Sunday, January 24, 2010

We’re Going Blind

Trying to negotiate the world as your sight gets worse does not make life easier. Rather, it becomes more difficult because you often miss critical warning signs. That’s worth keeping in mind as this week’s news illuminates a further decline in the public’s ability to ‘see’ the world around them.

Story #1. Supreme Court Voids Campaign Spending Curbs - “A divided court strikes down decades-old restrictions on corporate campaign spending, 5-4, reversing two of its precedents and freeing companies to advertise” Although there has always been a disproportionate advantage for large corporations to self-servingly frame issues before public via the media, lately it has become more blatant and dire. Relying on corporations, who own most mainstream media, to report on environmental malfeasance is putting the fox in the henhouse.

Story #2. Media Executives Plan Online Service to Charge for Content - If the NYT, one of the last major media institutions that have the capability to do major environmental investigations, decides to charge online readers for its content, and many media follow suit, fewer people will read critical environmental reporting. It means that only a minority will be able to afford reading an important series like Toxic Waters - Series - The New York Times.

Slowly, we are losing our collective ability to monitor the health of our environment and it means we are probably going to make some very bad decisions going forward. If we had the inclination and resources we could do independent objective reporting and discover the ramifications of everything we dumped into our air, land, and water. It’s obvious from the direction mainstream media is going that we are not so inclined. Rather our tendency is to rush forward with every new earth-altering idea that comes to mind and believe everything will turnout OK. That’s delusional.

We can get a more honest view of how we treat our environment by using a wider perspective, that of time. Then it’s clear that we tend not to consider the environment as we live and plan for the future. Three books I suggest that will give you a glimpse of our region before great human changes took place: “A Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations” by Clive Ponting; “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” by Charles C. Mann; and “Paradise Found - Nature in America at the Time of Discovery” by Steve Nicholls. 500 years ago our continent was rich with life, now it’s poor in biodiversity and collapsing in slow motion.

Putting up barriers between the masses and our media by making it more difficult and expensive for them to get accurate and in-depth environmental information will lead to disaster. But should reporting be publically funded, as John Nichols & Robert W. McChesney argue in How to Save Journalism? I don’t know. All I know is: Absolutely no environmental problem goes away by blinding the public to them.

1 comment:

Terry Mock said...

Deepening Perspectives on Sustainable Land Development
January 2010 - SLDI Newsletter

...Charles C. Mann sets the record straight with a new nonfiction book released this past month that provides a fascinating look at the real lives of ancient Meso-American people – Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491. This is an adaptation of Mann’s best-selling nonfiction book 1491, which turned everything I had previously learned about American history on its head by demonstrating that a growing number of anthropologists and archaeologists now believe that the Western Hemisphere before Columbus's arrival was well-populated and dotted with impressive cities and towns - one scholar estimated that it held a hundred million people or more – more than lived in Europe at the time. The Indians had transformed vast swaths of landscape to meet their agricultural needs by using fire to create prairies for increased game production, and had also cultivated at least part of the forest, living on crops of fruits and nuts.

The contentious debate over what the ecosystem looked like before Columbus arrived has important ramifications for how we sustainably manage the landscape of the future – one which many environmentalists may not like to hear. According to Mann -

"Guided by the pristine myth, mainstream environmentalists want to preserve as much of the world's land as possible in a putatively intact state. But 'intact', if the new research is correct, means 'run by human beings for human purposes'. Environmentalists dislike this, because it seems to mean that anything goes. In a sense they are correct. Native Americans managed the continent as they saw fit. Modern nations must do the same. If they want to return as much of the landscape as possible to its 1491 state, they will have to find it within themselves to create the world's largest garden."

And finally, green building certification programs today pay scant attention to landscaping, but they should, according to the Sustainable Sites Initiative, which has just announced release of “the world's first rating system for the design, construction and maintenance of sustainable landscapes.” For the next two years the program will be tried out on test projects nationwide in order to fine-tune the landscaping standards. This and other certification programs fit well within the scope of The SLDI Code™ and SLDI embraces their development. In fact, SLDI pilot project Ocean Mountain Ranch has applied to participate in the Sustainable Sites Initiative as a portion of its pilot phase participation in The SLDI Code™ best practices system.

Your participation and comments are welcome.

Terry Mock
Executive Director
Sustainable Land Development International