To Read or Not to Read the News

Do you find the ordinary act of reading the daily news depressing? I do.  Every article, it seems, is about some crisis, tragedy, war, death, torture and destruction.  My friends will say, don’t be so sensitive, it’s always been that way.  News people have an old saying: If it bleeds, it leads.  I know all that, but I seem to remember a time—and I don’t think it’s a false Pollyanna memory—when the news wasn’t this bad, when there were also stories of uplift, inspiration, and heroic upstanding behavior.  I have read that some psychologists who study these things say that the sense that things are getting steadily worse and that there was some golden age in the past when things were better is a kind of mental illusion.  I don’t buy it. I think things really are getting worse, and that we are headed for some kind of tipping point or catastrophe, particularly regarding climate.

So I tell myself: all right, I will take a break and for a few days I won’t read the news, or I will only read news and news sites that are illuminating, not depressing.  But that’s hard for me.  I’m a news junkie.  I want to know what’s happening, I want to know what experts wiser than me think about what is going on.  So I compromise and say, I’ll just read the mainstream news, the New York Times or Associated Press.  But mainstream often lacks a certain perspective and point of view.  I also like reading the Guardian and Buzzfeed, and even more offbeat sources, because they have interesting investigative pieces and inject a certain urgency which I appreciate.  The reality is that a day never goes by that I don’t read the news.  I’ve tried “news fasting” but by evening I usually break down and consume.  The one “fast” I keep to is no TV.  We have a TV but it’s been a year or more since we’ve turned it on.  TV news is pictorial, high-energy and emotional.  I don’t need emotion to understand the news.  I have my own emotions, which are enough for me. 

Part of the exhaustion of reading the news is that so much of it makes you feel helpless.  When I was young I was an activist.  Civil rights, feminism, and the Vietnam war were issues my generation could get excited about and have an impact on.  I’d like to think—and there is some truth to this—that back then, young peoples’ activism against the Vietnam war, in which I was seriously engaged, helped shorten that war and save some lives.  But how do you mobilize, for example, against climate change? Would marching in the streets—as we did against the war—really change anything?  That issue is planetary, and even if every government in the world suddenly turned on a dime and went to net zero carbon emissions, so much damage has already been done.  It may be too late to slow the juggernaut. Recent research has determined that 400,000 years ago Greenland was ice-free and warm-weather plants grew there.  It’s probably going to be ice-free again, and the seas will rise 20 to 40 feet when it is.  The coastal cities of the world will vanish.  This is not science fiction.  It will happen. 

That’s the texture of today’s news, and I think it is driving people a little crazy—or in some cases, quite crazy.  The planet’s climate is fragile, we have learned that, but the social fabric of human civilization is just as fragile, and each of us need a purpose and meaningful human connection to feel that life is worth living.  If we don’t have that, we will self-destruct in all kinds of subtle and not-so-subtle ways.  Even a precocious and powerful presence like Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who has captured the whole world’s attention with her Cassandra-like messaging against the so-called grownups who have created this situation, is in the end just another media voice, another influencer with a point of view. 

It seems in the topsy turvy world we are living in, it is the children who are becoming responsible grownups and it is the grownups who preen and party like spoiled, irresponsible children.  And what will happen when all the permafrost in Siberia melts and sends methane skyward—methane which is far more harmful to the planet even than carbon dioxide.  That is one example of a climate “tipping point”—a sudden shift to a new paradigm.  As F. D. Flam, writer for Bloomberg opinion, points out, tipping points have happened many times in the past—causing sudden warming or an ice age—and he specifically mentions methane and the melting of Greenland and Antarctica ice as  examples.  Another tipping story just hit today, this one about “A crucial system of ocean currents heading for a collapse that ‘would affect every person on the planet’.” That study is deemed by some to be controversial, but we’ll see. There are probably myriad tipping point crises coming our way we don’t even know about.

James Lovelock, the progenitor of the Gaia hypothesis–which posits that the whole planet is a single sentient organism—commented 20 years ago that much of Europe could be like the Sahara desert in 30 to 40 years hence. If he is right that means very soon. He was known in his lifetime for his accurate predictions. This summer, the summer of 2023, is the hottest on record.  At a temperature of 115 degrees human beings can barely survive, and that has been the daily reading in Phoenix for the last 30 some days, and in some Mediterranean countries too.  I wonder what will happen in the countries of the Middle East or Southern India, where temperatures already sometimes reach 125 degrees.  When it reaches 135 will they build caves and live underground? Will that be the eventual fate of all of us, to become troglodytes on planet Gaia?

Moving to caves: now that’s a news story I haven’t seen yet, but since I am doomed or destined to check the news every day, it probably won’t be too long before I do see that story.  I won’t live to see the day that Greenland becomes ice-free, warm, and perhaps the new epicenter of human civilization, but our grandchildren may.  If I were a bit younger I might consider buying farmland in the Yukon Territories, which may be growing much of the world’s food before long.  And Nuuk, Greenland might in due time become the New York or London of a boiling earth. 

Science fiction? Read the news.

5 thoughts on “To Read or Not to Read the News

  1. Lew, you’re speaking to me. I too have LONG been a news junky but these days overwhelmingly get my news online not on tv. Even the prognosticators I agree with have just become another version of those they rail against, often with arrogance and condescension. And Climate change has already reached the point of no return in some areas. We can slow the damage, but not avoid much of it. This post is incredibly resonant for me and I’m grateful for you posting it. Maybe we ARE in the Kali Yuga, as Edward Conze used to say close to 60 years ago. I too don’t think it’s an illusion that things were always THIS bad. This is a whole other level. Yet, I feel connected in reading this, and can once again, trust my own sense of things.

  2. With respect, it seems you’ve not really examined the catalyst for your essay,
    “To Read or Not to Read the News.” You’ve examined what the news contains, which anyone who pays careful attention knows, but not your attraction to the news (which I certainly also have). Of what benefit is reading, watching, knowing the news?

  3. … Namaste ( as they used to say )….. I think humans watch the news as primates used to watch each other in the trees.

    And some animals are more interested in what is occurring and some tune out What a biochemical mess for Spiritual people!

  4. Without all I see is chaos, well not really, what the news medias have cherry picked for us to read and witness is chaos, but besides those news, every day is a good day. Some days, as I experience extreme weather (once or twice per year), I say to myself, oh boy, those fit in nicely with the global warming paradigm, but the next day and the following 363 days are just Ok, and without any traces at all of this global warming. And so where is this global warming when everything is just fine? It is like thinking about the blue sky above as I am in the windowless basement of my house, what kind of blue sky is it? It is way more the fruit of my imagination than the actual blue sky above. But still, I can think about it, and even ‘feel’ the beauty of it as I have my eyes close. And so where is this actual global warming as it is quite a beautiful and quite normal day today? What is require for us to actually see this global warming? Well mostly hearsay, second hand knowledge, for direct first hand experiences tells me it ain’t so 363 days a year for at least my past 65 years. Global warming primarily lives within our mind if I think about it when it is so nice and peaceful outside.

    Around our planet, there are more or less 1,000,000 villages and towns, spread all over; it is quite a normal thing for many of those villages or towns to experience a new record of low or high daily temperature. There has always been and will always be record daily high and low. If we wish to cherry pick and scare people, all the data are there to serve your objective as it happens every single days in many of those villages and cities. Everyday is a new all time low or high within at least one of those.

    You see, as I write right now, all I sense is deep inner peace, silence and stillness, without any traces of chaos. What amazed me, is to see that a lot of people seems to have preferences for chaos which is outside of themselves and to some extend has nothing to do with themselves, rather than stay put as themselves; the peace, stillness and silence that we are. It is really interesting, for as we see/are one, the other is no-where to be found, and vice versa. When chaos is seen, silence is no-where to be found, but when silent, chaos is no-where to be found or seen. As I grow older, I tend to have preferences towards the deep silence and peace that I am.

    Just one last thing, I didn’t want to go into that direction because it creates way too much arguments and counter-arguments, but here it is. There is some kind of consensus that as a whole, the lower atmosphere (where we live) has heated more or less 1e C since the last 150 years, I think that the actual consensus is 0.8e C in 150 years. That is .00533 per year. Of those, it appears that at least 40% is directly attributed to urbanization. If true, that would mean that our planet has heated just about .5e C in 150 years, to me that is not a sign of catastrophic change, it simply tells me that the climate period in which we live, is remarkably and amazingly stable, and that we live in one of the most perfect (maximum relative optimum) climatic period in human history. In either case, how we feel, whether in perfect time or in catastrophic time, it has something to do with our representations; how we imagine the blue sky to be as we sit in a windowless dark room.

  5. Yes, I agree with this statement–> “Part of the exhaustion of reading the news is that so much of it makes you feel helpless.” Indeed. I also tried “news fasting” but that seems artificial and forced. I’m learning to tolerate more anguish without feeling complacent. The Bodhisattva Vows — really helps tpo keep things in a big time-frame!

Comments are closed.