Hard to Know What's Going On
Now that another new year is underway with as yet no snow in Tottori to speak of, some of us tend to think quite a bit about that nebulous looming spectacle known in popular jargon as climate change. What, exactly, is going on? we wonder. And we have a devil of a time finding out.
News coverage of the outbreak of fires throughout the Australian continent is instructive. During our New Year's party some of my friends described it as though the entire mass of land were ablaze, with koalas 'functionally extinct'. This statement was illustrated with accounts of passersby approached by parched koalas wandering out of the forest. Offered water, the koalas down entire bottles in one gulp. And there were more harrowing stories of various species of animals dying in grisly ways. This haunted me. I searched for recent news on the crisis just now, and expecting to see koalas in particular referenced as 'endangered'. Instead the sources I find list them as merely 'vulnerable', and the Australian crisis doesn't look quite like the end of the world.
Not to make light of the situation. What's happening in Australia is a cataclysm, to be sure. But the sources I found are not in agreement as to its severity, let alone its specific causes. Most just offhandedly cite 'global warming', with few additional details.
Perhaps if I used Google like my friends I might have found scarier 'news'. I don't know. I use DuckDuckGo because it gives everyone the same search results, sorted by relevance and extant popularity rather than by a combination of the political orientations of the user and the creators of the search engine.
But maybe most people are happy to have information tailored to their prejudices. Even before the internet people chose their newspapers and television networks based on the politics of their publishers. (I think it was Fred Reed who said 'a columnist's job is to tell people things they already believe'.) It's just that now, with so many more choices and politics so much more polarised, what passes for news is more of an echo chamber than ever. (For the record, trying to read the Unz Review will probably leave you more befuddled than enlightened.)
Hyperlinks embedded in articles are often less than useful. Wikipedia is famous for its footnotes, yet many times statements presented as fact in articles are substantiated only by a link to an article citing someone's opinion. (I refrain from identifying specific examples here for fear that my focus on them at the expense of others mark me as belonging to one side or the other of the politcal spectrum. Suffice it to say that no orientation has a monopoly 'fake news', regardless of the accusations the two main factions in the US fling at each other.)
Online articles in reportedly 'scientific' journals: Short, oversimplified summaries for hoi polloi, and detailed accounts of actual research intended only for specialists in the field in question (and which, by the way, we often have to pay to read). Some of these papes are informative, though in the end most useful for ameliorating extremism, restrained and inconclusive as the presentation of scientific research tends to be. Other papers, written more to the purpose of advancing the researchers' careers than to add to the sum of human knowledge, not so much.
Maybe 2020 will be part nasty and part nice like all other years. Maybe things will keep going on and on in this vein. Maybe we'll all end up in the soup and we'll realise the alarmists were right all along. For the time being we look to be somewhere between uniformed and misinformed, and most of the media aren't helping.