[op-ed] Disaster Management in Sri Lanka: Never say ‘Never Again’?

Text of my op-ed article published in Weekend Express newspaper on 2 June 2017

In Sri Lanka, never say  ‘never again’?

By Nalaka Gunawardene

 

Cartoon by Gihan de Chickera

Never Again!

We as a nation collectively uttered these words as we raised our heads after the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004. That mega-disaster, which caught our government unawares and society unprepared, devastated many coastal areas, killing around 40,000 and displacing over a million people.

Even a 30 minute early warning could have saved many of those lost lives, by simply asking them to run inland, away from the waves. But there was no such warning.

Badly shaken by that experience, the then government reformed disaster related laws and institutions. Until then, dealing with disaster response was lumped under social services. The new system created a dedicated ministry for disaster management, with emphasis on disaster risk reduction (DRR).

Living amidst multiple hazards is unavoidable, but preparedness can vastly reduce impacts when disasters do occur. That is DRR in a nutshell.

But in immature democracies like ours, we must never say never again. Our political parties and politicians lack the will and commitment required to meet these long-term objectives. Our governance systems are not fully capable of keeping ourselves safe from Nature’s wrath.

Disaster resilience is not a technocratic quick fix but the composite outcome of a myriad actions. Good governance is the vital ‘lubricant’ that makes everything come together and work well. Without governance, we risk slipping back into business as usual, continuing our apathy, greed and short-termism.

This big picture level reality could well be why disaster response has been patchy and uncoordinated in both May 2016 and last week.

Fundamental issues

As the flood waters recede in affected parts of Sri Lanka, familiar questions are being asked again. Did the government’s disaster management machinery fail to warn the communities at risk? Or were the hazard warnings issued but poorly communicated? And once disaster occurred, could the relief response have been better handled? Are we making enough use of technological tools?

These are valid questions that deserve honest answers and wide ranging debate. But having been associated with disaster communication for a quarter century, I get a strong sense of déjà vu when I hear them.

Finger pointing won’t get us very far, even though public anger is justified where governmental lapses are evident. We need to move beyond the blame game to identify core issues and then address them.

In my view, two high level issues are climate resilience and improved governance.

DRR is easier said than done in the best of times, and in recent years human-made climate change has made it much harder. Global warming is disrupting familiar weather patterns and causing more frequent and intense weather. What used to be weather extremes occurring once in 25 or 50 years in the past now happens every few years.

Climate imperatives

The UN’s climate panel (IPCC) says that global average temperatures could rise by somewhere between 2 degree and 6 degrees Centigrade by 2100. This would trigger many disruptions, including erratic monsoons, the seasonal oceanic winds that deliver most of our annual rains.

Sri Lanka has been oscillating between droughts and floods during the past few years. This time, in fact, both disasters are happening concurrently. This week, the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) confirmed that more than 440,500 people in the Northern Province are adversely affected due by the severe drought that had persisted over many months.

That is more than two thirds of the total number of 646,500 people affected by floods and landslides in the South, as counted on June 1. But slowly-unfolding droughts never get the kind of press that floods inspire.

One thing is clear: disaster management can succeed today only if climate realities are factored in. And coping with climate change’s now inevitable impacts, a process known as climate adaptation, requires technical knowledge combined with proper governance of both natural resources and human systems.

Sri Lanka: Not only oscillating between droughts and floods, but now also having both disasters at the same time. Cartoon by Gihan de Chickera

Adapt or Perish

Sri Lanka joined the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992. But 25 years on, climate considerations are not fully factored into our development planning and public investments. State agencies in charge of roads, railways, irrigation works and utilities don’t appear to realise the need to ‘insure’ their installations and operations from climate impacts.

Climate adaptation is not something that the disaster ministry and DMC alone can accomplish. It needs to be a common factor that runs across the entire government, from agriculture and health to power and transport. It needs to be the bedrock of DRR.

In the wake of the latest disaster, technical agencies are highlighting the need to upgrade their systems by acquiring costly equipment. Yet massive big money or high tech systems alone cannot ensure public safety or create resilience.

We need aware and empowered local communities matched by efficient local government bodies. This combination has worked well, for example, in the Philippines, now hailed as a global leader in DRR.

See also:

Better Governance: The Biggest Lesson of 2004 Tsunami. Groundviews.org, 26 Dec 2009.

Nalaka Gunawardene is a science writer and independent media researcher. He is active on Twitter as @NalakaG

Advertisements

[op-ed]: The Big Unknown: Climate action under President Trump

Op-ed written for The Weekend Express broadsheet newspaper in Sri Lanka, 18 November 2016

The Big Unknown: Climate action under President Trump - By Nalaka Gunawardene, Weekend Express, 18 Nov 2016

The Big Unknown: Climate action under President Trump – By Nalaka Gunawardene, Weekend Express, 18 Nov 2016

What does Donald Trump’s election as the next President of the United States mean for action to contain climate change?

The billionaire non-politician — who lost the popular vote by more than a million votes but won the presidency on the basis of the electoral college — has long questioned the science underlying climate change.

He also sees political and other motives in climate action. For example, he tweeted on 6 November 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

Trump's tweet on 7 November 2012 - What does it mean for his administration?

Trump’s tweet on 6 November 2012 – What does it mean for his administration?

His vice president, Indiana governor Mike Pence, also does not believe that climate change is caused by human activity.

Does this spell doom for the world’s governments trying to avoid the worst case scenarios in global warming, now widely accepted by scientists as driven by human activity – especially the burning of petroleum and coal?

It is just too early to tell, but the early signs are not promising.

“Trump should drop his pantomime-villain act on climate change. If he does not, then, come January, he will be the only world leader who fails to acknowledge the threat for what it is: urgent, serious and demanding of mature and reasoned debate and action,” said the scientific journal Nature in an editorial on 16 November 2016.

It added: “The world has made its decision on climate change. Action is too slow and too weak, but momentum is building. Opportunities and fortunes are being made. Trump the businessman must realize that the logical response is not to cry hoax and turn his back. The politician in Trump should do what he promised: reject political orthodoxy and listen to the US people.”

It was only on 4 November 2016 that the Paris climate agreement came into force. This is the first time that nearly 200 governments have agreed on legally binding limits to emissions that cause global warming.

All governments that have ratified the accord — which includes the US, China, India and the EU — carry an obligation to contain global warming to no more than 2 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels. Scientists regard that as the safe limit, beyond which climate change is likely to be both catastrophic and irreversible.

It has been a long and bumpy road to reach this point since the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) was adopted in 1992. UNFCCC provides the umbrella under which the Paris Agreement works.

High level officials and politicians from 197 countries that have ratified the UNFCCC are meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, this month to iron out the operational details of the Paris Agreement.

Speaking at the Marrakesh meeting this week, China’s vice foreign minister, Liu Zhenmin, pointed out that it was in fact Trump’s Republican predecessors who launched climate negotiations almost three decades ago.

It was only three months ago that the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters – China and the US — agreed to ratify the Paris agreement during a meeting between the Chinese and US presidents.

Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), an independent advocacy group in Delhi, has just shared his thoughts on the Trump impact on climate action.

“Will a Trump presidency revoke the ratification of the Paris Agreement? Even if he is not able to revoke it because of international pressure…he will dumb down the US action on climate change. Which means that international collaboration being built around the Paris Agreement will suffer,” he said in a video published on YouTube (see: https://goo.gl/r6KGip)

“If the US is not going to take ambitious actions on climate change, I don’t think India or Chine will take ambitious actions either.  We are therefore looking at a presidency which is going to push climate action around the world down the barrel,” he added.

During his campaign, Trump advocated “energy independence” for the United States (which meant reducing or eliminating the reliance on Middle Eastern oil). But he has been critical of subsidies for solar and wind power, and threatened to end regulations that sought to end the expansion of petroleum and coal use. In other words, he would likely encourage dig more and more domestically for oil.

“Trump doesn’t believe that renewable energy is an important part of the energy future for the world,” says Chandra Bhushan. “He believes that climate change is a conspiracy against the United States…So we are going to deal with a US presidency which is extremely anti-climate.”

Bhushan says Trump can revoke far more easily domestic laws like the Clean Power Plan that President Obama initiated in 2015. It set a national limit on carbon pollution produced from power plants.

“Therefore, whatever (positive) action that we thought was going to happen in the US are in jeopardy. We just have to watch and ensure that, even when an anti-climate administration takes over, we do not allow things to slide down (at global level action),” Bhushan says.

Some science advocates caution against a rush to judgement about how the Trump administration will approach science in general, and climate action in particular.

Nature’s editorial noted: “There is a huge difference between campaigning and governing…It is impossible to know what direction the United States will take under Trump’s stewardship, not least because his campaign was inconsistent, contradictory and so full of falsehood and evasion.”

We can only hope that Trump’s business pragmatism would prevail over climate action. As the Anglo-French environmental activist Edward Goldsmith said years ago, there can be no trade on a dead planet.

Candidate Trump on CNN

Candidate Trump on CNN

Communicating Climate Change: Going Beyond Fear, CO2 & COPs!

SRI LANKA NEXT 2016 International Conference on Climate Change - http://www.srilankanext.lk/iccch.php

SRI LANKA NEXT 2016 International Conference on Climate Change – http://www.srilankanext.lk/iccch.php

On 19 October 2016, I spoke on climate change communications to a group of Asian journalists and other communicators at a workshop organized by Sri Lanka Youth Climate Action Network (SLYCAN). It was held at BMICH, Colombo’s leading conventions venue.

It was part of a platform of events branded as Sri Lanka NEXT, which included the 5th Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum and several other expert consultations.

I recalled what I had written in April 2014, “As climate change impacts are felt more widely, the imperative for action is greater than ever. Telling the climate story in accurate and accessible ways should be an essential part of climate response. That response is currently organised around two ‘planks’: mitigation and adaptation. Climate communication can be the ‘third plank’ that strengthens the first two.”

3 broad tips on climate communications - from Nalaka Gunawardene

3 broad tips for climate communications – from Nalaka Gunawardene

I argued that we must move away from disaster-driven climate communications of doom and gloom. Instead, focus on climate resilience and practical solutions to achieving it.

We also need to link climate action to what matters most to the average person:

  • Cheaper energy (economic benefits)
  • Cleaner air (health benefits)
  • Staying alive (public safety benefits)

I offered three broad tips for climate communicators and journalists:

  • Don’t peddle fear: We’ve had enough of doom & gloom! Talk of more than just disasters and destruction.
  • Look beyond CO2, which is responsible for only about half of global warming. Don’t forget the other half – which includes some shortlived climate pollutants which are easier to tackle such action is less contentious than CO2.
  • Focus on local level impacts & responses: most people don’t care about UNFCCC or COPs or other acronyms at global level!
Global climate negotiations - good to keep an eye on them, but real stories are elsewhere!

Global climate negotiations – good to keep an eye on them, but real stories are elsewhere!

Finally, I shared my own triple-S formula for covering climate related stories:

  • Informed by credible Science (but not immersed in it!)
  • Tell authentic and compelling journalistic Stories…
  • …in Simple (but not simplistic) ways (using a mix of non-technical words, images, infographics, audio, video, interactive media)

Poor venue logistics at BMICH prevented me from sharing the presentation I had prepared. So here it is:

Cooling without warming: Cool Biz for a safer future?

Image courtesy - Paradise Island Resort, Maldives

Paradise, The Maldives. 10 May 2011

I’m sitting in Paradise – and freezing. This isn’t quite what I imagined it to be.

Well, actually I’m attending a serious inter-governmental meeting being held at the Paradise Island Resort and Spa in the Maldives.

The setting is exotic enough – I’m near some of the finest beaches and bluest seas in the world. It’s a cloudy day outside, with tropical sunshine interrupted by occasional showers. We’re just a few hundred kilometres north of the Equator.

But it’s whole different world inside the meeting room. We have no windows and are visually cut off from the scenery. And the air conditioning is too strong. Even the 50 or so people inside the room don’t emit enough body heat to counter the chill spilling out from the ceiling.

Paradise (resort) isn’t alone. Across tropical Asia, our public offices, hotels and shopping malls just love to freeze us out.

This habit has a particular irony at this meeting. Convened by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), it’s discussing how to stay cool without killing the planet.

To be precise, how air conditioning and refrigeration industries can continue their business – and keep cooling people and goods – without damaging the ozone layer or warming the planet.

It’s the semi-annual meeting of government officials from across Asia who help implement the Montreal Protocol to control and phase out several dozen industrial chemicals that damage the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere.

A nitpicker in Paradise? Photo by Darryl D'Monte

Adopted in 1987 and now ratified by 196 countries, it is the world’s most successful environmental treaty. It has reversed a catastrophic loss of ozone high up in the Earth’s atmosphere, and prevented tens of thousands of cases of skin cancer and cataract.

A landmark was reached at the end of 2009, when it succeeded in totally phasing out the production and use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) — chemicals that had helped the cooling industries for decades. Now, a bigger challenge remains: removing two other widely used gases known as HCFCs and HFCs.

Both were originally promoted as substitutes for CFCs in the early days of the Protocol. HCFCs are less ozone-damaging than CFCs, while HFCs are fully ozone-safe. However, both have a high global warming potential — up to 1,700 times that of Carbon dioxide — and therefore contribute to climate change.

It was only a few years ago that scientists and officials realized that there was little point in fixing one atmospheric problem if it aggravated another. So in 2007, the Montreal Protocol countries agreed to address the climate impacts of their work.

The Montreal Protocol now encourages the countries to promote the selection of alternatives to HCFCs that minimize environmental impacts, in particular impacts on climate change.

The air conditioning and refrigeration industries are being encouraged to switch from HCFC to substitutes ahead of the global phase-out deadline of 2030. Alternatives — including natural refrigerants such as ammonia, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons — are entering the market for many applications.

Parallel to this, consumers are being encouraged to opt for newer appliances that are both ozone-safe and climate friendly.

It takes time and effort for this message to spread and take hold. Many users — especially in the developing countries — only consider the purchase price of appliances and not necessarily the long-term energy savings or planetary benefits.

Events like the first Asian Ozone2Climate Roadshow, held in the Maldivian capital Malé from 8 to 12 May 2011, are pushing for this clarity and awareness. It’s still an uphill task: too many people have to be won over on too many appliances using a wide range of chemicals and processes.

And sitting here at my freezing corner of Paradise, I feel we should add another message: conserving energy includes a more rational and sensible use of air conditioning.

Perhaps we should promote and adopt the Japanese practice of Cool Biz.

Introduced by the Japanese Ministry of Environment in the summer of 2005, the idea behind Cool Biz was simple: ensure the thermostat in all air conditioners stayed fixed at 28 degrees Centigrade.

CoolBiz Logo

That’s not exactly a very cool temperature (and certainly no freezing), but not unbearable either.

The Cool Biz dress code advised office workers to starch collars “so they stand up and to wear trousers made from materials that breathe and absorb moisture”. They were encouraged to wear short-sleeved shirts without jackets or ties.

A Cool Koizumi: Leading from the front...

Then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi himself set the tone, wearing informal attire. But then, he was already known for his unorthodox style.

Clothes designers and retailers chipped in, with clothes offering greater comfort at higher temperatures.

Cool Biz changed the Japanese work environment – and fast. I remember walking into a meeting at a government office in Tokyo a few weeks after the idea had been introduced, and finding I was the most formally dressed.

The Japanese like to count things. When the first season of Cool Biz ended, they calculated the countrywide campaign to have saved at least 460,000 tons of Carbon dioxide emissions (by avoided electricity use). That’s about the same emissions from a million Japanese households for a month.

The following year, an even more aggressive Cool Biz campaign helped save an estimated 1.14 million tons of Carbon dioxide – or two and half times more than in the first year.

The idea also traveled beyond Japan. In 2006, the South Korean Ministry of Environment and the British Trade Union Congress both endorsed the idea.

This summer, the seventh since Cool Biz started, there is an added reason for the Japanese to conserve energy. As the Asahi Shimbun reported on 28 April 2011: “In what has been dubbed the ‘power-conserving biz’ campaign, many companies plan to conserve energy during the peak summer period in light of expected power shortages caused by the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.”

Meanwhile, the rest of us freeze-happy tropical Asians can evolve our own Cool Biz practices – we don’t need to wait for governments and industry to launch organized campaigns.

For a start, we – as consumers or patrons – can urge those who maintain public-access buildings to observe voluntary upper limits of cooling. Sensitive thermostats can automatically adjust air conditioner operations when temperatures rise above a pre-determined comfortable level.

It all depends on how many of us pause to think. Of course, we can also continue business as usual – and freeze ourselves today for a warmer tomorrow.

The sun sets in Paradise too - photo by Nalaka Gunawardene

When traffic moves: Which is the biggest carbon emitter of all?

In January 2008, I wrote about two short videos made by Pradip Saha and colleagues at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in India on the auto industry’s contribution to worsening traffic congestion, air pollution and public health in metropolitan India.

Now Pradip & Co have come out with another revealing short video. It answers a simple question: of the various types of motorised transport on our roads, which one emits the most carbon dioxide per person that slowly but surely bakes our planet?

Their blurb says:
Watch video to find out who wins in this race to emit more. A blue graph will appear shortly on your screen. Do not be alarmed. It is an attempt to illustrate the Carbon each of us emits while traveling to work everyday.

This short video reminds of what we can do with broadband-enabled online video to raise awareness and catalyse discussion on matters of public interest. I haven’t specifically asked Pradip about this, but it seems like a low-cost, quick-turnaround effort. It’s certainly effective in making a single, important point that has far-reaching policy and practical implications.

What a difference half a century makes: cartoon courtesy CSE India

What a difference half a century makes: cartoon courtesy CSE India

The big question is: who is listening in modern India that has turned itself into a car-worshipping nation?

Visit CSE’s Climate Equity Watch

Watch more CSE videos on Down to Earth channel on YouTube

Standing on Al Gore’s Shoulders: Moving images in the climate debate

And the winner is...

And the winner is...

Al Gore used to have a reputation as a very smart man who was very stiff and aloof especially in his public speaking.

I didn’t notice this the only time I listened to him in person, at an environmental journalists conference at MIT in Boston, Massachusetts, in the Fall of 1995. Perhaps because he was speaking to a group of over 200 journalists, Gore was especially charming. He delivered a well prepared speech passionately, and then took a dozen questions.

I still remember one incident during question time. A Bangladeshi participant lined up to ask him something and started addressing him as ‘Mr President’. Gore smilingly interjected: ‘Not yet!’. The journalist, not the least shaken by his slip of the tongue, said: ‘Well, I hope you will be one day!’.

Well, that day came…and it was not to be. Gore won the popular vote in the 2000 presidential election but lost the presidency in a bizarre series of events that had the rest of the world gasping.

All that sounds so long ago, now that Gore has emerged as the world’s best known climate crusader. There are many who feel that he is more effective in his current role than as a politician.

His 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth, helped move the climate change debate forward in a decisive manner.

Whatever we might think about the film’s artistic and technical merits, I’m glad it has settled one question: can a single film make a difference in tipping public opinion about a matter of global importance?

The answer, where climate change is concerned, is a resounding yes!

For sure, the film arrived at a time when the climate change debate had been going on for nearly two decades. Scientific evidence was mounting for human responsibility for accelerated changes in our climate. Political and business leaders, in denial for years, were finally beginning to take note — perhaps sensing votes or dollars.

Official film poster

Official film poster

Coming in at the time it did — in the Summer of 2006 –- Al Gore’s film tipped the public opinion to agree that climate change was for real and responses were urgently needed.

“It is now clear that we face a deepening global climate crisis that requires us to act boldly, quickly and wisely,” says the former US Vice President introducing his film.

An Inconvenient Truth focuses on Al Gore and his travels in support of his efforts to educate the public about the severity of the climate crisis. Gore says, “I’ve been trying to tell this story for a long time and I feel as if I’ve failed to get the message across.”

The film closely follows a Keynote presentation (dubbed “the slide show”) that Gore presented throughout the world. It intersperses Gore’s exploration of data and predictions regarding climate change and its potential for disaster with Gore’s life story.

An Inconvenient Truth is not a particularly stunning or dramatic documentary. Some have called it a ‘dramatised PowerPoint presentation’ (although Gore actually uses Apple’s Keynote presentation software). There aren’t cuddly animals, deadly chemicals, forest infernos or gory animal hunts that make environmental films appeal to a mass audience.

In fact, it hangs together — and sustains for nearly an hour and a half — due to the sheer star power of Al Gore. And when we take a closer look, we see how hard Gore and his team at Participant Productions have tried to engage audiences.

The film, made on a budget of around US$1 million (modest by Hollywood standards) went on to earn US$49 million at the box office worldwide. As at late 2008, it ranks as the fourth-highest-grossing documentary film in the United States, after Fahrenheit 9/11, March of the Penguins and Sicko.

I first saw An Inconvenient Truth at a cinema in Virginia, USA, while it was still on its initial theatrical release in the Fall of 2006. I reviewed it in early 2007, and recently returned to discussing the film during a presentation I made to our Asia Pacific regional workshop on changing climate and moving images, held in Tokyo in early October 2008.

My thrust was: now that Al Gore and his film have helped turn the climate debate, how can we continue to use moving images in search of solutions? In other words, how do we stand on the shoulders of Al Gore?

Another excellent film on climate change

The Great Warming: Another excellent film on climate change

I looked back at Gore’s film and another excellent Canadian film that came out the same year, The Great Warming. Discussing their merits, I noted how both films appeal as much to our emotions as they do to our rational intellect. “Facts, figures and analysis alone cannot engage a diverse, sometimes sceptical or indifferent audience. That’s why they try a different approach: appealing to the emotions.”

Here are some excerpts from my remarks:

We often see environmental documentaries failing to engage audiences because they pack too much information, or worse, preach too heavily and directly. Some film-makers feel strongly that they must ‘inform and educate’ their viewers at all costs.

To engage people, both are needed

To engage people, both are needed

It’s story telling that works best with moving images –- and what better stories to tell than the personalised ones of real people dealing with real world problems and challenges?

With ‘moving images, moving people’ as our slogan, we at TVE Asia Pacific believe in the power of well-made films to reach out to people’s hearts and minds.

Our experience shows that moving images can indeed move people, but only when:
• They are used in the right context;
• They form part of a bigger effort or campaign;
• Audio-visual’s strengths are maximised; and
• Audio-visuals limitations are properly recognised.

It’s the combination of broadcast and narrowcast spheres that has a better chance of changing people’s attitudes and, ultimately, their behaviour.

Read the full presentation here:
standing-on-al-gores-shoulders-nalaka-gunawardene-speech-in-tokyo-4-oct-20081

Financial Meltdown: Putting pieces together of a gigantic whodunnit

this says it all...

My cartoon of the year: this says it all...

This cartoon by Pulitzer prize winning Tom Toles first appeared in the Washington Post in 2007 – it brilliantly anticipated the global financial meltdown that we’re now experiencing. Coming in the wake of confirmed global warming, it is a double whammy.

America has been hit hard by the sub-prime crisis. The social and human cost of financial failure has been enormous. An epidemic of home repossessions has left thousands of houses abandoned and boarded-up: whole suburbs are falling into disrepair and dereliction.

Financial institutions in America and in Britain had poured billions into investments backed by these mortgages. As more and more people have defaulted on their mortgage repayments, financial markets have collapsed, causing a crisis that has rippled across the Atlantic, sending the City of London into turmoil and pulling the plug on one now infamous British bank.

Some call it a financial tsunami not been seen since the Great Depression in the 1930s….a crisis that has forced the US government to step in and save the financial system after trillions were wiped off global stock markets and once revered institutions were swept off the face of Wall Street. Is the US intervention too little, too late to save the economy?

In fact, just a few days ago, the People’s Daily of China warned that a “financial tsunami” was approaching, which recalled the Great Depression in the US. It said: “As the contemporary economy has been integrated globally, American consumption and currency exchange rates will directly influence countries dependent on the US as the main export destination for economic growth and employment”.

The Chinese Communist Party organ complained that the US had unleashed financial “weapons of mass destruction” on the world economy in the form of subprime debts and related financial derivatives.

The world’s media have been scrambling to cover these rapidly unfolding events. In fact, many have been caught napping, or worse, been uncritical cheerleaders of the march of capital and credit. Most of them – even the respected financial journals – just didn’t see the crisis building up…or ignored the tell-tale signs that constituted an inconvenient truth.

Danny Schechter - wasnt crying wolf!

Danny Schechter - wasn't crying wolf!

“This didn’t just happen in the course of a usual business cycle,” insists the American investigative journalist and media analyst Danny Schechter, who has been tracking this issues for many months on his influential News Dissector blog and the MediaChannel that watches and critiques the media.

In his new book, aptly titled Plunder, Danny offers an in-depth investigation into the decline of the economy that’s causing millions to lose jobs and face foreclosures and across-the-board price hikes.

He says: “You wouldn’t know it by relying on our media, but the subprime scandal masks massing looting by Wall Street firms using carefully calculated predatory lending schemes enabled by regulators who don’t regulate and a media that looked the other way. We have lost trillions and dislocated millions with no relief in sight. Every American is paying for the greed of our financiers in the grocery store, gas pump and unemployment line. Bank robberies are not new — but banks doing the robbing is.”

Read the introduction to Danny Schechter’s Plunder.

In 2007, his film IN DEBT WE TRUST was the first to expose Wall Street’s connection to subprime loans, predicting the economic crisis that this book investigates.

I have been watching various news media analysis of the current crisis and want to share two that stood out from the rest: Inside Story by Al Jazeera English, and Dispatches by UK’s Channel 4.

In a special show from New York, Inside Story looks at the financial turbulence that rocked the US last week. Will the emergency measures by the US government be enough to stabilise the markets or has the financial system in the US been changed forever? The introductory report from AJE’s Washington correspondent Reynolds is particularly illuminating – he also writes the story for their website.

Inside Story – The US financial crisis – 21 Sep 2008 – Part 1

Inside Story – The US financial crisis – 21 Sep 2008 – Part 2

From the other side of the Atlantic comes a more investigative, one-hour special that was produced and broadcast in March 2008, when the early signs of the banking crisis were beginning to show – for anybody who cared to notice.

As Channel 4 introduces it: “This is a story about the destructive power of finance: what happens when banks are driven by short-termism; when bankers are rewarded with vast bonuses, free to operate under inadequate regulatory supervision, and with the complicity of a government too in awe of big business to step in.”

Dispatches: How The Banks Bet Your Money UK & US – part 1

In this edition of Dispatches, private equity financier Jon Moulton delivers a stinging rebuke to the banks for causing this financial meltdown and explains why the British taxpayer will now pay the price.

Dispatches: How The Banks Bet Your Money UK & US – part 2

Dispatches: How The Banks Bet Your Money UK & US – part 3

Dispatches: How The Banks Bet Your Money UK & US – part 4

Dispatches: How The Banks Bet Your Money UK & US – part 5