Democracy or Extinction
ENVIRONMENT, 28 Jan 2019
22 Jan 2019 – What will it take for governments to take real action on climate? When will they declare an emergency and do what needs to be done? How much concerted, peaceful public action will be required to disrupt the current economic and political system that is driving humanity to the brink of extinction?
Meanwhile, climate records continue to tumble. 2018 was the hottest for the world’s oceans since records began in the 1950s, continuing a deeply worrying trend. Moreover, the last five years were the five hottest. The consequences are likely to be catastrophic. The oceans are crucial to the Earth’s climate; they absorb more than 90 per cent of the heating generated by greenhouse gases. Yet another sign of serious climate disruption is revealed with seemingly no impact on the juggernaut of economic ‘growth’ and government decision-making.
John Abraham, one of the authors of the new scientific study on this alarming rise in ocean temperatures, said:
‘We scientists sound like a broken record. Every year we present the science and plead for action. Not nearly enough is being done. We can still tackle climate change, but we must act immediately. We have the means to make a difference, we lack only the will.’
It is, of course, heartening to see scientists finally being this outspoken. But it is not accurate to keep repeating the mantra, as many well-intentioned people do, that ‘we’ lack ‘the will’. Who is the ‘we’ here? Big business, powerful financial interests and corporate lobbies have fought tooth and nail to oppose any substantive action. They have battled hard over decades to obscure, rubbish and downplay the science – with huge sums devoted to disinformation campaigns – and to bend government policy in their favour.
US environmentalist Bill McKibben recently observed of the fossil fuel lobby that:
‘The coalition ha[s] used its power to slow us down precisely at the moment when we needed to speed up. As a result, the particular politics of one country for one half-century will have changed the geological history of the earth.’
One could argue that there is a lack of public will to expose and counter corporate power in collusion with nation states; that there needs to be a grassroots revolution to overturn this destructive system of rampant global capitalism. Perhaps there needs to be a revolution in human consciousness; an increased awareness of what it is to be fully human that respects ourselves, other species and the planet itself. Most likely, all of the above. If so, it is vital to say and do much more than merely say, ‘we lack only the will’.
Take the ad-dependent, establishment-preserving, Corbyn-hating Guardian. It obfuscated along similar lines in an editorial sparked by the record-breaking ocean temperatures. Global warming, the editors said:
‘can still be tackled if we act immediately; this is a test of will, not ability.’
But where is the Guardian‘s systemic analysis of root causes of climate chaos and what needs to be done about it? The Polish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, who was murdered by right-wing paramilitary forces one hundred years ago this month, warned that global capitalism would lead to environmental destruction. This is not a defect of capitalism, she argued, but an inherent feature of a system that is rooted in brutality, gaping inequality and the unsustainable extraction of natural resources.
In her discussion of Luxemburg’s legacy, Ana Cecilia Dinerstein, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Bath, noted:
‘This is evident in the recent decision of Brazil’s new far-right president, Bolsonaro, to “integrate the Amazon region into the Brazilian economy”. This would expand the authority and reach of powerful agribusiness corporations into the Amazon Rainforest – threatening the rights and livelihoods of indigenous people and the ecosystems their lives are entwined with.’
This destruction of indigenous peoples and ecosystems has been inflicted on the continent since Columbus ‘discovered’ America in 1492. Globally, the process intensified during the Industrial Revolution and, in more recent decades, with the rise of destructive ‘neoliberal’ economic policies pursued with ideological fervour by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and later acolytes. No wonder that Luxemburg saw a stark choice between ‘socialism or barbarism’. Today, the choice is most likely ‘socialism or extinction‘.
To any reader unsettled by the scare word ‘socialism’, simply replace it with ‘democracy’: a genuinely inclusive system where the general population has proper input and control, and does not simply have its wishes overridden by a tiny elite that enriches itself at our, and the planet’s, expense.
As we have long pointed out, the corporate media are a crucial component of this barbaric and destructive system of global capitalism. Our previous media alert highlighted that even the very names of ‘our’ newspapers propagate a myth of neutral, reliable news (‘Express‘, ‘Telegraph‘, ‘The Times‘, ‘The Observer‘) or a stalwart defender of democracy (‘The Guardian‘). And, as we have also noted, BBC News promotes itself as a trusted global news brand because it supposedly ‘champions the truth’.
Propaganda is what Official Enemies – such as North Korea, Iran or Russia – pump out. But not ‘us’. Thus, BBC Newsnight will readily grant BBC correspondent John Sweeney the resources to compile a condescending report on Russia’s Sputnik News:
‘Sputnik UK is well-named – it’s a tin can that broadcasts its curious one-note message to the universe: Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep.’
Recall that Sweeney is a serial Western propagandist who welcomed, indeed pushed for, the invasion of Iraq. He wrote in the Observer in January 1999:
‘Life will only get better for ordinary Iraqis once the West finally stops dithering and commits to a clear, unambiguous policy of snuffing out Saddam. And when he falls the people of Iraq will say: ‘What kept you? Why did it take you so long?”‘
If, by contrast, a BBC correspondent had repeatedly called out the UK media’s ‘one-note message’ in boosting the war crimes of Bush and Blair – an extremely unlikely scenario – would they still have a major BBC platform? Of course not.
Or consider a recent BBC News article that proclaimed:
‘Facebook tackles Russians making fake news stories’
That fake news is a systemic feature of BBC coverage, and the rest of Western ‘mainstream’ media, is virtually an unthinkable thought for corporate journalists. Try to imagine Facebook taking action against BBC News or the Guardian, or any other ‘mainstream’ outlet for their never-ending stream of power-friendly ‘journalism’.
Try to imagine BBC News critically examining Western propaganda, including its own output, in the same way that it treated Russian propaganda in this BBC News at Ten piece by Moscow correspondent Sarah Rainsford.
Try to imagine Guardian editor Katharine Viner being made accountable for the fake viral Guardian exclusive last month that Trump’s former campaigner manager Paul Manafort had held secret talks with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy. She has simply kept her head down and tried to stonewall any challenges.
Try to imagine BBC Question Time host Fiona Bruce being punished by her BBC bosses for brazenly misleading viewers about Labour being behind the Tories in the polls. Or for her poor treatment of Labour guest panellist Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, who described the BBC’s behaviour as a ‘disgrace’. Bruce is married to Nigel Sharrocks, Chairman of the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board which earns significant sums of money from the BBC. There is no mention of this on Fiona Bruce’s Wikipedia page; nor is there a Wikipedia page on Sharrocks himself.
‘Real journalists act as agents of people, not power.’
Such a simple powerful truth shames all those editors and media ‘professionals’ masquerading as journalists on BBC News, ITV News, the Guardian and elsewhere. When was the last time you saw a BBC News political editor truly challenging any Prime Minister in the past few decades, rather than uncritically ‘reporting’ what the PM has said or even fulsomely praising them?
Pilger was asked how journalism has changed in recent years. He responded:
‘When I began as a journalist, especially as a foreign correspondent, the press in the UK was conservative and owned by powerful establishment forces, as it is now. But the difference compared to today is that there were spaces for independent journalism that dissented from the received wisdom of authority. That space has now all but closed and independent journalists have gone to the internet, or to a metaphoric underground.’
‘The single biggest challenge is rescuing journalism from its deferential role as the stenographer of great power. The United States has constitutionally the freest press on earth, yet in practice it has a media obsequious to the formulas and deceptions of power. That is why the US was effectively given media approval to invade Iraq, and Libya, and Syria and dozens of other countries.’
‘The truth about Iraq and Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia and many other flashpoints was told when WikiLeaks published the revelations of whistle-blowers. […] Julian Assange is a political refugee in London for one reason only: WikiLeaks told the truth about the greatest crimes of the 21st century. He is not forgiven for that, and he should be supported by journalists and by people everywhere.’
Living Through the Worst-Case Scenario
Returning to the pressing issue of climate catastrophe, we are currently living through the worst-case scenario considered by climate scientists. According to a recent study in Nature, global temperatures could rise by a massive 5C by the end of this century. To understand the appalling seriousness of this, Professor John Schellnhuber, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, warned several years ago that:
‘the difference between two degrees and four degrees [of global warming] is human civilisation.’
In other words, we are talking about the end of human life as we know it; perhaps even human extinction.
Rob Jackson, an Earth scientist at Stanford University and the chair of the Global Carbon Project, which tracks worldwide emissions levels, warns of the huge risk of assuming that humanity will be able to develop technology to remove carbon directly from the atmosphere any time soon:
‘It’s a very dangerous game, I think. We’re assuming that this thing we can’t do today will somehow be possible and cheaper in the future. I believe in tech, but I don’t believe in magic.’
And even the most magical high-tech fixes removing carbon or blocking sunlight will not be able to resurrect, for example, the 98 per cent and 75 per cent of insects already wiped out in Puerto Rican jungles and German nature reserves, respectively. These insects are the key to the survival of the entire food chain; when they are dead, they will remain dead, and we will die with them.
Instead of magic, scientists are increasingly calling for immediate radical action. But their urgent calls make, at best, a tiny splash for a day or two in the corporate news bubble; and then the ripples die away, leaving an eerie, deathly silence.
Almost in desperation, climate experts say that:
‘it may still technically be possible to limit warming to 1.5C if drastic action is taken now.’ [our emphasis]
Scientific research shows that the impacts of climate change could be mitigated if a phaseout of all fossil fuel infrastructure were to begin immediately. The internationally agreed goal of restricting global warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels is still possible, say scientists. But it is:
‘the choices being made by global society, not physics, which is the obstacle to meeting the goal.’
Worse still, the scientific analysis:
‘[does] not include the possibility of tipping points such as the sudden release of huge volumes of methane from permafrost, which could spark runaway global warming.’
We have now had three decades of increasingly alarming reports from climate scientists since the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up in 1988. Last October, the IPCC warned that we only had 12 years left to turn things around, taking radical action now. But alarm bells from scientists have not, and will not, stop governments in their tracks. Only peaceful and massive concerted action from citizens around the world stands a chance of doing that at this desperately late stage.
Media Lens is a UK-based media watchdog group headed by David Edwards and David Cromwell. In 2007, Media Lens was awarded the Gandhi Foundation International Peace Prize. We have written three co-authored books: Guardians of Power-The Myth of the Liberal Media (Pluto Press, 2006), Newspeak-In the 21st Century (Pluto Press, 2009), and Propaganda Blitz (Pluto Press, 2018).
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