So, I pick up The San Francisco Chronicle as I walk out the door this morning, and what do I see plastered across most of the front page? “A’s NEW ERA”. Mass coverage on the sale of the Oakland A’s baseball team to various and sundry investors.
As is my habit, I start reading the paper from the back pages (where the “real” news is) and what do I see on page A17 (second to last page)? “U.N. Study: Earth’s Health Deteriorating” … the AP article available through the SF GATE web site doesn’t have the most alarming statistic (the viability of 60% of the world’s ecosystem services are threatened), but you can see it as the lead paragraph on the latest entry on the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment web site. It appears that the print article in today’s Chron was based on this release.
Here’s the lead paragraph I’m talking about… hell, here’s the three lead paragraphs:
A landmark study released today reveals that approximately 60 percent of the ecosystem services that support life on Earth – such as fresh water, capture fisheries, air and water regulation, and the regulation of regional climate, natural hazards and pests – are being degraded or used unsustainably. Scientists warn that the harmful consequences of this degradation could grow significantly worse in the next 50 years.
“Any progress achieved in addressing the goals of poverty and hunger eradication, improved health, and environmental protection is unlikely to be sustained if most of the ecosystem services on which humanity relies continue to be degraded,” said the study, Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) Synthesis Report, conducted by 1,300 experts from 95 countries. It specifically states that the ongoing degradation of ecosystem services is a road block to the Millennium Development Goals agreed to by the world leaders at the United Nations in 2000.
Although evidence remains incomplete, there is enough for the experts to warn that the ongoing degradation of 15 of the 24 ecosystem services examined is increasing the likelihood of potentially abrupt changes that will seriously affect human well-being. This includes the emergence of new diseases, sudden changes in water quality, creation of “dead zones” along the coasts, the collapse of fisheries, and shifts in regional climate.
Let’s have a vote: which is more important?
1. A change in ownership for the Oakland A’s.
2.A declaration by 1,300 scientists from 95 countries that human impacts on the planet have made “changes [that] have resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss to the biological diversity of the planet”, to quote Walter Reid, director of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.
I’m willing to be I know how most of you will answer. Why isn’t this front page news?
Is the Chronicle afraid of being seen as playing “Chicken Little”? Does it think the average reader won’t give a damn? Do they think that the average reader would be unable to understand that the Earth’s ecosystems are overstressed and some of them are on the virge of collapse? Or would it be too upsetting to the powers that be (corporate and governmental) to see the evidence of their collective malfeasance and mis-stewardship splashed across the front page?
… probably not. Setting aside the more paranoid of interpretations, it seems to me that the American newsroom has a major cultural problem – stuff like this just isn’t “news”. News is “dramatic”, fast-developing, “personalized” and personality driven… Terry Schiavo’s husk passing on is news… studies showing the 55 year old men without health insurance are 40% more likely to die than those with it are not. There’s no immediate crisis, no fast breaking story to continually update… sure, there is a “human interest” angle that might result in a feature, but it isn’t worth a headline or a series of stories from different angles. Or… could it be?
“World’s Primates On The Verge of Extinction: Defenders Call It Genocide”, “Antarctic Ice Pack Breaking Up: Shipping Threatened, Sea Levels May Rise Significantly”, “Water Tables Sinking Rapidly Across Planet, Food Harvests Threatened”‘, “Energy Demand From China Threatens To Drive Prices Through Roof”, “Asian Pollution Blocks Western State’s Progress Cleaning Up Air”… are headlines like these not attention grabbing enough?
What would happen if a major U.S. newpaper started putting ecological news like this on the front page of the paper nearly every single day… how long would they be able to keep it up? Indefinitely? (there’s certainly enough news of the sort to do this on a regular basis) … would circulation crash? (I somehow doubt it.) Would advertising disappear? (Probably not – the capitalist will sell you the rope you use to hang him.)
How much would it cost for “the left” to buy a leading newspaper in a major media market and start running headlines like this? While a pretty intensive session with Google was unable to pin down any specific numbers, it seems reasonable to assume that one could be bought for $200 million. Seems like this would be a cost-effective investment.
Or could we do this even more cheaply … by making this “news” ourselves, among the blogging community? Could we flog the story of the looming death of the planet into the mainstream media, like we’ve done with so many other stories? Or do we, ourselves, not see this as “news”, as “blog worthy”?
Hmm… it seems the verdict is split. I was about to start sobbing uncontrollably, when Daypop and Blogz produced one and zero hits respectively, when Technorati saved the day and produced 29 hits. 26 in the last 24 hours or so. Of course, a number of them are folks ranting about how the most important aspect of this is how it promotes “free markets”, but most of the others seemed to “get” the idea that this is a significant report. … maybe the blogsphere simply needs time to react? I hope so.
I guess I’m not alone in my thoughts on this… Jumping on the Bandwagon has also commented about the lack of coverage in major media about this.
Two more tidbits:
a) wonder why your newspaper seems so threadbare?
Read this article (found it while poking around for info for this one): Valuation of the newspaper publishing industry
Here’s a choice quote: “successful companies have reduced total payroll costs from 40% of revenues to 30%” (the Times-Mirror company is cited as an example)
b) totally off topic: John C. Danforth (conservative Republican former Senator from Missouri) says, ” Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians”… and that this is not a good thing.