Oh how the tables have turned. A cliché phrase, but totally accurate for China’s recent rejection of Donald Trump’s plan to pull out of the climate change pact. A few years ago, no one would have thought China would interject its values into another country’s foreign policy—and no one would have EVER thought these values would be on mitigating climate change.
The US election is in the homestretch, and the campaign season has seen little to no discussion on the second greatest threat to humanity (the first being inevitable nuclear war following a Trump win). A few posts ago, I suggested that China may take the lead in global environmental leadership, and this US election, if Trump is elected, will certainly support this claim. In the US, politics has gotten in the way of climate action. And the media’s hunger for juicy quotes and gossip has pushed aside important technical, political environmental conversations.
Clinton has a substantial plan to combat climate change, promoting installation of 500 million solar panels, reducing oil consumption and cutting subsidies to oil and gas companies. However, she has hardly had any opportunities to express these proposals because she has had to address other scandals that the media and public drool over.
In the town hall debate, Ken Bone posed a question about energy policy, weighing transitioning to cleaner energy with minimizing unemployment in dirty industries. Afterwards, the public was more enamored by his innocent appearance and behavior than his actual question, and people were more disappointed by the discovery that he was creepy than by the candidates’ answers. Trump used his two minutes to ridicule the EPA and Obama administration for putting the US energy industry “under siege.” He also promoted “clean coal,” because “it will last for 1000 years” (it will last for thousands of more years in our atmosphere, too, but he didn’t mention this). He wanted to bring energy companies back to make money and employ people, and he repeated this for the rest of his response. He ended his response by talking about China illegally dumping steel into the US. Clinton responded first, not by attacking his ridiculous claim that coal was clean, but by criticizing Trump for using this illegally dumped steel and how she had fought against such policies as secretary.
This exchange was disappointing for two reasons. Firstly, China was used once again to distract from the United States’ own flawed policies and inaction. Secondly, by starting her response to the energy question by talking about China, Secretary Clinton depleted time that could have been spent discussing her own progressive climate policies that make sense scientifically and can protect people’s lives.
An episode of the show “Black Mirror” from 2013 called “The Waldo Moment” almost identically mirrors the reality of the US presidential campaign. In “The Waldo Moment,” a blue cartoon bear, Waldo, who makes crude remarks and incites violence, starts a campaign for a local election. The campaign starts as a joke, but then, during a heated debate, Waldo suggests that he, a cartoon bear, is more real and authentic by being outwardly flawed than any of the other politicians who overlook corruption or participate for their own personal brand’s sake. In the end, Waldo is actually elected by the public by an overwhelming majority.
This episode, and the current US election have shown how people are drawn to easily digestible comments, jokes, and gestures, much like the ones Waldo and Trump spew out, even if these comments are offensive. So, the media focuses on these, rather than nitty-gritty, hardcore policy plans. When listening to news about climate change in particular, audiences may become depressed or overwhelmed by the scientific information and the impending doom of a changing, probably lethal, climate. But this creates a cycle of politicians only saying easily digestible, quirky things and the media constantly demanding and focusing on these comments. This is also probably why people continue to dislike Secretary Clinton, who has tried (and somewhat progressed) to become quirky and easily digestible for the American public by diluting her intelligent plans in speeches.
Some media outlets are choosing to focus on the complexities of climate change issues with more mainstream programs. For instance, the National Geographic Channel just began broadcasting the second season of “Years of Living Dangerously,” originally shown on Showtime. In the show, celebrities travel the globe talking to experts, politicians, and victims of climate change to discuss issues ranging from drought, biodiversity loss, and floods. National Geographic Channel also broadcast the film “Before the Flood,” a film produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. Using celebrities may make climate change issues more mainstream, more relatable, and perhaps more attractive for otherwise oblivious TV watchers. Perhaps the climate change issue can only be discussed with the assistance of flashy accessories and rhetoric.
This election has made another mockery of democratic systems, the first mockery of the year being the Brexit referendum. Chinese netizens criticized the British for so carelessly voting and praised the Chinese government for not allowing the “sunflower seed-eating masses” to dictate the country’s future. China’s rejection of Trump’s plan, and a Trump presidency could mean an end to US-China climate relations and a role reversal in the international arena. The interwoven relationship between the entertainment media and politics has favored Trump’s campaign and disadvantaged hardcore issues like climate change. A Trump presidency may only increase this phenomenon. Let’s hope for a different outcome in the next 5 days!