How to Act on Climate Change in a Post-Truth World

Shortly after President George W. Bush withdrew the United States from the Kyoto Protocol, longtime New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert decided it was time to get clear on the debate around global warming. “I thought, ‘Either this is a really big deal—in which case it’s being horrifically under-covered—or it isn’t, in which case we could forget about it,” Kolbert says. She set off to Alaska and Greenland, met with top atmospheric scientists, and quickly learned that the vast majority of scientists had arrived at a consensus: Our world was changing. Her resulting three-part series in 2005, “The Climate of Man,” took readers to the front lines of climate change and became the basis of a seminal tome on the topic: Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change(2006).

Field Notes galvanized conversations around climate action, policy, and research. It was also instrumental in creating Climate One, a San Francisco talk show aimed at engaging leaders from business, policy, advocacy, and academic circles in a conversation about stabilizing the earth’s climate and building a sustainable economy. (Founder Greg Dalton, a journalist, started Climate One after an interview with Kolbert prompted him to visit the Arctic and witness the changing climate for himself.) Since then, Kolbert published another influential book, the Pulitzer Award–winning The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (2014), which details why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in ways no species has before.

More than a decade after their first interview, Kolbert met with Dalton again last week at the Climate One headquarters, within the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco. She sat onstage alongside fellow veteran climate reporter Dave Roberts (formerly of Grist, now writing for Vox), for a televised conversation about environmental journalism in a post-truth world where climate-denialism is on the rise.

“We’ve already met the enemy, and he’s all of us,” Kolbert said during an interview with Sierra before the event. At the time, Maria was spinning toward Puerto Rico, and Texans and Floridians were still reeling from Harvey and Irma.

Sierra: In Field Notes From a Catastrophe, you discuss turbulent natural forces that have shaped previous human civilizations with a NASA scientist. You quote him saying, “We may say that we’re more technologically able than earlier societies. But one thing about climate change is it’s potentially geopolitically destabilizing. And we’re not only more technologically able; we’re more technologically able destructively as well.” Can you talk about the ways in which technology is helping humanity to address climate change, and the ways in which it isn’t?

Elizabeth Kolbert: Right now we’re sort of only addressing climate change through technology. It comes down to two schools of thought: One is that we can keep doing everything we’re doing now, just with different technologies. The other is that we’ll have to live differently, with maybe much less technology—that we can’t just solar-power everything and call it a day. I tend to fall into the “We can’t just keep doing what we’re doing but actually have to change the way we live” category, but then I also don’t have a mechanism to get from here to there.

In any case, right now I think it’s pretty clear that we’re only pursuing the former, tech-reliant strategy and that we’re not even pursuing that very accurately. I mean, look out on the street—most people are still driving cars with internal combustion engines, even here in California, which has done as much as any place in the United States. Nothing very dramatic has changed. So, I don’t know an answer.

The other point of that quote was that, really, at the end of the day—and this is sadly all too relevant right now—most major countries have nuclear weapons, and that if things get ugly, they’ll use them. At the time I wrote that, it seemed way out there, but now it doesn’t. So I think this nativist, national moment we seemed to be in is contributing to all sorts of potential crises around the globe—climate-related and not.

Read more at sierraclub.org

Photo credit: CLIMATE ONE

Can we discuss Climate Change in the Post-Truth World?

Fighting the Normalization of Post-Truth Politics

Donald Trump’s rally speech in Phoenix on August 22 was full of falsehoods. The lack of outrage over his deceptive statements points to the normalization of post-truth politics, when appeals to personal beliefs and emotions wins out over objective facts. To avoid this normalization, we need to borrow the successful tactics of the environmental movement in dealing with the pollution of our environment.

 

During this speech, according to highly credible fact-checking organizations such as Factcheck.org and Politifact, Trump misled the audience as to his reaction to the Charlottesville violence, such as by neglecting to mention that he blamed “both sides.” He made false claims about the media, for instance that CNN’s ratings went down when they are rising, or that the media failed to report on Trump’s condemnation of racism, when they did. In the economic arena, he stated that wages “haven’t gone up for a long time,” when actually they’ve risen for at least the last three years. Another example of economic deception: Trump wrongly claimed that the US has “become an energy exporter for the first time ever just recently.”

 

Where is the outrage over these deceptions? This is our President, systematically sowing misinformation. Most of his falsehoods – such as the statement about the wages or CNN ratings – had been debunked earlier. Yet he kept repeating them, leaving no other interpretation than a deliberate intent to deceive, the dictionary definition of lying.

This lying is part of a broader pattern: Trump’s Politifact file shows an astounding 49 percent of his statements, are false. By comparison, his opponent in the US presidential election Hillary Clinton’s file shows that only 12 percent of her statements were false, 14 percent for the Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Despite Trump’s extremely high rate of deception, many still believe him. As an example, 44 percent of those polled believed his falsehoods about Obama wiretapping Trump Tower during the 2016 election campaign.

 

Thus, many will believe his Phoenix rally claims, despite debunking by fact-checkers. Unfortunately, 29 percent of the public, and only 12 percent of Trump supporters, trustfact-checkers. This mistrust enables Trump to pollute our politics with deception, undermining the trust so crucial to the political health of any democracy…

 

Read more on HuffPost

Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

 Is Fake News the New Norm?

Banner row has Hong Kong entering the post-truth era

Hong Kong may be entering a post-truth era, too. Scanning the websites and online forums of the opposition and those of pro-establishment circles over the past two weeks, you can hardly tell facts from rumours and conspiracy theories. The impression they give is that the only truths are those that accord with your own political stance.

The rows over offensive banners put up at several university campuses have been the catalyst, though things have been going downhill in this regard for a long time. One common conspiracy theory among radicals and activists is that the big poster congratulating Undersecretary for Education Christine Choi Yuk-lin on the suicide of her 25-year-old son was not put up by Education University students at all. Rather, outside forces used the poster as a “false-flag” operation to discredit the fight by student leaders for freedom of speech and the right to raise issues about Hong Kong independence on university campuses.

Meanwhile, not a few members of the pro-government camp have speculated that the same university students or others sympathetic to them – rather than nationalistic mainland students – put up campus banners, written in simplified characters, to celebrate the death of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia being under house arrest. This was to distract people from the row over the Christine Choi banner, which has put the student activists and their university union representatives in a terrible light.

Read more on South China Morning Post

Featured Image Credit: South China Morning Post

Is Hong Kong Entering the Post-Truth Era?

How Do We Navigate A ‘Post-Truth’ World? Follow The Millennials

“In 2016, Oxford declared its Word of the Year to be “post-truth” after it saw a 2000% increase in usage. How do executives or at least older people make their way in a post-truth world? Leaning on your Millennials is one helpful approach.

Post-truth is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion that appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Some have attributed its recent popularity to the sort of anti-establishment and emotion-driven politics that gave rise to the election of President Trump and the Brexit decision. However, we believe that the post-truth world we find ourselves in is the result of greater phenomena. On one hand, growing income inequality has led to widespread frustration. Feeling shortchanged by the system, many people are susceptible to reactionary thinking. On the other, the constant barrage of information and opinions enabled by the internet and a 24-hour news cycle is not only disorienting, but also makes it difficult to discern between what is ‘news’ and what is ‘opinion.’

This confusion has led to a decline in trust. A 2016 Gallup poll has found that the American trust in mass media has fallen to an all-time low. Public distrust makes sense when we consider a Postmodern worldview. Why should people accept what they are told by mainstream sources when they have direct access to the ‘real’ world through the user-generated content that pervades the media? We have the ability at our fingertips to find evidence or opinions supporting any and all narratives. Why would we want to accept universal ‘truths’ or ‘facts’, especially those that contradict our opinions? But as irritating as a post-truth world may seem, we sense that Millennials may be the best guides to navigating it.”

Read more of this article on Forbes.com

Featured image credit: Shutterstock 

Are Millennials the Best Guides in the Post-Truth World?

“Basket of Deplorables” Riffs on Trump’s America

“A new collection of short stories by Tom Rachman considers privacy and cultural bubbles in a post-truth era.

The first sentence of Basket of Deplorables announces, “You can’t see me right now. Then again, I can’t see you either.” You can take the narrator, Georgina, literally: A recent head injury has left her blind, and adrift at a buzzing election-night party at a Tribeca loft where she feels increasingly alienated from the intellectuals, musicians, and n+1 editors in her social circle. But her statement applies to all five of Tom Rachman’s new stories, released on Audible in the U.S. and in book form in Britain and Australia. Set consciously in the current moment and a few years from now, the darkly satirical tales consider a broader kind of cultural myopia—one that afflicts conservatives and liberals alike.

There’s something inevitable, if not rote, in the first wave of cultural works responding to the Trump presidency. Most seem sprung from outrage or sheer incomprehension: “The nightmare is in high gear,” is how the playwright Tony Kushner described his in-progress play about Donald Trump to The Daily Beast. But even in this early phase, it’s apparent that the 45th president is as difficult a subject as he is irresistible. Neither satire nor fiction can adequately capture him. So writers might be wise to consider him obliquely, as Rachman does: as a presence in the room, not a focal point. Basket of Deplorables is less interested in Trump than in the people and factors that enabled his presidency, and sometimes not even in those. Its point is that Americans’ increasing polarization and suspicion of each other is leading to a place that could make even 2017 seem like halcyon days for humanity by comparison.

The world of the five stories is an intricate, interconnected one, with many of the various connections and hints only emerging on a second read. The first tale, from which the collection gets its name, is set on November 8, 2016, at a prototypically dazzling Manhattan soiree, where fashion designers mingle with cultural theory professors and Salvadoran waiters serve sumac-spiced appetizers raided from “the pages of Ottolenghi.” Georgina, the narrator, is a former photographer known for her caustic images of rock stars and artists; her good-natured partner, Roger, is a publisher who prides himself on his parties, where Henry Kissinger and Britney Spears might both be proffered as cultural curiosities for the left-leaning “hothouse intellectuals” in attendance.”

Read more at The Atlantic

Featured photo credit: The Atlantic

Would You Read This Collection of Short Stories?

 

Post-Truth Project Featured in Portland Monthly

This month’s copy of Portland Monthly Magazine features an article titled “Fall Arts: Creative Resistance” with a nice write up on our collaborative Post-Truth project with Open Signal.

From the article – 

Big Screen, Little Lies

“Earlier this year, community media center Open Signal and micro-budget film studio Lower Boom put out a call. They were looking for five regional media-makers to create original works on ‘post-truth,’ or ‘what it’s like to live in a post-factual era.’ Say Lower Boom’s Matt Schulte: ‘Everybody believes nothing and everybody believes everything simultaneously. How could that be? I was looking at it through the lens of the breakdown of language and what words can mean and cannot.’

From the dozens of submissions, the partners chose five, each to receive $1,000 toward the project as well as mentorship and equipment access. Dawn Jones Redstone and Brenan Dwyer were among the winners, for their short film proposal, Nemesis.”

“It explores white male fragility through the lens of a single Scrabble match,” says Redstone. “What starts out as a competitive word game becomes recognizable gendered political warfare.”

For Redstone, the change in administration has also strengthened her artistic resolve. “As a gay, Latinx filmmaker, the election gave me a bitter determination to focus the lens on the voices that are being silenced and suppressed right now,” she says. “And it’s absolutely important to me to tell these stories with other women and people of color, because if we want our stories told we have to tell them ourselves. We have to become the storytellers.”

Can comedy save us in the “post-truth” era?

In her fascinating, comprehensive new book “The Girl in the Show: Three Generations of Comedy, Culture, & Feminism,” author Anna Fields reveals the audacious women who shaped modern comedy — and the obstacles they overcame just to get a place on the stage to make audiences laugh. Culled from both exhaustive research and interviews with luminaries like Abbi Jacobson and  Molly Shannon, it’s a tribute to the power of women standing up.

Fields spoke recently with Salon.com about comedy and the “girls” in the rooms where it happened.

On the presumed masculinity of humor:

We do think of men when we think of comedy, and we do think of maleness when we think of a comedian. So many of the women I interviewed talked to me about how they have to “trick the audience into thinking they’re men” in order for the audience to feel comfortable laughing at them but also loving them.

It’s so fascinating — what is a comedian supposed to look like?

On how gender fluidity is changing comedy:

What is to be a female comedian? What is it to be a male comedian? What if you are a comedian of either, both, or no gender? What does that mean in terms of how you present yourself to the audience, what you are allowed to joke about, and whether your audience will feel comfortable joking with you about that thing?

On the political power of laughter

I’ve always asked myself if, given that we live in an era in which so many of our leaders are abdicating their role as truth tellers, if comedians, by telling us the truth, become our new national leaders?

**Watch the video for the full interview. Click here to be redirected to salon.com

**Feature image credit: Salon.com

Can Comedy Save Us? What Do You Think?