Friday, March 23, 2007

Environmental News, Wouldn’t It Be Nice?

Wouldn’t it be nice if Rochester, like some other cities in the US had a separate section in their newspaper, or other media, for just Environmental News? The Toledo Blade has a section totally devoted to environmental stories and keeps them listed online for a long time. Doesn’t seem like a tall order, usually one good reporter devoted exclusively to an entire community’s environmental health would do.

I know that most of our Rochester-area media already has some environmental reporting on an ad hoc basis, especially when a showcase issue pops up—like a large chemical spill. But that is not responsible environmental reporting.

By its nature environmental stories, especially the one we have the potential to do something about, have to be investigated early, long before they become an overt problem. The VHS story provides an excellent example. If you look from bottom to top on this list of articles about this fish disease [VHS News Link List] you will see a progression from the first occurrence of this invasive species virus in our area to a full blown outbreak of an environmental problem that will be with us a long time.

My point is that if our local media had dedicated environmental reporters who had the time and special connections with pubic officials, environmentalists, and fishing groups, this issue could have been dealt with earlier. We could have had town meetings for pubic comment earlier and maybe government action earlier. We might have had time to explore the implications of this wide-spread fish disease and found a way to spread the consequences of the actions needed to halt the spread, rather than the present panic to find a solution and keep the public and even fishermen in the dark.

Dedicated environmental reporters, that is, reporters hired specifically to ferret out environmental stories are critical to any community because they have the skill and education to pursue a subject most corporations, public officials, and the public do not want to hear—that their environment, which they take for granted, may be in trouble.

A professional reporter would be able to sift through the early information from troubling signs on an environmental issue to prevent unnecessary alarmist stories and provide to the pubic a responsible concern long before an actual consensus of scientific information is proven. For that is the real problem with good environmental reporting, the public needs to know a probable concern before an actual concern can be validated. If we don’t get this absolutely important point about environmental information, that our level of concern must be expressed before proven scientific certainty, we are not going to avoid grave environmental problems—we are going to only ratchet them up until an initially small problem becomes a major problem—like avoiding having periodic screenings for colon cancer. If you wait until colon cancer forces itself upon you, it will be too late. It’s a cancer that is treatable if caught early—same with environmental problems. If you snooze, you lose.

Our collective disinclination to focus on the environmental health of our planet, because it potentially creates such economic, political, or even real estate havoc, makes it imperative that we designate a few to constantly look for potential problems in our environment so we can act in time to prevent the worst case scenarios.

I ask that each major Rochester-area media devote a designated section and at least a designated environmental reporter to constantly sweep their environmental connections and possible areas of influence (say, any environmental concerns going around the Great Lakes because any problem in any of the other Great Lakes will probably end up in Lake Ontario) for environmental concerns the pubic must be kept aware of. Remember, we cannot wait for absolute certainty on environmental issues before we act, we must have educated, calm professions look at all the potential problems around us and be able to rise to the level of pubic awareness real concerns when a real problem surfaces. The bar to which the public must place their attention for potential environmental matters must be lowed to the level of potential action, not scientific certainty. You wouldn’t stand in the street facing an oncoming car until it actually hit you before you moved, would you?

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