The Fate of the Earth
See Page Five
By Tom Engelhardt
Let me betray my age for a moment. Some of you, I know, will be shocked, but I still read an actual newspaper. Words on real paper every day. I'm talking about the New York Times, and something stuck with me from the January 9th edition of that "paper" paper. Of course, in the world of the Internet, that's already ancient history -- medieval times -- but (as a reminder) it came only a few days after Donald Trump's drone assassination of Iranian Major General Qassem Suleimani.
So you won't be surprised to learn that its front page was essentially all Iran and The Donald. Atop it, there was a large photo of the president heading for a podium with his generals and officials lined up on either side of him. Its caption read: "'The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it,' President Trump said Wednesday at the White House." Beside it, the lead story was headlined "U.S. and Iranians Lower Tensions, at Least for Now." Below were three more Iran-related pieces, taking up much of the rest of the page. ("A President's Mixed Messages Unsettle More Than Reassure," etc.)
At the bottom left, there was a fifth Iran-related article. Inside that 24-page section of the paper, there were seven more full pages of coverage on the subject. Only one other piece of hot news could be squeezed (with photo) onto the bottom right of the front page. And whether you still read actual papers or now live only in the world of the Internet, I doubt you'll be shocked to learn that it focused on Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, already involved in a crisis among the British Royals that was almost Iranian in its intensity. The headline: "In Stunning Step, Duke and Duchess Seek New Title: Part-Timers."
Had you then followed the "continued on page A5" below that piece, you would have found the rest of the story about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (including a second photo of them and an ad for Bloomingdales, the department store) taking up almost all of that inside page. If, however, you had been in a particularly attentive mood, you might also have noticed, squeezed in at the very bottom left of page 5, an 11-paragraph story by Henry Fountain. It had been granted so little space that the year 2019 had to be abbreviated as '19 in its headline, which read in full: "'19 Was the 2nd-Hottest Year, And July Hottest Month Yet."
Of course, that literally qualified as the hottest story of the day, but you never would have known it. It began this way:
"The evidence mounted all year. Temperature records were broken in France, Germany and elsewhere; the Greenland ice sheet experienced exceptional melting; and, as 2019 came to a close, broiling temperatures contributed to devastating wildfires that continue in Australia. Now European scientists have confirmed what had been suspected: 2019 was a very hot year, with global average temperatures the second highest on record. Only 2016 was hotter, and not by much -- less than one-tenth of a degree Fahrenheit."
As Fountain pointed out, however briefly, among the records broken in 2019, "The past five years have been the five warmest on record" (as had the last decade).
In another world, either that line or the actual headline should reasonably have been atop that Times front page in blazing letters. After all, that's the news that someday could do us all in, whatever happens in Iran or to the British royal family. In my own dreamscape, that piece, headlined atop the front page, would have been continued on the obituary page. After all, the climate crisis could someday deliver an obituary for humanity and so many other living things on this planet, or at least for the way of life we humans have known throughout our history.
If you live online and were looking hard, you could have stumbled on the same news, thanks, say, to a similar CNN report on the subject, but it wasn't the equivalent of headlines there either. Just another hot year... bleh. Who's going to pay real attention when war with Iran lurks just beneath the surface and Harry and Meghan are heading for Canada?
To give credit where it's due, however, a week later when that climate news was confirmed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it did finally hit the front page of the January 16th edition of the paper Times. Of course, I wouldn't be writing this if it had been the day's blazing headline, but that honor went to impeachment proceedings and a photo of the solemn walk of the seven House impeachment managers, as well as the clerk and sergeant-at-arms, delivering those articles to the Senate.
That photo and two stories about impeachment dominated the top of the page. Trump's "phase 1" trade deal with China got the mid-page area and various other stories ("Warren Confronts the Skeptics Who Fear Her Plans Go Too Far") were at page bottom. Stuck between the impeachment headliners and the Warren story was, however, a little insert. You might think of it as the news equivalent of a footnote. It had a tiny chart of global temperatures, 1880 to 2019, a micro-headline ("Warmer and Warmer"), and a note that read: "In the latest sign of global warming's grip on the planet, the past decade was the hottest on record, researchers said. Page A8." And, indeed, on that page was Henry Fountain's latest story on the subject.
As it happened, between the 9th and 16th of January, yet more news about our heating planet had come out that, in a sense, was even grimmer. A new analysis found that the oceans, sinkholes for the heat trapped by greenhouse gas emissions, had also experienced their hottest five years on record (ditto for the last decade). In their case, however, 2019 was the very hottest, not the second hottest, year so far. And that, too, was a Times story, but only online.
Two Kinds of Time
Now, I don't want you to misunderstand me here. The New York Times is anything but a climate change-denying newspaper. It has some superb environmental and global-warming coverage (including of Australia recently) by top-of-the-line journalists like Somini Sengupta. It's in no way like Fox News or the rest of Rupert Murdoch's fervently climate-denying media organization that happens to control more than 70% of newspaper circulation in burning Australia.