Last week, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne addressed the press, announcing the cap-and-trade system, an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. She began by stating, “We have to take into account all the costs of not doing this because if…,” at which point she stopped in mid sentence, distracted by a member of the press. This was followed by, “I know, you can roll your eyes, but” and signalled, with her hand held up, to halt the posturing by a reporter. She continued, “ if people’s insurance costs go up because of extreme weather and because of increasing damage that’s done…insurance costs have to keep going up; that’s a huge cost”.
The eye rolling media person clearly supports a political agenda different from the Premiers of Ontario and Quebec.
The media should be responsible for ensuring the public’s right to know, but when the information is delivered it has already been filtered by the opinions and beliefs of reporters or editors, and possibly even been placed in a context that can purposefully be misleading in order to promote a political agenda.
You can roll your eyes…but
Global warming due to human activities is a fact, disputed by no more than three percent of scientists. Carbon emissions are the major problem, and most come from the fossil fuel industries and transportation. This unprecedented impending climate disaster has to be mitigated and the Paris global climate conference, planned for December, will likely result in an internationally binding accord.
What is the Canadian federal government doing to help? Well, the day before Earth Day, they released their budget for 2015. The word “oil” appears in the budget 118 times, but there was no reference to global warming and climate change. Since hundreds of government scientists have been asked to exclude or alter technical information in government documents for non-scientific reasons, and thousands have been prevented from responding to the media or the public, the fact that climate change is not addressed in the budget should not be surprising.
Isn’t it shameful that the Environment Commissioner reported that Canada is not even on track to meet its previously promised greenhouse gas emissions targets? Even worse, Canadian carbon emissions continue to grow. We are lagging behind on the world stage. According to the World Resources Institute, Canada is the largest per-capita emitter of greenhouse gases among rich world countries. The advocacy group Climate Action Network ranks Canada’s climate strategy as the fourth-worst in the world, ahead of only Iran, Kazakhstan, and Saudi Arabia. Now that is embarassing.
The good news is that despite the absence of federal government activity to reduce emissions contributing to global warming, some provincial governments are doing their part to help, including Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.
It’s a federal election year in Canada and Americans are starting to ramp up for their elections next year. The environment should be a major issue, but unfortunately political posturing and poorly informed opinion is influencing the value of the scientific data, which continues to accumulate. For example, 85% of Democrats believe that there is solid evidence of global warming, compared to only 48% of Republicans. It explains why 71% of Democrats believe stricter environmental laws are worth the cost compared with just 37% of Republicans. The science supporting global warming is belittled, mainly by those want to diminish the perception that we must decrease those industrial human activities causing global warming, and invest in developing alternative energy sources.
Viewing your source of information
The news media play a powerful role in determining which issues the public chooses to care about. Being the major informers of the news, they are also responsible for much of the differences in opinion about global warming. Journalists portray the significance of the science according to their own partisan bias.
Ironically, proof of this actually comes from objective scientific analysis of what journalists write and talk about. One example is a study which examined Fox News Channel content over a period of six months and the Wall Street Journal opinion section for one year. Articles mentioning climate science were determined to be accurate or misleading based on whether they affirmed or rejected mainstream scientific understanding – that climate change is occurring; that it is largely human-induced; that it affects human and natural systems. A whopping 93 percent of Fox News Channel’s representations of climate science and 81 percent in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion section were found to be misleading. Do you see any bias?
Changing health patterns – still rolling your eyes?
The cost of climate change is indeed high. Insurance costs are going up as a result of flooding, ice storms, black outs, damages to infrastructure, and so on and so on. At the same time, the carbon emissions that are causing global warming are also the sources of pollutants causing changes in health patterns that are driving up the cost of medical insurance. You can roll your eyes… but you haven’t seen what I have seen as an environmental physician over the last 30 years – a dramatic increase in environmentally related conditions and diseases. There is a huge cost to provincial health plans, as well as private health insurers who pay for medications and the services of allied health professionals. There is a huge cost to insurance companies paying out disability, critical illness, and life insurance benefits. The public is already funding this in taxes and premiums. Employers are also paying the cost for abstenteeism and accommodations, often passing it on to consumers.
And the costs aren’t just financial. How do you quantify the personal cost of an illness when a child is diagnosed with autism or diabetes; when the pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome result in loss of quality of life; when a family is coping with a relative’s progressive neurodegenerative disease? So when an environmentally linked illness befalls a member of the media who did not find the subject newsworthy, will they still roll their eyes?
In the process of gathering information for my book, 12,000 Canaries Can’t Be Wrong, I read thousands of medical and scientific peer reviewed reports. They reinforce the fact that chemical pollutants, including the sources of carbon emissions, are negatively impacting on human health. Last week, the Toronto Star published the results gathered from measuring air quality at many major intersections in Toronto. Good to know. But shouldn’t the media be reporting what the scientists are saying – that these exposures are more likely to make you sick and die earlier?
Science is trying to inform you that there are other effects, besides global warming, from air pollution from the fossil fuel industry, which are already impacting the present and future health of our children and grandchildren.
Studies demonstrate that prenatal and early life residential exposures from proximity to major roadways and traffic density increase the chances for low birth weight, cognitive delays, lower IQ, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,.and autism. Ongoing childhood ambient air pollution exposure leads to poor lung development and asthma.
And when they get to be adults, these kids can look forward to an increased risk of cardiovascular, respiratory, immunological, renal, and neurodegenerative disorders, and some cancers.
This is the world that we have created for future generations. It’s time to clean up our act. Federal elections are looming in Canada and the US, and you can make a difference. You can challenge the reporters who roll their eyes at the politicians who want to do something by writing critical letters to their editors. And you can challenge the candidates that these reporters support by asking pointed questions about what they plan to do about the environment, because doing nothing is no longer an acceptable option.
Premier Wynne ended her statement to the press by saying, “And when my granddaughter, Olivia, says to me, ‘Grandma, what did you do?’ I’m not going to say to her, I put my head in the sand. I was worried that there may be a cost hidden somewhere that I couldn’t explain, and so I didn’t take an initiative, that would save the planet for your grandchildren. I’m not going to do that.”
My grandchildren are Jaden and Kaylee. I am advocating for a healthier world for them and their children. What are you doing for yours?