“Climate change isn’t the news and it isn’t a set of news stories. It’s the prospective end of all news. Think of it as the anti-news.
All the rest is part of the annals of human history: the rise and fall of empires, of movements, of dictatorships and democracies, of just about anything you want to mention. The most crucial stories, like the most faddish ones, are — every one of them — passing phenomena, which is of course what makes them the news.
What makes climate change so challenging is that the carbon dioxide (and methane) being generated by the extraction, production, and burning of fossil fuels supports the most profitable corporations in history, as well as energy states like Saudi Arabia and Russia that are, in essence, national versions of such corporations. The drive for profits has so far proven unstoppable. Those who run the big oil companies, like the tobacco companies before them, undoubtedly know what potential harm they are doing to us. They know what it will mean for humanity if resources (and profits) aren’t poured into alternative energy research and development. And like those cigarette companies, they go right on. They are indeed intent, for instance, on turning North America into “Saudi America,” and hunting down and extracting the last major reserves of fossil fuel in the most difficult spots on the planet. Their response to climate change has, in fact, been to put some of their vast profits into the funding of a campaign of climate-change denialism (and obfuscation) and into the coffers of chosen politicians and think tanks willing to lend a hand.
In fact, one of the grim wonders of climate change has been the ability of Big Energy and its lobbyists to politicize an issue that wouldn’t normally have a “left” or “right,” and to make bad science into an ongoing news story. In other words, an achievement that couldn’t be more criminal in nature has also been their great coup de théâtre.
In a world heading toward the brink, here’s the strange thing: most of the time that brink is nowhere in sight. And how can you get people together to solve a human-caused problem when it’s so seldom meaningfully in the news (and so regularly challenged by energy interests when it is)?
This is the road to hell and it has not been paved with good intentions. If we stay on it, we won’t even be able to say that future historians considered us both a wonder (for our ability to create world-ending scenarios and put them into effect) and a disgrace (for our inability to face what we had done). By then, humanity might have arrived at the end of history, and so of historians.
- Tom Engelhardt, “The End of History?”
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