Hansen and Greta, a possible Grim Reality

Climate Strike! That was this past Friday, the 20th of September 2019. The “face” of this movement is a 16 year-old named Greta Thunberg, from Sweden. She was born on January 3, 2003. Ms.Thunberg is very concerned about the environment.

In1968, Stanford Research Institute delivered a report titled, Sources, Abundance, and Fate of Gaseous Atmospheric Polluters to the American Petroleum Institute.The report made clear the consequences of the climate trends it had noted, warning that if left unabated “could bring about climate changes” like temperature increases, melting of ice caps and sea level rise.

It took 7 more years before the term “global warming” would appear in a peer reviewed academic journal. James Hansen a prominent NASA scientist would not testify before Congress for another 20 years. So, the alarming evidence and what it meant, ultimately, for planet Earth, was scientific fact a long time ago in the current framework of Greta Thunberg’s remarkable effort to wake up governments far and wide to DO SOMETHING.

When Hansen and other climate scientists made their research available to the U.S. government decades ago, it didn’t take long for the energy companies to read between the lines of the reports proposed remedies, including finding alternate energy sources to fossil fuels and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. And thus began the propaganda campaign of Big Energy to pooh pooh the science, a campaign still being advanced today. As a result, the latest climate science reports are strongly suggesting that so much damage has now been done to our earthly environment that unless action to slow down and/or at least try to stabilize the negative atmospheric developments are put in place, the human species (and many non-human species) may be in danger of extinction, possibly within a generation or two into the future. The most dire predictions say that by 2030, if nothing continues to be done to address the scientific documentation of climate change, the drastic realities of environmental collapse will be a grim daily reality.

Is Greta going to make a difference? I, personally, think it’s too little, too late. Too little what? Protesting I guess. Demanding formal, official action. Storming the Bastille? Keep in mind our current administration pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord and is currently, systematically gutting layers of legislative environmental protections. Maybe some countries are trying, but not the USA. And then we have the media asking the question: who can beat Trump in 2020? Is that meant to be an ironic question? Irony lurks here. But never doubt our dumbed down culture, both popular and political. But that’s for another blog. However, that the mass media asks that question to an electorate evidently possessed of dubious critical thinking skills (Trump??!!), distracted by stressed-out living and soothing, mindless, touch screen escapism, it is an alarmingly relevant question.

Yeah, right. That media. The “legacy” media and now social media. As our worldly environment apparently succumbs to the neo-con, “free market” ideology of the far Right, profit over people/planet modus operandi, the idea that 50 years ago Stanford published its alarming climate report begs the question, why wasn’t this matter, factually identified, now so many years in the rear view mirror, given the spotlight in major media then? It was a report that certainly warranted significant attention with continual drum beating by the electronic and print media. The planet is dying?! Stop the presses! To say that the story was a victim of the aforementioned propaganda campaign by big energy to negate the science states the obvious, I’d say. Now, today, along with the psuedo-science that energy companies promulgate, the media has devolved along with the our atmosphere. The other day, the city of Houston was slammed with FORTY INCHES of rain! I didn’t hear or read of any correlation between that catastrophic event and the current climate science and its evermore alarming studies. The story is: wow!, 40 inches of rain! Let’s watch footage of the dramatic water rescues. One can use that example of the uselessness of the mass media when it comes to providing the most important information.

Similarly, Greta Thunberg’s story goes this way: Wow! a 16 year-old girl is the voice of her generation and demanding action regarding climate change. So remarkable. And she has austism! Incredible, no? Will she make any difference? Look, she’s speaking in front of elected officials. What’s the big deal about her? Oh, she’s only 16!  From Sweden! How bold. How unusual!

What the Greta narrative should include is the same Stanford report alluded to at the top of this blog entry. The story should be Greta’s parents, grandparents, and the other generations before her who should have been made aware of what was known over 50 years ago. The narrative should note that science has been silenced by influential, business-as-usual, profiteers (can you say Koch Industries) and thus it takes Greta (she’s only 16!) to say something. But Thunberg is the bright shiny object. What she is saying is lazily invoked by media, at best. And of course, because corporate media is implicit in our current environmental crisis, it isn‘t going to mea culpa now.

We get Trump and more Trump. Then more Trump. Then, wait, what did Trump say? Can Trump (wrecking the environment as best he can, as noted above) be beaten in 2020?

What the…?

Marshall McLuhan, also over 50 years ago, termed the phrase the medium is the message. In terms of Greta Thunberg, the message, as filtered through the various channels of the media is as I asserted above. Very little context and analysis of the real, actual, vital part of her story, that it’s getting late, so take action, PLUS the backstory of just how long ago action should have been taken and why it hasn’t been taken. Point fingers! This is a man-made crisis. Accountability as part of the take action now process. 

Look, a squirrel! Wow. Look, a cat video! Oh, those doggies all so cute! Social media? Russian hackers! Cardi B. Taylor Swift! Click bait abounds. What obscure YouTube “stars” have the most followers? There are teenagers making a fortune for giving advice via YouTube or InstasnapchatfacetimeBook about fashion or how to excel at Warcraft. Short attention span theater…

It’s been this way a long time too. Social media does have its smarter moments (Arab Spring, 2011) but the news cycles are now so short and facile that even today, having looked at the news feeds, there’s A LOT about Trump, as usual, and hardly any mention of Greta. Out of sight, out of…That was Friday, okay? What’s NEW? Beside what’s old: Trump. Trump. Trump did/said what? Trump and Russia. Trump and the wall. Trump and that…squirrel! What is easily digestible? People don’t need or want any context or analysis. If they did, they’d demand it. Right? If people wanted to save the environment, they’d just do it. And then the media would report on it. Why they would JUST DO IT doesn’t really matter. The media just reports. The reporting is the story. The medium IS the message. The media is the MASS-AGE. With legacy media or social media, one must ask, can I trust this information? Is this valid? Can what one reads or hears be verified by fact? Caveat emptor.

It’s Sunday. In the U.S. at this time of year that means football. Big advertising dollars for all the eyeballs that somehow, for some reason, just have to follow the action. And bet on it. Or sweat out their fantasy team’s stats. Lots of action. Winners and losers. The evening news in a major market that has a NFL franchise will spend extra, extra time breaking down the plays and the controversies and what should be done or could be done. The fans need answers! This is really important “news”.

Good luck to Greta and her capturing the media spotlight–for a moment or two. After the sports extra programs later, maybe there will be a special report on Thunberg. I mean really digging into the weeds on that story. What’s the score with this young woman? What is she saying? Why is she saying it? It what she’s saying true? Is the environment really going to collapse in the next 10-20 years? Can this be verified?

I’m sure CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, FOX News, the New York Times, Washington Post, even the Peoria Journal Star will not let Greta down or the millions around the world who showed up for Climate Strike Friday. It’s a really big story, right? Release the journalism-degreed investigative hounds and get to the bottom of this story.

It sure is a big chunk of juicy news, and the story began decades ago. Not just since Greta got in gear. If the beginning of any story is left out, it’s not a complete story. Maybe this is all just a dream. You know, dreams have no logical beginning or end. One just has the dream, is in it some place, with no idea how it happened. The dream has a person floating about until it simply, abruptly succumbs to wakefulness. That’s a dream for ya, eh? But if the dreamer is about to plunge into an abyss, or be run over by a train? The dreamer is jolted awake. Unsettled. Whew! What to make of it? It seems absurd…

The Greta Thunberg story is like a dream as far as the reporting on it goes. Who would dream a 16 year-old could…? How did she get here? What’s this Greta want? Oh, never mind. What else is on the tellie?

The abyss awaits, my fellow humanoids. Will you wake up in time?

About jharrin4

mass communication/speech instructor at College of DuPage and Triton College in suburban Chicago. Army veteran of the Viet Nam era.
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2 Responses to Hansen and Greta, a possible Grim Reality

  1. “The Greta Thurnberg story is like a dream as far as the reporting on it goes.”

    This is a dream and one that is important for a day or two. Then it goes into the history of time and is forgotten. Our planet is suffering from all sorts of pollution and climate chaos. Each hurricane and fire is reported. We see hundreds or thousands of people suffering but then it is forgotten. It’s sort of like the unending number of gun deaths. “Thoughts and prayers’ and nothing changes. Let’s move on to the current topic of importance: football.

    Our Orange Swamp Monster works to help himself. He has no understanding of suffering or deprivation. [Shall the Puerto Rican citizens applaud getting a few rolls of paper towels?] Only the ‘out of touch media’ worries about the hoax of global warming.

    Donald Trump: “Only the out of touch media elites think the biggest problems facing America – you know this, this is what they talk about, facing American society today is that there are 11 million illegal immigrants who don’t have legal status. And, they also think the biggest thing, and you know this, it’s not nuclear, and it’s not ISIS, it’s not Russia, it’s not China, it’s global warming.”


  2. Fossil fuel emissions continue to accelerate globally despite the need for deep, permanent cuts. In the face of increasingly destructive hurricanes, wildfires, heatwaves, floods and droughts, humanity effectively hasn’t blinked. There is reason to fear that human civilization will be roused from its slumber only at the point of such a devastating climate shock, that it is too late for meaningful action.


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