J500 Media and the Environment

All Red-Eyed and Blue by vincemeserko
June 10, 2008, 6:04 pm
Filed under: Society + Media | Tags: , , , ,

Last December I helped present a strategic communications plan to representatives of CReSIS, the Center for the Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets, at the University of Kansas. CReSIS helps track and predict glacial ice melt and rising sea levels in Greenland and Antarctica. Part of the presentation involved a Q&A session where I was asked whether or not I thought CReSIS might be considered a leftist/liberal institution simply because of their association with the global warming debate. “Are we guilty by association” was the exact question from Steve Ingalls. I confidently replied that I thought that global climate change was becoming increasingly less toxic of an issue, that no longer was it a liberal v. conservative battle. Consensus was emerging I reasoned. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure I was absolutely wrong. Check out this poll conducted by National Journal Magazine. It shows that currently 95 percent of Democrats believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the earth is warming as a result of man-made pollution. Conversely, only 26 percent of republicans agreed with the statement. As with any poll, there is the chance of bias within the construction of the question itself. The words “beyond a reasonable doubt” combined with “warming earth” might scare people away, but it’s unlikely they scared only republicans. The results are too lopsided to attribute to a biased question.

Interestingly, this poll coincides with another, extremely unscientific study I’ve conducted myself. As part of my post-graduation what-the-hell-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life summer I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time loitering in public libraries. One of my best summer book finds is Christopher Horner’s “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism.” The book’s description “reveals the full anti-American, anti-capitalist, and anti-human agenda of today’s environmentalists.” Horner is routinely championed by commentator Sean Hannity whose own book, Let Freedom Ring, resolutely denies global warming. Hannity and other conservative commentators like Ann Coulter and Michael Savage have taken similar stances in their respective books as Horner. They seem completely incapable of breaking party lines to question the true meaning of environmentalism and liberals seem unwilling to meet them in the middle.

I think the real problem here are in the words “global warming” which is a terribly insufficient catch-all term for all topics related to environmentalism. Environmentalism IS global warming to many. Part of the struggle, as discussed at length in our class, involves the reframing of these topics so as not to obscure their complexity. Global warming, to conservatives, is an invention of the left to bring down capitalism and as Horner bizarrely asserts, a device that is inherently anti-human. I’m not sure what Horner means by “anti-human.” Are global warming skeptics suggesting carbon emission legislation and concerted environmental activism will annihilate humans and bring about the emergence of a new, distinctly inhuman race of people? Will this new species drive Priuses?

Horner’s anti-captialism assertion is the most misguided. As noted in books like Ethical Markets (co-written by Simran) and Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy, environmental issues have the ability to be profoundly pro-capitalism because they reward market innovation and support ethical practices. We can make money AND help the environment! I’m sure conservative global warming naysayers like Hannity, Savage, and Coulter would agree these are hallmarks of good capitalism yet none seem to want to view environmentalism from this perspective. It’s equally the fault of liberals for not presenting environmental issues in the context of human rights, national security and environmental conservation, but instead, offering over-the-top doomsday global warming scenarios which only fan the flames and reinforce red vs. blue state paradigms. The conversations between the two parties has to be reframed and reimagined and both parties have to be patient and openminded. In order to find consensus and reverse these troubling poll stats both liberals and conservatives have to be more cognizant of the nuance of environmentalism and the values we all share.


Local Officials Lay Egg With Proposed Chicken Ordinance by vincemeserko

There’s a scourge just waiting to engulf Lawrence and afflict terror on its residents. This scourge haunts children and terrifies the community with the threat of illness. The scourge is of grave concern, and preventive action must be taken.

Somebody needs to stop the chickens.

According to City Hall officials you cannot trust chickens, especially chickens that live in suburban backyards. They could be carriers of harmful disease. As reported in the Lawrence Journal-World  city officials are drawing up an ordinance that would ban individuals from owning chickens in their backyard unless they live on at least five acres and “meet other guidelines.” Public health officials cite chicken’s notoriously substandard hygiene practices as a reason for the ban. It is thought small children might mix it up with the chickens and become ill.  I am wondering if this is necessary. Are hyperactive, neglected children escaping from their homes, leaping over backyard fences and mingling with small farm animals? After the chicken encounters, are the children then involuntarily putting their fingers in their mouths? Who are these children? Bob Gent, a local artist and chicken owner defended chicken ownership. He was quoted in the paper as saying that “For me, this is kind of a symbolic gesture,” adding that “It is a recognition of the cycle of life around us. I think society would be better off if we were more connected with where our food came from.”

Gent is probably right. We are divorced from our food. One of the first lessons of our Media & the Environment class involved me learning that my pipin’ hot McDonald’s flapjacks probably traveled very far distances before arriving on my plate. It was not something I had ever really considered. I’m not sure what I was thinking. That egg McMuffins and hotcakes were being cultivated by local farmers? While Gent should be commended for recognizing the miles and miles that separate us from our food, what if the threat posed to children were actually true? In fact, just a few months ago an Associated Press story by John Heilprin exposed a controversial scientific experiment performed in 2000 by EPA and Johns Hopkins researchers that involved toxic sludge being tilled into yards in low-income neighborhoods as a way of fighting lead poisoning. In fact, the whole experiment was predicated on the assumption that if the children would eat the sludge they would be better protected from lead poisoning. While the researchers, which included Dr. Michael Klag of Johns Hopkins, staunchly denied the toxicity of the tilled substance, it certainly raises questions about the likelihood of children ingesting foreign substances if a prominent research university built an entire experiment around this premise. That said, an ordinance banning backyard chickens seems superfluous and an unnecessary waste of valuable time. If anything, it might encourage people to hoard barnyard animals. Heck, I would consider myself now vaguely intrigued at the prospects of owning some chickens. I bet the eggs taste better and better tasting locally-raised food is nothing to cluck about.