Columns, Opinion

Welcome to the Greenhouse: The danger of downplaying climate change in journalism

Recently, I started filling out an application for a summer internship at the Wall Street Journal Opinion section. I knew this section of the WSJ leaned conservative — which worried my liberal mind — and although I had never read much of the newspaper, I knew it was well established so I thought it might be a good internship opportunity. 

The application asked that I be familiar with the WSJ Opinion section, so I decided to read as many of its articles as I could to prepare myself. Situated on prominent display in the center of the Opinion section’s first page, the first article that caught my eye was titled, “Is Climate Change in Your Problem Top 10?” by Andy Kessler. I clicked on it immediately because climate change is a primary interest of mine and I aim to write climate change pieces for all of my professional journalism life. 

The article, however, appalled me. Writing about the difference between Democrats’ and Republicans’ top 10 most important issues facing the nation today, not only did Kessler scorn Democrats and anyone else who placed climate change in their “Problem Top 10,” he also argued that climate change is not a bad thing at all. Rather, the article claims we should not be scared of embracing climate change as “progress” and “growth.”

It is a shameful day for all of journalism when a major newspaper like the Wall Street Journal — with digital circulation reaching over 2.7 million people daily — publishes an article that denies the severity of climate change in a manner that is both accusatory and offensive.

Smaran Ramidi / DFP Staff

It goes almost without saying that I decided to not apply to this WSJ internship due to the publication of this article. I cannot stay true to my values while working for a newspaper that considers such an article publishable. A journalist’s first loyalty should be to the public. However, Kessler is betraying his readers by undermining the truth and force-feeding us a list of his own priorities while implying that our own priorities are not as important.

I have many thoughts about Kessler’s own “Problem Top 10” list but my opinion of it does not serve you. I am not here to tell you that climate change should be your number one problem. 

Perhaps you struggle with food scarcity, systemic racism or job insecurity. Those things may rightly be at the top of your list of concerns. As a journalist, it is not my job to tell you your priorities, but it is my job to tell you the truth.

The truth is that climate change is an urgent and major issue facing the entire world, and as time goes on, it will affect most of us more and more unless we come up with effective climate change solutions. Journalism that denies or downplays the urgency of climate change is giving its readers a false sense of security and slowing the climate activism movement.

Downplaying the climate crisis is classist because climate change disproportionately affects those in poorer communities. Problematically, it also ignores the prominent role race plays in climate change and its augmented effects on people of color. For example, people of color are statistically more likely to die from environmental causes that are amplified by climate change because over 50% of those who live close to hazardous waste are people of color.  To imply that climate change is not a real issue is to deny the struggles that these communities have faced and will continue to face because of climate change. 

Kessler writes of global warming that “we should adapt to change, not slam the brakes on growth.” 

What does he want us to adapt to? Is it the forest fires in the American West, encouraged by climate change’s rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns, or drought, brought on by increasing heat and melting glaciers and snowpacks? Does Kessler ask that the nearly 40% of the U.S. population that lives on the coast “adapt” to the erosion of their cities and high-tide flooding due to sea level rise? 

I wonder if the coastal communities that are forecasted to possibly be below sea level by 2100 or sooner will be glad that the government chose not to effectively address the growing force of global warming. 

Kessler writes that “progress, not retreat, solves problems.” I agree that progress is generally good, but he means that climate change itself is progress and we should not “retreat” from it. 

This familiar argument against climate activism — which raises the point that the world has already gone through climate change in the past — ignores the difference between previous natural climate shifts and this one that we have caused ourselves, the fact that we are here now.

Regardless of the painful irony of protecting our species that is selfishly killing so many other species, how can we sit back and not try to protect our children? We must have the wild hope that our children will be slightly better than us, and their children slightly better than them, until one day the human race is actually worthy of this beautiful planet Earth. 

With that hope, we have to try to make this a livable planet. It may be too late to undo much of the damage we have already inflicted on earth, but we should still try to make it livable, right? That means taking action in any way we can to stop climate change’s worst effects. 

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One Comment

  1. Thank you Fiona, for speaking the truth, for reminding us about what matters, and not applying to intern at the WSJ!