The UN climate summit in Durban, South Africa, ended with one of those marathon all-night cliffhanger negotiations that the media love so much. The outcome was a commitment to talk about a legally-binding deal to cut carbon emissions – by both developed and developing countries – that would be agreed by 2015 and come into effect by 2020. It was about as tortuous and vague as that sounds.
BBC News reported the UN chairperson saying that the talks had ‘saved tomorrow, today’.
But nothing substantive had changed. Carbon emissions, already at their peak, will continue to increase for at least the next eight years, pushing humanity closer to the brink of climate collapse. Rather than address the madness of a global system of corporate-led capitalism that is bulldozing us to this disaster, the corporate media mouthed deceptive platitudes.
A Guardian editorial assured readers that the Durban deal is ‘better than nothing’, and that:
There are times when inching forward can look like progress […] a moment when it is cheerier to think of how bad things might have been than to rate the success of the final outcome.
Adopting the standard, but discredited, establishment framework to explain the treacly mire hindering serious action on climate, this vanguard of liberal journalism opined: ‘There is an unvarying conflict of interest in the fight against climate change between developed and developing economies.’
No hint there that the conflict is, in fact, between the elite corporate 1% and the 99% of the global population that are their victims.
The Independent, another great white hope of liberal journalism, told its diminishing band of readers that the Durban outcome is ‘an agreement that gives new cause for optimism.’ Indeed, it ‘is an enormous advance on the position now.’
An editorial in The Times (‘A Change of Climate’, December 12, 2011) conformed along similar lines while also taking care to kick the forces of rationality in the teeth:
Scientists and activists will complain that Durban’s only commitment is to more talks and that any agreement will not become operational until 2020. But these campaigners have often proved poor advocates, either exaggerating or misusing data to make their case or showing an unwise disdain for the realpolitik and compromises essential for any deal.
Climate scientists will be dismayed that an ostensibly responsible paper like The Times would make a sneering reference to the unfounded ‘Climategate’ claims of climate data manipulation. But perhaps readers will appreciate the irony that The Times is itself, of course, an enthusiastic practitioner of corporate ‘realpolitik’.
‘A Crime Of Global Proportions’
We are not suggesting that critical comment was entirely missing from press coverage. That would take absurd levels of totalitarian media control. The Guardian managed to find space on its website, if not in the print edition, for the Guardian’s head of environment, Damian Carrington, to write in his blog:
Unlike the economic debt currently transfixing the attention of world’s leaders, it appears possible to them that we can put our climate debt on the never-never.
The loans in euros, dollars and pounds will be called in within days, weeks, and months. But the environmental debt – run up by many decades of dumping carbon dioxide waste in the atmosphere – won’t be due for full repayment before 2020, according to the plan from Durban.
This ‘ecological debt’, Carrington added, ‘will inevitably transform into a new economic debt dwarfing our current woes. […] Cleaning up the energy system that underpins the global economy is inevitable, sooner or later. If not, true economic armageddon awaits, driven by peak oil, climate chaos and civil unrest.’
Friends of the Earth were permitted their token quote in the Guardian, scant reward for decades of soft-pedalling its criticism of the corporate media: ‘This empty shell of a plan leaves the planet hurtling towards catastrophic climate change.’
Unfiltered by corporate news editors, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a statement pointing out that, in Durban, the world’s governments
by no means responded adequately to the mounting threat of climate change. […] It’s high time governments stopped catering to the needs of corporate polluters, and started acting to protect people.
Powerful speeches and carefully worded decisions can’t amend the laws of physics. The atmosphere responds to one thing, and one thing only – emissions. The world’s collective level of ambition on emissions reductions must be substantially increased, and soon.
In a powerful article on Independent Online, based in South Africa, there were stronger messages still. The environment group Earthlife Africa said the decisions resulting from the Durban summit would result in a 4oC global average temperature rise which would mean an average increase of 6oC-8oC for Africa. This would lead to an estimated 200 million deaths by 2100.
No wonder that Nnimmo Bassey, chairman of Friends of the Earth International, said: ‘Delaying real action until 2020 is a crime of global proportions.’
An increase in global temperatures of 4ºC, permitted under this plan, is a death sentence for Africa, small island states, and the poor and vulnerable worldwide. This summit has amplified climate apartheid, whereby the richest 1 percent of the world have decided that it is acceptable to sacrifice the 99 percent.
Karl Hood of Grenada, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, responded to the Durban deal with damning words: ‘Must we accept our annihilation?’
Aubrey Meyer, originator of the ‘contraction and convergence’ policy that would, if adopted by the UN, reduce greenhouse gases to safe levels, was also scathing: ‘The islands are being annihilated and we all are now become their assassins. We have informally known this but with this “Durban-Deal” we all have now formally crossed that threshold.’
Janet Redman, of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, spoke the unadorned truth that is so painful, if not impossible, for the corporate media to acknowledge: ‘What some see as inaction is in fact a demonstration of the palpable failure of our current economic system to address economic, social or environmental crises.’
The Eightfold Nay: The Great Unmentionables Of Climate Coverage
In our book, Newspeak in the 21st Century (Pluto Press, 2009), we listed the key issues that would be at the heart of debate on the climate crisis in a truly free press:
1. The inherently biocidal, indeed psychopathic, logic of corporate capitalism, structurally locked into generating maximised revenues in minimum time at minimum corporate cost. Because corporations are legally obliged to maximise profits for shareholders, it is in fact illegal for corporations to prioritise the welfare of people and planet above private profits. How can this simple fact of entrenched corporate immorality not be central to any discussion that is relevant to the industrial destruction of global life-support systems?
2. The proven track record of big business in promoting catastrophic consumption regardless of the consequences for human and environmental health. Whether disregarding the links between smoking and cancer, junk food and obesity, exploitation of the developing world and human suffering, fossil fuel extraction and lethal climate change, factory farming and animal suffering, high salt consumption and illness, corporations have consistently subordinated human and animal welfare to short-term profits.
3. The relentless corporate lobbying of governments to introduce, shape and strengthen policies to promote and protect private power.
4. The billions spent by the advertising industry to sell consumer products and ‘services’, creating artificial ‘needs’, with children an increasing target.
5. The collusion between powerful companies, rich investors and state planners to install compliant, often brutal, dictators in client states around the world.
6. The extensive use of loans and tied aid that ensnare poor nations in webs of crippling debt, ensuring that the West obtains or deepens control of their resources, markets and development.
7. The deployment of threats, bribery and armed force against countries that attempt to pursue self-development, rather than economic or strategic planning sanctioned by ‘the international community.’
8. The lethal role of the corporate media in promoting the planet-devouring aims of private power.
One searches in vain for any sensible and sustained discussion of any of these issues in the corporate media; never mind all of them taken together.
No wonder then that, for all the warm words of political ‘commitment’, we are headed for unprecedented desperate times ahead.