Chinese state media’s rosy coverage of the most severe heat wave ever recorded

Isobel Cockerell

 

It’s been a summer of plagues — droughts, floods, wildfires, monkeypox, coronavirus. In Pakistan, enormous, record-breaking floods have devastated the homes of millions, with one-third of the country under water. It’s been called a “monsoon on steroids.” 

In China, the inverse is true. The country is experiencing a drought unlike any in living memory. Images of parched and shriveled river basins have been circulating on social media, alongside pictures of ancient Buddhist statues that have been revealed in the Yangtze River as water levels dwindled.

But state media coverage of the climate-related disasters in China has been noticeably light-hearted. In southwest China, where the countryside has been engulfed by wildfires, media coverage has centered on the bravery and heroism of Chinese firefighters and volunteers rather than the damage done and the suffering of people. 

“Critical reporting on the human rights issues associated with the drought can be hardly found on domestic media,” Yaqiu Wang, a Senior China Researcher at Human Rights Watch told me. She said that media coverage has mostly just focused on the government’s “competent” response. People, she added, are also afraid to post about the realities of their experiences on social media, fearing censorship and repercussions from the state. 

Wang described how the Chinese Communist Party is deeply afraid of letting people tell their stories. “The CCP constantly boasts about its efforts in addressing climate change,” she said, but if the media was allowed to report freely on the droughts, “the facade of CCP competence would be torn down.”

Some people, though, have spoken out on Chinese social media.  “Forest fires are raging in Chongqing,” one person wrote, “old people aren’t going to survive this hot summer, hospital emergency wards have a constant stream of patients coming in with heatstroke.” Commentators online have also drawn attention to the lack of international coverage of the catastrophe in China, which is now enduring the most severe heat wave ever recorded

This lapse in media attention has been dubbed “The Great Silence” by the environmental columnist George Monbiot. Director and screenwriter Adam Mckay tweeted that the lack of coverage of China’s drought was “a failure of communication that can’t be rivaled by anything in human history.” 

Meanwhile, the race is on among climate change deniers to find new and ever more outlandish ways to distort these unprecedented disasters and portray them as just a normal part of the meteorological ebb and flow. For instance, lakes in Switzerland are at their lowest-ever August levels, with boats being evacuated on Lake Constance as the water disappears. But on Facebook, climate deniers drew attention to a drought in the summer of 1540 when the lake also experienced low levels. 

This is a typical tactic among climate conspiracists, who repeatedly dredge up extreme events from the past to claim that climate change is a myth, that what we see around us – in Pakistan, in China, in Switzerland — is just business as usual for the planet.

IN GLOBAL NEWS

A new global conspiracy theory is gaining currency online, exploiting public fear over both Covid and monkeypox to spread yet more vaccine disinformation. This theory asserts that the Pfizer vaccine is the cause of monkeypox. The “evidence” is that every country that has offered the Pfizer injection is now experiencing monkeypox cases. Anti-vaccine activists and conspiracy theorists claim that mRNA vaccines impact immune systems and that an “outbreak of monkeypox after massive covid vaccination campaigns is no coincidence.” The theory appears to be gaining traction in Austria, home to a particularly aggressive, even violent contingent of Covid deniers. It’s also resonant in a number of African countries, where there are better reasons to be suspicious of Pfizer. WHO Africa had to put out a fact-checking video debunking the claim, and reminding viewers, once again, that “correlation does not equal causation.” Related false claims link the Covid vaccine with HIV, too. 

Three years on, millions of long Covid sufferers are still waiting to get their lives back on track. As many as 16 million Americans are still suffering with the condition today, with about a quarter of those people now unable to work, according to a new report by the Brookings Institute.  Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci for the New York Times described how millions of people are running out of money, treatment options and hope. She also found their condition is often treated as “fantasy” by doctors. This collective gaslighting is something we’ve reported on, too — even doctors themselves suffering with long Covid find that their colleagues are dismissing the illness as psychosomatic.  

Police have been investigating a bomb threat at Boston Children’s Hospital, the institution targeted by anti-LGBTQ activists who rally against its treatment program for transgender young people. Police found no explosive device after the hospital was put on temporary lockdown — the culmination of weeks of targeted harassment and abuse against the hospital and its staff. 

WHAT WE’RE READING 

Yangyang Cheng for WIRED describes the “hollow victory” that has occurred after western countries decided to boycott Russian science. Particularly after thousands of scientists have rallied against Putin’s war. Cheng argues the ongoing boycott can only harm the scientific community.

Tracking coronavirus disinformation from around the world

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