On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded. In the three months that followed, until the underwater well was finally capped, 130 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. In that moment, much of the country understood that we were facing an environmental emergency.
Eleven years later, that sense of catastrophe has faded even as the environmental emergency has intensified. Every day, fossil fuels contaminate our air and seas at an alarming rate. The science is clear: Continuing to pollute our Earth with dirty energy will drive entire species to extinction, submerge coastal communities and otherwise alter our planet for centuries. Yet we rarely see high-profile news coverage of this destruction.
It’s time to change that.
The media have an indispensable role to play. Even before the global pandemic dominated headlines, broadcast news networks in the United States spent just four hours combined discussing the climate crisis in all of 2019. The Covering Climate Now collaborative has called on journalists to recognize what peer-reviewed science is saying: Humanity faces a “climate emergency.” To do this is not a matter of politics or activism but scientific accuracy. As Scientific American’s editor in chief, Laura Helmuth, wrote in explaining why her magazine had signed on, “It took a lot of difficult work to overcome the resistance of major media outlets to call racism racism and a lie a lie… It’s time to call a climate emergency a climate emergency.”
Journalists know how to convey a sense of crisis to the public – we did so with Deepwater Horizon, and last year with Covid-19. We must treat the climate emergency with the same urgency.
After years of inaction, new leaders in Washington are now attempting to make up for lost time – most recently through an infrastructure bill that includes significant investments in public transit and electric vehicles, climate technology research and development, green housing, and a Civilian Climate Corps modeled after FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps. President Joe Biden has also announced new energy standards for utilities and a strategy to incentivize sustainability through tax credits for carbon sequestration, wind and solar power, and green energy infrastructure. The new administration is signing back onto the Paris climate agreement and convening a climate summit with world leaders.
These are all crucial steps. But taken together, they bring us up to the edge of what’s politically possible. We need far greater government investment to immediately electrify sectors that still rely on dirty energy, switch our power grid over to renewable energy sources and support those whose lives are disrupted by the transition.
Pushing that boundary will require people across the world speaking up. As Greta Thunberg told Congress in 2019, “You must take action. You must do the impossible. Because giving up can never ever be an option.”