The Age of Foolishness

(Over the next several weeks, I’ll be posting several excerpts from my forthcoming book, Aztec Nation. The second such excerpt is below. Here’s a link to my first book: clicky.)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…. – Charles Dickens

How I wish wildfires were the only natural phenomenon employed in the public relations campaign that is global warming alarmism. They are not. A partial list of the other things that nature does that are now presented as unnatural includes the following: tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, droughts, and perfect sunny days with highs in the low 70s. Actually, please forgive me, this last item is not on the list. Sometimes, I get just a little tweaked about all of this – I admit it.

But the other four items are on the list. And the chances of watching national news in the United States and not seeing one of them on any given day is close to non-existent. There are a lot of reasons for this. One is that, after decades of being known as the biggest impediment to any eventual reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases, the United States has a sizable population of people who are eager to atone for this perceived sin. And at least 90 percent of members of the American media fall within this population. The nightly stories about weather, presumptively indicative of climate change, can be understood as ritual confessions: we were wrong, we were so wrong. But they are wrong about being wrong.

Another reason you will never again see a day without a meteorological disaster of some kind on the network news is that the United States is physically enormous, with startling geographic and meteorological diversity. As has been the case for hundreds of thousands of years (at a minimum), the big five of tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, wildfires and droughts can be depended upon to be occurring somewhere in our nation at all times. Presenting these as news is a shell game, with the pea being a normal number of disasters in a country with all the microclimates of the United States, and hundreds of empty shells on the table being all the places in the country on any given day that had favorable, or at the very least unremarkable, weather. You don’t need increases in any negative phenomena in order to have enough with which to lead the nightly news. Indeed, as I write this book in late 2013, tornadoes are at or near all-time low values, a major hurricane has not hit American shores in nearly eight years (the longest stretch on record), flooding has not increased, droughts are less severe than in the 1930s and 1950s, and the number of acres claimed annually by wildfires has plummeted over the last century. Meanwhile, less than two percent of my fellow-citizens know any of this, least of all about wildfires.

On the extremely rare occasions when the United States is experiencing placid weather from sea to shining sea, guess what? The rest of the world is more than large enough to fill the gap in TV news budgets. For, as sprawling as the United States is, it is just a small piece of the vast planet on which you are living. And on a planet the size of ours, it is virtually impossible for there to be no catastrophic floods, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, or droughts on any given day. This is a dream come true for news editors. In the age of smart phones, with a billion digital cameras suddenly distributed across the globe, there isn’t a gust of wind that someone doesn’t record. And those gusts of wind and fires and floods get sent via the vast funnel that is the Internet into American newsrooms (and others). Right now, while unremarkable meteorologically, is an amazing tempest of information the likes of which the world has never seen. And there is just enough technology available to turn that tempest into a last claim of relevance by news networks. Are they really relevant? Perhaps not. But they will successfully use natural disasters to keep themselves alive for years to come, and whatever shred of objectivity on natural phenomena they once possessed will become an even more distant memory than it is today.

About Harold Ambler

I am a lifelong environmentalist. I started my journalism career at The New Yorker, where I worked as a copy editor. Since then, my own work has appeared in The New York Daily News, The National Review Online, The Atlantic Wire, The Huffington Post, The Berkeley Daily Planet, The Providence Journal, Brown Alumni Monthly, The Narragansett Times, Rhode Island Monthly, and Providence Business News.
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