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Missing from Hurricane Sandy Media Coverage: Climate Change, Nuclear Meltdowns and Haiti

Despite Hurricane Sandy dominating headlines and airwaves with around-the-clock coverage, there is still so much that isn’t being reported.

Climate Change

The biggest elephant in the room is climate change. The cable news media, in keeping with Obama and Romney during the presidential debates, continues to ignore climate change, even when their New York offices are underwater because of it. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, the increasing frequency of record droughts, floods, wildfires and heat waves hasn’t led to a conversation about climate change, so why should this?

Still, you would think that the flooding of major U.S. cities by a monster storm on fucking steroids would, at the very least, warrant a mention or two of climate change. Instead, hours have been devoted to displaying satellite images of the storm’s mutant-like reach coupled with sensational pictures of the aftermath, as though it’s some sort of mysterious anomaly.

Obviously, no one can say for certain that Hurricane Sandy is the direct result of climate change. What is clear is that global warming has caused a warming of the oceans and a rising sea levels, factors that increase the intensity of these storms. Democracy Now was one of the few outlets to cover the issue, devoting most of Monday’s show to addressing the connection between climate change and mega-storms like Hurricane Sandy.  Meanwhile, the Huffington Post gave a rundown of what the cable news networks talking about:

CNN began its rolling coverage of Hurricane Sandy at 4:30 a.m. and dispatched around 30 correspondents and anchors throughout the storm’s path. While CNN staffers braved harsh winds and rain for live shots on the beach or flooded streets, the network’s anchors and correspondents hadn’t mentioned “climate change” or “global warming” once by 4:30 p.m., according to a search using television monitoring service TVEyes.

The situation wasn’t much different on the other major cable news networks during the same 12-hour period, with no one on Fox News discussing “climate change” or “global warming,” according to TVEyes.

As for MSNBC, the supposed “liberal” network:

Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute and a regular on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” talked Monday on the show about how both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have avoided the climate change issue during the election, despite having the “most extreme weather that we’ve ever had” and record temperatures. “What we do know is there is a lot of climate change, even if we don’t know if this monster is one example of that,” Sachs said of Sandy.

There were a couple passing references to climate change later on MSNBC’s “Martin Bashir” show and “The Cycle,” but no substantive discussion of the topic during that 12-hour period.

Nuclear Power Plants

Remember last year’s meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan? The horrific incident sparked a much-needed conversation in the U.S. about the safety of our aging nuclear infrastructure. Unfortunately, the conversation was short-lived.

A year and half since then, Hurricane Sandy has served as a reminder that pretending a problem doesn’t exist, doesn’t make it go away. Bloomberg reports:

Hurricane Sandy forced three nuclear power plants to shut and put another on alert as federal regulators dispatched inspectors to monitor 11 facilities in the path of the storm, the biggest test for the U.S. industry since a crisis in Japan more than 18 months ago.

Oyster Creek, the nation’s oldest nuclear power plant, declared an alert when six foot high floodwaters damaged equipment needed to cool the reactors. Despite the fact that nuclear plants in Sandy’s path had five days to prepare for Hurricane Sandy, at least 4 were too vulnerable to keep running, which should worry all of us.

Nevertheless, it appears that most outlets have adopted the narrative that the nuclear industry somehow proved itself by not poisoning all of us with a reactor meltdown, a pretty low standard if you ask me.

For example, another Bloomberg article titled, “Nuclear-Power Industry Survives Sandy’s Readiness Test”, quotes multiple industry spokespeople ensuring that the nuclear plants, even the one’s that were shut down, and safety equipment worked just fine and pose no threat to public safety.  They could have saved time by publishing this press release from the Nuclear Energy Institute instead.

I suppose we can all sleep better knowing that east coast nuclear reactors can, for the most part, pull through a major weather event if warned in advance. As for the unpredictable, like earthquakes and flash floods, we’ll just have to wait and see if our aging nuclear plants can handle it. That seems to be the media’s strategy anyway.

Haiti

The 370,000 Haitians still reeling from the 2010 earthquake in tent camps were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, which has claimed the lives of at least 54 Haitians and left another 200,000 homeless. On top of that, crops have been destroyed, up to 70 percent in some areas, leading to grave concerns about rising food prices and shortages.  Severe flooding, which is more intense in Haiti due to massive deforestation, has once again raised the threat of water born illnesses. Reuters reports, “at least 86 new cases alone coming from Port-au-Prince’s earthquake survivor camps,” adding that “Since October 2010, a cholera outbreak has sickened almost 600,000 people and killed more than 7,400 in Haiti.”

Despite all of this, the effects of Hurricane Sandy on Haiti (as well as Cuba and Jamaica) have barely registered in the American consciousness. What little has been reported portrays Haiti’s endless tragedies as unavoidable consequences of natural disasters. Take this headline from the New York Times: “Yet Another Blow to Haiti From a Natural Disaster.”

But there is nothing natural about 400,000 people living in tent camps three years after an earthquake. There is nothing natural about a preventable water-born disease killing over 7,000 people. The storm didn’t hit Haiti nearly as hard as other parts of the Caribbean , yet Haiti had the highest death toll, 54. Compare that to 11 deaths in Cuba (where hurricane winds ripped off roofs) and one in Jamaica. “Haiti was only skimmed by Sandy’s tail, but its dire infrastructure and high levels of deforestation magnified the damage and number of casualties,” reports The Guardian.

Haiti is facing the consequence of an unnatural, human-created disaster. The international neglect following the 2010 earthquake is criminal for sure (Financial support for UN humanitarian programs has declined 96% in the last two years). But Haiti’s unique vulnerability is the result of decades worth of western (euphemism for former colonizers) led policies that have impoverished the country, leaving in place a corrupt, western backed government incapable of providing the most basic needs to its citizens.

The horrific conditions in a Haitian tent camp following Hurricane Sandy were captured in a video posted to Youtube by Bri Kouri Nouvèl Gaye(translation: Noise Travels, News Spreads), a creole-based alternative newspaper. One of camp survivors they interviewed, a man whose desperation and misery are heart-achingly apparent, says it best: “It is as though no one knows we exist.” You can watch the video below.

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