Sunday, September 27, 2009

Gassing the News

A good example of how dysfunctional our present media is on our environment, specifically on natural gas drilling, can be made by a point-by-point comparison of National Public Radio’s (NPR) three-part series on natural gas and recent coverage by ProPublica on the same subject:

Rediscovering Natural Gas By Hitting Rock Bottom: (September 22, 09) Morning Edition : NPR

Who's Looking At Natural Gas Now? Big Oil: (September 23, 2009) Morning Edition : NPR

With Little Clout, Natural Gas Lobby Strikes Out: (September 24, 09) Morning Edition : NPR

Buried Secrets: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat from Pro Publica”

In short, while NPR wildly endorses the convenient view that natural gas is our environmental and energy salvation, ProPublica’s coverage suggests that this issue is far more complicated and sorted. NPR states that water is used for fracturing, or breaking up underground rocks for gas, and ProPublica states that unnamed manmade chemicals are being used. NPR suggests environmentalists can live with natural in the short run, and ProPublica reports wide-spread concern by environmental groups and the public. ProPublica’s coverage on gas drilling by fracturing and NPR’s don’t match in the places they should be matching—science and the facts.

But, a point-by-point analysis is missing the big point. The big point is that environmental issues are too often presented by the media with an agenda. This agenda can be, “we want to save our environment, but we don’t want to create change because change makes the public nervous. Or, “everything industry does is bad.” Or, “don’t worry your pretty little heads, the experts are on it.” Or, “everything environmental groups say is right because ‘they get it’.” Or, “somewhere between the experts, industry, and non-profit environmental groups, the truth will get hammered out and will be the better for it in the great belief that environmental matters are like a democracy.” Of course, Nature isn’t a democracy at all. Nature (for all its beauty and cruelty) is a mindless algorithm of cause and effect: garbage in, garbage out.

Granted, there are political, economic, governmental, and individual aspects in every environmental issue, but editors in the media should be ‘pushing’ only one agenda on our environment: sustainability. In other words, are we and our children’s children likely to survive? Sometimes, as one reads environmental stories on mainstream media, you get that haunting feeling that they’re all discussing different planets with different laws that will have different outcomes—all subject to their editor’s opinions.

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