Why the Mainstream Media Ignores Climate Change

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The reversal of Enbridge Line 9 was approved by the National Energy Board on Thursday. The 40 year-old pipeline is the first to deliver diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands en masse to Ontario and Quebec. Line 9 has been the focus of climate activism in Toronto for the past two years. Image courtesy of Environmental Defence.

 

There is much to be desired in the mainstream media’s coverage of energy politics and climate change, but perhaps the single most important fact that gets consistently overlooked—that is scarcely apprehended by the general public and yet comes to mind for me every time a new pipeline or oil field gets approved—is that greenhouse-driven warming operates on an extremely delayed timescale. As with several aspects of climate science, that timescale is impossible to deduce with perfect accuracy, but NASA climatologist James Hansen estimates that only 60 percent of the final climatic response to a rise in greenhouse gas (GHG) occurs over the course of a century.

This leaves us with the daunting reality that the increasing intensity of heat waves, storms, and ecological disruption that have been associated with rising temperatures can be attributed simply to the elevated levels of greenhouse gases emitted by the mid-20th century, or perhaps even earlier. Even if GHG emissions—which, mind you, have tripled since the mid-sixties—were to halt today, the climate will nonetheless continue to warm for hundreds and by some estimates thousands of years into the future. We have only quite recently reached a CO2 concentration of 400 ppm, (that’s up from under 320 ppm in 1960,) but we do not yet know what a 400 ppm atmosphere really looks like. Whereas we often assume that we are experiencing climate change in real time, we are in fact experiencing a climate augmented by previous generations, while we augment it even further for the next ones. There is, in other words, no automatic system of justice or accountability built into the Earth’s climate.

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On the roots of our skyscrapers: The development of Toronto’s extractive economy

It was not until recently that I learned that Toronto is the financial headquarters of the global mining industry. It is possibly our best-kept, and deepest, darkest secret. For the 8 percent of our city that works in finance that fact is too obvious to talk about, while for the rest of us the wizardry that goes on at Bay and King strikes us as so sophisticated that we never think to ask. “Banking” is usually what people say when they talk about the city’s economy, as though banking plucks money out of thin air. But in Toronto’s case, banking plucks money out of the ground, as does the closely connected Toronto Stock Exchange. Seventy-five percent of mining companies globally are headquartered in Canada, and about 60 percent are listed on the TSX. That means that over 1,600 mining companies are on the Exchange, although only about forty extractive projects are ongoing in Ontario. The TSX’s own website boasts that 70 percent of the equity capital raised for mining globally last year was raised in Toronto. Few, if any, other capital markets around the world are nearly as specialized in a single industry as the TSX.

It is in many ways impressive that such a gargantuan creature remains so discreet, but there are certain clues that lay hidden throughout the city. One of these is the Mining Hall of Fame at College Street and McCaul, where we are invited to appreciate the fact that “Canada has been blessed with an abundance of natural resources, and also has been very fortunate to have people with the ability to convert these resources from potential assets into useful products at a price others are willing to pay.” Among the inductees are men such as Frederick Archibald, whose innovative work in uranium enrichment was a “key component” in the construction of the first atomic bomb. There is also Roland Kenneth Kilborn, whose most celebrated achievements include the making of Canada’s largest open-pit coal mine, plus “most of the country’s asbestos mines and plants.” Almost all of the 140 inductees are men, and, with the exception of the “Klondike Discoverers,” all are white.

Another clue is the annual conference of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, which I attended in early March, and which, with 30,000 attendees from all over the world, is the largest corporate mining conference in the world. The attendees take over twenty of Toronto’s downtown hotels, and during their four days here spend millions of dollars at our restaurants, bars, and strip clubs. By dusk they can be seen near Bay and Front shuffling from one establishment to the next, their rolling briefcases in tow, their lanyards and comb-overs flapping in the wind; but throughout the daytime they remain hidden in the titanic caverns of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

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Overcoming fatalism in Idle No More

It may be difficult to fight for a future we cannot yet imagine, but that is what decolonization has come to mean for me

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In the four months since its emergence, Idle No More has been called paranoid, naïve, ineffective, and “anti-white.” The movement, in the words of Christie Blatchford, embodies “the inevitable cycle of hideous puffery and horse manure that usually accompanies native protests.” Rex Murphy has pronounced that “natives need to tone down the anger.” Idle No More, he writes, is altogether too “radical, hitting the racial/racist buttons;” some of its activists so insolent as to even “call up the ‘genocide’ word.”

I have been disgusted but not especially surprised by the mainstream treatment of Idle No More. What I have found more difficult to contend with, however, has been the equally dismissive attitude I have occasionally heard expressed among my own white middle-class peers in downtown Toronto. “What’s the point?” they ask, and at certain moments I have struggled to respond to that question. At certain moments, admittedly, I have asked myself the same thing. Continue reading

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After Roe things got better, and then they got worse.

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On January 22, the National Organization of Women held a candlelit vigil outside the U.S. Supreme Court in order to “commemorate the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.” The press release quoted NOW president Terry O’Neill as saying, “NOW affirms that women’s access to the full range of reproductive health services – including safe, legal and affordable abortion care and birth control – is integral to women’s ability to participate equally in our society.”

As to what exactly they sought to communicate or accomplish with this action remains unclear to me. It had no element of celebration, nor of protest, and their rhetoric seems almost deliberately vapid. But there is something indicative, if also sad and frustrating, about that ambiguity. At a time when public support for Roe is at 63 percent in America and yet abortion rights continue to be lost, it has become clear that the religious right is better resourced, better connected, and perhaps even better organized than the women’s movement. It has also become clear that Roe never guaranteed a woman’s right to abortion, but merely decriminalized it. There is still a serious need for federal legislation protecting reproductive rights; a need, in other words, for a conversation about active resistance, as opposed to “commemoration.” Many feminists are fostering that discourse, and some of them quite effectively, but what I want to do here is simply to take stock of the setbacks of the past four decades.

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Why opposing abortion means excusing rape

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Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock stated in October that a pregnancy from rape is “something that God intended to happen.”

A friend of a friend of mine was date raped last winter. I have never met her, and I do not know her name, but what I gather happened is this: She went on a date with a boy to whom she had been somewhat attracted in high school; they went back to his place and started making out; he became extremely aggressive and inattentive to her requests to slow down, and then sexual intercourse occurred. It was not rape when they first kissed, but at some point, before or during intercourse, it became rape.

This story would recur to me every time Todd Akin was discussed in the press last fall.  Continue reading

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Men and women in the Golden Land: P.T. Anderson’s historical vision of Los Angeles

Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) all represent moments of mythology and opportunism in Anderson's historiography of Los Angeles.

Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) all represent distinct moments of mythology and opportunism in Anderson’s history of L.A.

It seemed easy to peg Paul Thomas Anderson following Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Punch-Drunk Love, as well as his more obscure debut, Hard Eight. They were all about pathetic characters suffering of self-consciousness, self-pity, guilt, and ineptitude within an infinite urban grid of people who could not care less. And for the most part they were all extremely good. But his two recent films have brought his artistic project more sharply into focus, because it now seems clear that Anderson is more devoted to unpacking the cultural identity of Los Angeles than any of his peers. Each of his films attacks one central component of the city’s history: in There Will Be Blood, the oil industry that practically established Los Angeles itself; in The Master, the quacky brand of religious high-modernism among the post-war elite; in Boogie Nights, the porn industry; in Punch-Drunk Love, the expansive landscape of faceless warehouses and apartment blocks that characterize the post-industrial city. Each of these points to a history of egomanaical power players and sad-sack peons. Each of them points to some extremity in the genetic heritage of LA’s economy and culture. He wants to know why it is the way it is, and he wants us to know too. Continue reading

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Brief Reflections on “A Brief History of the Future”

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Flags of the United Nations and the United Federation of Planets

The ideas I began to work with in A Brief History of the Future have in some ways sharpened for me since I wrote it in 2009; in other ways, they have become more obfuscated and confusing.

My intention in that project was to draw connections between the narratives of European colonialism and the narratives of space travel in post-war Western pop culture. It was also to suggest that perhaps there is something unique about my own generation – children of the baby boomers – who are growing up for the first time in modern western history without the exciting narrative of an imperial frontier.

We are, however, growing up in the age of cyberspace – a frontier that is no less exciting or narrativized than its predecessors, but which lends itself to individualized narratives over collective or national ones. By contrast, the old physical frontiers of conquest were collective in their nature, and thus gave rise to nationalistic, collective, and traditional utopian narratives.

The same can be said for the extra-terrestrialist frontier, except that it engendered a stronger sense of a transnational, multiethnic brotherhood of man. Continue reading

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