Friday, October 08, 2010

Environmental news around Rochester and around the world

I had a great time when I attended the recent UN Journalist Conference on Environmental sustainability on Monday, October 4th, 2010. Mayor Duffy spoke about our beautiful New York State and the recent sale of Hemlock and Candice lakes. We heard from environmental reporters from all over: Autigua & Barbuda; Russia; Togo; Bahrain; Uzbekistan; Zambia; Bosnia & Herzegovina; Haiti; and Mozambique. The conference was sponsored by those wonderful folks at United Nations Association of Rochester.

What I got from the conference: Disinterest in by the public on environmental concerns seems to be drearily widespread. Other stuff gets front-page coverage on the world stage—sports, movie star scandals, highway accidents, and political squabbling—just like here in the US.

You have to ask yourself, ’what’s with that?’ Why do we need to know about this other stuff and not about the state of our environment? How did we get to the point where people suffering the most horrific consequences of bad environmental policies and practices all over the world still refuse to demand that their media tell them about their environment? Would they really rather be told about the latest sport score on the front page, instead of a story that might profound effect their ability to survive? We are evolving into a very interesting species: a species that refuses to take responsibility for the very environment that they are changing and need to survive.

Part of the answer comes from what one foreign reporter said, “It’s not our job to tell our audience what is good for them.” Instead, she continued, “It is the job of the environmental groups to point out Climate Change and the like and serve up the facts to the media and make it interesting to the public.” (That’s what I heard her say anyway.) Ok, if that’s how it works (again, all around the world) then why do environmental groups have to do literary summersaults and street theatre to get the press to publish environmental news? In other words, even when many environmental situations (like a company slowly poisoning a river) demand attention, why doesn’t the press act? Why does front page news have to compete with stuff that doesn’t really matter, like the media’s creation of Sarah Palin as a front-page superstar that goggles up critical news space?

Maybe it’s because rich and powerful people own the press and they don’t like their news organizations spilling the beans about some of their unsavory environmental practices? Or, maybe the state doesn’t want to look like they are indifferent to the public’s plight because of their environmental neglect. Something’s’ going on: something’s the cause of such global indifference to environmental collapse.

Who knows? It’s hard to say exactly why there are not reports on things we don’t know, like what toxins a company is allowing to seep into our land and water. Maybe Donald Rumsfeld, the former Defense Secretary during the heady days of the Iraq invasion, said it best, “There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns; there are things we do not know we don’t know.” Unknown unknown - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia But we would know if we had a press that went out and investigated possible environmental problems, becoming proactive and taking responsibility for informing us on important news.

One glimmer of light was when a reporter at the conference said that the Internet in his country was not as heavily controlled as TV or radio. The older population sticks with what they know: Television. But the younger people go to the Internet and don’t even watch the TV. Maybe there’s hope for the public ‘getting it’ on our environment if the new press on the Internet can deliver. Time will tell. We’ll either perish or prevail depending on the level of engagement we have with our environment.

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