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Happy New Year to All! — Climate Change News from the Dead Zone

Credit: Johnny Milano for The New York Times

No, the Dead Zone is not Earth, not yet anyway. It's not even Florida after a hurricane, although that's closer to the truth, as you can see in the picture.


Holiday time, particularly the days between Christmas and New Year's, is a journalistic Dead Zone. Any news media reports from that period are sure to receive far less attention than normal. A favorite tactic of sleazy politicos is to try to slip one by during that period to avoid criticism or outrage by concerned citizens. Case in point is the release on December 28 of yet another Trump administration proposal to defang an environmental protection rule. This one would allow greater emissions of poisonous mercury into the air, and ups the Trump Termite's scorecard of weakened or repealed environmental restrictions to nearly a dozen.


Almost as troubling, and far less understandable, was the mystifying decision by the New York Times to release a special twelve-page report on December 26 about the consequences of Trump's environmental retreat on the health and safety of Americans, while on the same day, headlining the editorial, "Trump Imperils the Planet." These issues demand greater exposure and publicity than they can ever receive in the media Dead Zone.


The report goes into considerable detail about the personal stories of ordinary citizens who have been affected by the loosening of regulations, like the farm worker in California disabled by Chlorpyrifos, a nerve agent and broad spectrum pesticide, and the North Dakotans who are afraid to breathe the air, and the West Virginians who are afraid to drink the water. It's a long read, and a heart-wrenching one. At least skim it if you can.


Another shorter, must-read lost in the Dead Zone, is David Leonhardt's New York Times' column of December 30, where he makes the argument that the best hope for raising awareness and concern about climate change is the weather. Pundits and scientists always warn us not to confuse extreme weather events with a changing climate, but Leonhardt makes the obvious point that weather is what people can see, feel, hear, and touch, and thus it's going to have a far greater impact than all the academic studies or governments reports put together. I have particular sympathy for this argument, because the novel that I'm currently trying to sell into the Dead Zone of the lit biz, The Eleventh Grieve, is all about how the recognition that "weird weather" is really climate change can win over even the most bullheaded denier.


Leonhardt says he "wanted to write my last column of 2018 about the climate as a kind of plea: Amid everything else going on, don't lose sight of the most important story of the year." That's all well and good, but as we used to say in my former profession, the ad biz, "It's not what you say, it's what they hear." So wise up, Dave! There aren't that many people listening on December 30!


As a postscript, check out today's New York Times' article, post–Dead Zone, on a childhood cancer cluster in Indiana that can be traced to contamination of groundwater by trichloroethylene, or TCE, a colorless fluid with a subtle, sweet odor used by as many as four-fifths of the nation's 65,000 dry cleaners, as well as about 2,200 factories and other facilities. At the urging of industry groups, the Trump administration has indefinitely postponed an Obama-era regulation to restrict its use.


I've lost count but I think this could make it an even dozen for Trump's Termites. As I said, Happy New Year to all.