The Party’s Over in Soggy Bottom

The folks at the vegetable stand have been asking when the sweet corn will be ready. We have to tell them “later.” We increasingly ping-pong between drought and deluge. The local paper carried an AP story today (7/22/23) focusing on New England: “Floods devastated farmers as months of labor, crops swept away.” Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont was quoted indicating a connection to something larger going on though he was a little coy about it.

“ ‘What the hell is going on here?’ Lamont said, speaking in front of a flooded farmer’s field in Glastonbury. “Look behind us. We were irrigating that a couple of months ago, desperate for water in the middle of a drought. And today it’s Lake Wobegon. And so what do you do?’ “

Well, Ned—— we have been pumping fossil carbon into the atmosphere for decades now, and the scale of this planetary experiment is having the effects that the oil company scientists predicted in their private corporate memos years ago. It’s been a great energy-binging party and highly profitable for some. But maybe it’s time to take away the punchbowl?

George W. Bush once announced that America was “addicted to oil.” It may have been the only thing he ever got right. And don’t “mis-underestimate” the lengths to which addicts will go to feed their habit.

The most popular segment on local TV “news shows” is actually “the weather.” Generally there are a number of teaser bits sprinkled throughout the alleged news program where, like a burlesque fan dancer or bump-and-grinder of old, the TV personality hints at what the full forecast holds, before finally getting down to the pasties and G-string with a cascade of moving “radar” imaging and pictures depicting sun or clouds and predicted temperatures. It’s all fast-paced and post-literate featuring faux meteorological terminology like “nice” or “sticky.”

Invariably the feature is sponsored by car/truck commercials with quick-cut images of marauding knobby-tired pick-ups roaring through streams or up rural slopes somewhere and carrying telegenic actors portraying delighted passengers, ecstatic in their carbon-belching romp.

If there were a natural media spot to present the link between “weather” and an observably changing climate this would be the spot. But of course it doesn’t happen all that much. Local “news” likes to keep-it-lite, and maintain the viewer’s gaze for the next slug of commercials. Consequently “stories” about voluntarism, unpaid advertising for local businesses, the occasional orange-clad “perp-walk” cameo, and dog/cat puffery are the rule. It’s all narrated by  the chirpy teeth-&-hair “personalities” behind the desks reading their lines off the teleprompter and occasionally robotically looking at each other. Maybe you’ve noticed.

If the reality of our increasingly worrisome situation is unclear, maybe this structural avoidance has something to do with it. Former weatherman Chris Gloninger’s Iowa experience, reported by the Guardian (7/16/23) lends some insight perhaps.

“Obsessed with weather since he was a child, when Hurricane Bob crunched into his New York State hometown,” Gloninger parlayed his interest into  “an itinerant career as a TV meteorologist.”

“Gloninger said he experienced ‘a holy shit moment’ with climate change as he was drenched while covering 2017’s Hurricane Harvey— in which the overheated air and ocean helped dump 9 trillion gallons of rainwater upon Texas in a little over a day.”

Two years ago he went to work at CBS affiliate KCCI in Desmoines where his job description was to”weave the reality of global heating into his forecasts. Gloninger flagged the science where appropriate, reminding during a flood event that a warming atmosphere holds more moisture, or of the upward march of global temperature during a heat wave.”

Sadly this approach generated some “viewer angst” and then strings of emails which included death threats. A particularly obsessed viewer ordered him to “go the hell back to where you came from DOUCHEBAG!!!” He was accused of “pushing a ‘liberal conspiracy theory on the weather.’ “  Climate change was disparaged as a “Biden hoax.“

To quote governor Lamont again, “What the hell is going on here?”

Frankly, like most modern problems, it’s really not that complicated. Our institutions have failed us. That’s all. The purpose of TV weather and “news” shows is to sell product, not to provide understanding useful to adults who are alleged to be “self-governing.”

The odds of keeping global heating within survivable bounds grow slimmer by the day. UN (IPCC) climate change estimates have been consistently overrun by actual events as anyone who’s been paying attention understands. The profit-based inertia of business-as-usual and the political capture of government bodies by what used to be candidly referred to as The Money Power propel us (and our children) into a vastly hotter, more turbulent world.

And, like it or not, the party’s over. Hey——what was in that punch?

Richard Rhames is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: