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.