
How we talk about these monster storms, Klein reminds us, isn’t just a matter of describing crazy weather. Fundamentally it’s about who we want to be. “It is not just about the heat, the drought, and the storms,” she says.
“It’s also about societies becoming meaner, because that is what a winner-takes-all type of capitalist society does in the face of scarcity…Humans are complex…We need to recognize that complexity and think about what systems bring out our better selves, versus our worst selves, because that will determine how we respond to this crisis.”
When you track the devastation of Hurricane Matthew and note who is suffering and how, the price of silence—and the immorality of inaction—become clearer than ever.
Mrill Ingram is online media editor for The Progressive.