Tropical Storm News Coverage Reflective of an Isolationist Trend
Image Source: Sky News
By: Madi Stephens
In early September of 2018, Japan was hit by the strongest typhoon it had seen in 25 years, causing at least seven deaths and over 200 injuries. Similarly devastating was Typhoon Mangkhut the same month, which caused major loss of life and damages across the Philippines and China. It is not that there was a complete lack of coverage of these storms by mainstream United States media; rather there was significantly less conversation about the effects of these storms than less severe storms that occured domestically around the same time. CNN search results reveal only 39 mentions of Typhoon Mangkhut compared to 281 results for Hurricane Florence. Furthermore, Fox News included 34 mentions of Typhoon Mangkhut compared to 457 mentions of Hurricane Florence. This discrepancy is highly worrisome in that it reflects a broader societal pivot back towards American exceptionalism and isolationism.
Some may say this discrepancy in media coverage and public attention is a valid response due to the proximity of the storm -- it is simply more important to cover storms closer to home in order to ensure national safety. While there is truth in that, it is not simply the difference in the amount of coverage that is troubling. Rather, it is this lack of discussion coupled with the current US political climate that suggests an underlying national trend towards isolationism. Our current administration prioritizes messages and policies favoring “America First”, such as withdrawing the US from negotiations over the Trans Pacific Partnership and questioning the need for NATO. This trend is not only counterproductive as the United States claims to be a world leader, but also indicative of a lack of concern for any human being that doesn't fit the administration's image of a model American. It further contributes to the otherization of noncitizens, a problem which increasingly plagues this country and has been openly encouraged by the current American administration. While I question the efficacy of these messages in any generation, they make even less sense in our current globalized world than they did in early 1910s or 1920-30s America.
It has been scientifically proven that the recent rise in both the frequency and intensity of tropical storms is a result of anthropogenic climate change. This presents another problem with the lack of coverage of global tropical storms as it reflects the United States’ recent attempts to absolve and distance ourselves from responsibility for climate change. Additionally, the United States is one of the largest contributors to climate change in the form of greenhouse gas emissions; and yet our current administration not only fails to acknowledge the United State’s role in the catastrophe, it refuses to acknowledge the problem’s sheer existence. It is both the President’s skeptical rhetoric over the degree to which climate change is man made, and the application of his policies that exacerbate the dangers of climate change. President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris Agreement was one of the first indications of the administration’s attitude towards the environment. Since, the administration (along with the EPA) has rolled back Obama-era policies limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The administration only recognizes the existence of climate change when it is politically convenient for their domestic message and, on the rare occasion it is acknowledged as real, climate changed is labeled as not manmade and reversible. The fact that this international problem is only being addressed to the effect of garnering domestic support is an issue because it does not treat the environmental degradation with the severity and gravity it demands. It is additionally concerning that our political elites continue to blame China as the sole cause of global environmental degradation when, in fact, much of Asia is seeing the effects of the United States’ lack of accountability firsthand, as so clearly shown by the impacts of recent major typhoons.
Exceptionalist rhetoric has already manifested in tangible changes, such as the seemingly lacking U.S. aid that was deployed in response to Typhoon Mangkhut. The United States Agency for International Development/Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance partnered with the UN World Food Programme and coordinated with the Department of Social Welfare and Development to provide “logistics support” for those affected. While that does indicate some response on the part of the U.S., it pales in comparison to that of the European Union and even Australia, which donated humanitarian supplies to aid up to 25,000 of those affected by the storm. U.S aid was even less than what it had previously provided to countries post natural disasters in the past, for example to Haiti in 2010.
At a time when the world needs to be coming together to face anthropogenic climate change, the United States is dividing it more with its nationalist rhetoric and distortion of facts. In light of an increase in tropical storms globally, we should not only take climate change more seriously but also broaden our scope of discussion in order to consider the global implications of our policies and rhetoric. A comparative lack of coverage of recent global tropical storm devastation, especially when coupled with the United States’ recent policies regarding climate change and this administration’s pivot backwards towards isolationism, reflects an underlying and more insidious trend in United States international policy.