With each passing day, I see more and more evidence that society, as a whole, does not comprehend the enormity of the cumulative damage we are wreaking upon this planet, or doesn’t care, or doesn’t have a clue concerning what needs to be done. It is chilling to think that the issues we should be discussing and addressing, never even show up on our radar screen (in any substantive way). But that is indeed the case. And I see evidence of this all the time. Whether I am listening to the radio, leafing through a book, reading a newspaper or magazine, watching television, overhearing or participating in a discussion or conversation, either environmental issues aren’t being discussed, or if they are, the level of discourse is frighteningly superficial.
The truth is, this is the only planet that we know of, in the entire universe, that is capable of supporting human life; and for that reason alone, we ought to be taking much better care of it. Everything that we have – one hundred percent – we owe to the earth, and to the fact that this planet has a unique ability to support life. Every molecule of oxygen we’ve ever breathed in, every drop of water we ever drank, every bit of food we’ve ever eaten, our parents, friends, all of humanity – past, present and future – all that we have, had, or will have, we owe to the earth. These simple, undeniable facts, ought to instill in us a deep sense of obligation to treat the earth with commensurate reverence and respect. But instead, we despoil and pollute the earth, and that sense of obligation and reverence which should be omnipresent, rarely if ever enters our consciousness. We give it lip service, of sorts, sometimes, but that’s about it. We have all met kind, generous people, who would give you the shirt off their back. But would they do the same for nature (anthropomorphically speaking)? Why not? Nature is the force to which they owe their very existence. Remember when that tsunami struck in 2004, or when terrorists struck in the U.S. on 9/11, or when hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans, or when Pakistan suffered a major earthquake in 2005? Whenever and wherever there is a major disaster, anywhere in the world, relief pours in, from all around the world. But when I see an article in the newspaper about a study suggesting that “one in seven species on earth face possible extinction due to the results of global warming,” the story might appear way back in the paper, and there will be no similar effort to immediately raise funds for that perilous situation, which is in fact unfolding right before our very eyes, in slow motion, every single day.
When it comes right down to it, everything is “people, people, people.” Nature has no voice at all, and is never even “on our radar screen” – even though nature is what sustains us, and makes all life possible. When a philanthropist makes a major charitable contribution, who or what is the beneficiary? When politicians are campaigning, what issues do they discuss most often? What are the questions that are put to the public, in opinion polls? What questions are asked in presidential debates? Take a look at the books that are on the bestsellers lists. Peruse their table of contents, and their index pages. Is there anything related to environmentalism, or reverence for nature? And if there is, is it substantive, or is it superficial? Is it deep, or is it shallow? Is it a whole chapter, or is it just a sentence? Look at the covers of the newspapers and magazines, at a newsstand. Flip through the pages. What is the latest news flavor of the day? Is it ever anything deeply meaningful, in an environmental problem-solving sense? Is it about one of the many “planet-problems” (global warming, ozone depletion, acid rain, waste, pollution, overpopulation, etc.), or is it about one of the many “people-problems” or “people-concerns” (typical human interest stuff) that incessantly grab all the attention: entertainment, sports, planning your retirement, planning your vacation, planning your wedding, health insurance, life insurance, education, social security reform, hunger, homelessness, disease research, crime, law enforcement, unemployment rates, taxes, the economy, business, investing, war, religion, poverty, disaster relief, campaign coverage, movies, interviews with celebrities, advertisements, and all the latest must-have gadgets and gizmos.
I have quite an extensive collection of articles to help make my point about how environmental issues, for the most part, aren’t ever really “on our radar screen.” A lot of this stuff I keep in a section labeled “misplaced priorities,” or with my “philanthropy” stuff. I’ve selected from this amassed material some examples which help to illustrate how environmental issues just never seem to show up “on our radar (screen)” – or if they do show up at all, they show up just peripherally. In addition to these articles, I’ve included some pertinent facts that also help to illustrate this point.
(See also Part Two of the Philanthropy section for more examples to illustrate this point.)
- According to an article which appeared in The New York Times (Andrew C. Revkin, “Environmental Issues Slide In Poll of Public’s Concerns,” 23 Jan. 2009: 13), about a Pew Research Center poll that had just been made public the day before, global warming comes in last among a total of 20 voter concerns. It also states that “protecting the environment” had “dropped even more precipitously in the poll: only 41 percent of voters called it a top priority, compared with 56 percent” the previous year. “Strengthening the nation’s economy” was the top-ranked voter concern in the poll.
- An article appearing in The New York Times Magazine (Jim Holt, “Good Instincts” 9 Mar. 2008: 11), contains a chart showing the breakdown for charitable giving in the United States, for 2006. “Religion” is at the top, receiving $96.8 billion. There are 10 categories altogether (one is “Other”), accounting for a total of $295 billion in charitable giving. “Environment and animals” comes in dead last, at $6.6 billion. Since an entire section of this website deals with Philanthropy, this is the only example I will include here, pertaining to this topic. [The source for the chart is “Giving USA Foundation, Glenview, Ill.” The chart itself is credited to Charles M. Blow.]
- According to an article that appeared in The New York Times (Andrew C. Revkin, “Yelling ‘Fire’ on a Hot Planet” 23 Apr. 2006: 1, 14.), a March 2006 nationwide Gallop survey, which asked participants what is the most important problem facing the United States, had “environment” coming in dead last (it was a 4-way tie), at 2 percent. By contrast, “War in Iraq” was at the top, with 27 percent; and this was followed by eight other responses, all of which finished ahead of “environment.”
- In a 2006 Newsday / NY1 News statewide poll (Errol A. Cockfield Jr., “Poll: Education voters’ top issue,” Newsday 10 Mar. 2006: A22), registered voters were asked which issue facing New York State do they deem its highest priority? “Environment” once again came in dead last – ninth! “Education” was at the top (22%), followed by “economy and jobs” (19%), then “health care” (17%), and “property taxes” (14%). Just 2% deemed “environment” worthy of being placed at the top of the list.
- Next, I’ll cite a Newsday article (Bloomberg News, “Bloomberg’s bipartisan impact” 26 Jun. 2007: A19), which reports on a June 2007 nationwide CNN poll which asks what is the most important issue to consider when deciding how to vote for president. The article only provides the top four answers to the question, but once again we see that “Environment” is not foremost on people’s mind. The top four issues are: the Iraq war, the economy, health care, and illegal immigration.
- A Pew Research Center poll was cited in an op-ed piece in Newsday (“Global report begs for action” 22 Feb. 2007: A37), written by Ellen Goodman, a syndicated columnist based at The Boston Globe. According to her column, the Pew Research Center’s annual list of 23 policy priorities, has global warming coming in at number 20.
- According to U.S. editors and news directors, in The Associated Press’ annual vote – as reported in Newsday (Anonymous, “Virginia Tech massacre tops ’07 news survey” 29 Dec. 2007: A8) – “global warming” was among 2007’s top 10 news stories. However, though “global warming” does appear on this list, (a) it is not in the top five, (b) it is the only issue related to environmentalism which does appear, (c) as I often point out, whenever one specific environmental issue is mentioned – rather than some all-inclusive umbrella term like “Environment” – so many other vitally important issues are being left out completely, and (d) former-Vice President Al Gore won an Academy Award and received a Nobel Prize, for his documentary An Inconvenient Truth (so perhaps the reason “Global Warming” did make the list, is because the film temporarily helped generate public interest for that topic).
[Please bear in mind that from here on down, a number of paragraphs (such as the one immediately below) are out of proper alignment. Paragraphs that go all the way to the left margin should instead align with the paragraphs with the bullet points.]
Incidentally, an interesting write-in vote, which didn’t make the list, came from John Moeur, managing editor of the Daily Herald in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., who wrote on his ballot that in their opinion, the top news story “must reflect the nation’s stifling problems and the inability of either the Bush administration or the Democrat-led Congress to find solutions other than bickering.”
- World Press Review, a monthly magazine that is now defunct, annually published (usually in its March issue) the top ten news stories of the previous year – as determined by the Associated Press survey of U.S. editors, the Pew Research Center’s U.S. news-interest index, the Associated Press survey of international editors, and top ten lists compiled by editors of various newspapers from around the world. While these lists do demonstrate regional biases, I found them to be an excellent illustration of how environmental issues don’t show up “on our radar screen.” To demonstrate this, let me review the lists compiled for three of the years that began the new millennium.
In reviewing the March 2002, March 2003 and March 2004 issues, I came up with a combined total of 386 items, from these top 10 lists (one is a “top 6” list). Every year, one or more natural disasters make these lists: earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, killer cyclones, floods, droughts, forest fires, heat waves and disease epidemics. I do not count these as being “environmental” issues. While such “natural” disasters and so-called “acts of God” can indeed (potentially) be caused by — or aided and abetted by — human events (such as the burning of fossil fuels and its far-reaching effects), for the most part, it is not easy to show a direct link.
All told, of the 386 news items, only two are what I would characterize as true “environmental issues” — issues that relate to pollution of land, water or air, overpopulation, and so forth. One is “Spill from oil tanker Prestige off Spanish coast,” the seventh item listed by Internazionale, Rome, Italy (Giovanni de Mauro, editor), in the March 2003 issue. The other is “Climate changes said by experts to be caused by destructive human behavior,” which was the sixth item on the list compiled by the editors of Politika, Belgrade. Doesn’t that speak volumes? There is nothing on these lists about international conferences, earth summits, the United Nations, or the scientific community, coming together to increase awareness and focus on finding real solutions to the environmental problems that represent a very real existential threat. Why? Why aren’t serious environmental issues ever really on our radar? Truthfully, it even felt a bit wrong to include the item about the oil tanker spill, because it reminds me of a famous utterance: “The scandal isn’t what’s illegal; it’s what’s legal.” The real problem isn’t the tiny infinitesimal amounts (comparatively speaking) of oil that might accidentally get spilled here or there — no matter how bad the environmental consequences might be — the real problem is all the massive amounts of fossil fuels that are used as intended, each and every minute, of each and every day, all around the world. There is nothing on these lists, at the dawn of a new millennium, to indicate that the world’s news media is adequately covering issues like pollution, waste accumulation, ozone depletion, deforestation, deaquiferation, loss of biodiversity, the spread of invasive species, overpopulation, overfishing, etc.
- In the August 1, 1999 edition of the “Week in Review” section of The New York Times, there is a brief piece titled “What’s the Problem?”[no by-line], and an accompanying chart, based on nationwide Gallup polls taken over a period of a half century, in which the question was asked: What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today? There are eleven columns in the chart (one for approximately each five year period from between 1950 to 1999), and each column lists the top four answers to that question. Out of the 44 answers given to that question throughout those years, not once does any environmental issue ever come up. “High cost of living” comes up a lot; as do issues related to war, or crime; and “unemployment” makes the list in over half the columns. The closest matches to an environmental issue are where we see “energy crisis” and “energy problems,” in 1975 and 1980, respectively, but I don’t consider these environmental, because the concerns were not about pollution, but concerned price or availability (as during the OPEC oil embargo).
- Unfortunately, I don’t have a source or date for this next item I have pulled from my collection – because it was transcribed (typed onto a sheet of paper) without that information included. It contains a list of the top 25 groups in America that give money to campaigns. Note that there is nothing on this list that even remotely represents anything having to do with environmentalist causes or concerns:
- The American Association of Retired Persons
- The American—Israel Public Affairs Committee
- The AFL-CIO
- The National Federation of Independent Businesses
- The Association of Trial Lawyers
- The National Rifle Association
- The Christian Coalition
- The American Medical Association
- The National Education Association
- The National Right to Life
- The National Association of Realtors
- The National Bankers Association
- The National Association of Manufacturers
- The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce
- The Veterans of Foreign Wars
- The American Farm Bureau Federation
- The Motion Picture Association of America
- The National Association of Home Builders
- The National Association of Broadcasters
- The American Hospital Association
- The National Governor’s Association
- The American Legion
- The National Restaurant Association
- The National Brotherhood of Teamsters
- A chart printed in The New York Times (Feb. 11, 2001) – accompanying an article titled “On Wall St., More Investors Push Social Goals,” by Danny Hakim – under the heading “Different Definitions of Responsibility,” lists eight different investment funds, what their assets are (in millions), and “what they won’t buy” [Sources for the chart: Company Web sites, Morningstar, and SEC filings]. At the top of the list, it states: “A growing number of funds have been set up to invest in a socially responsible manner. But there are many different ideas about what this means.” For example, each of the following is considered unacceptable by at least one of the eight funds listed in the chart (the first three, are by far, the most-cited reasons for not supporting a specific company): Alcohol; tobacco; gambling; military contracting; pornography; nuclear power; companies in foreign countries that restrict freedom of the press, political freedom or worker’s rights; companies deemed to have unfair labor practices; pesticides; health care; insurance; banks, bonds, debentures, or other interest paying securities; pork processing, insurers, hospital chains, or drug makers involved in abortions; companies that provide domestic partner benefits, or entertainment producers deemed anti-family; companies that do not have, at minimum, stated policies against discrimination in hiring and promotion based on sexual orientation.
While it is true that “nuclear power” and “pesticides” both appear on this list, too many things are conspicuously absent to not come to the conclusion that environmental concerns are just not on our radar. There is nothing in this “what they won’t buy” list, dealing with avoiding companies, policies, products, or production procedures, that harm the earth, in terms of, for example, lack of substantive sustainability strategies, overfishing, deforestation, ozone depletion, acid rain, global warming, or any of the other forms of pollution that don’t involve fossil fuels.
- On the independent environmental journal Grist Magazine website (Environmental News and Humor, www.gristmagazine.com) I saw this (posted Feb. 8, 2001): “The ratio of anti-environmental (construction, chemical, and energy/natural resource) PAC [Political Action Committee] contributions to environmental PAC contributions is 110:1.”
- The above-mentioned item inspired me to read the “Political Action Committee” article in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, and here is what I found (this was found on Wikipedia as of Oct. 2008, but may have since changed).
It lists “The top 10 PACs by money spent by themselves, their affiliates and sugbsidiaries, in the 2004 elections.” In all, these top ten PACs contributed over $122 million to the 2004 elections, and not a penny of that came from a group representing an environmental cause. The first three on the list are as follows: (1) EMILY’s List $22,767,521; (2) Service Employees International Union $12,899,352; (3) American Federation of Teachers $12,789,296.
It also provides, under the subheading “Top All-Time Donors,” the top twenty — according to OpenSecrets.org — contributors since 1988, ranked by their total spending. All told, of these twenty that are listed, the total money given to politicians since 1988, adds up to over $586 million, and not a penny of this money came from an environmental group, and not a penny went to an environmental cause. Here are the top three in this listing: (1) American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees $39,947,843; (2) AT&T Inc. $39,772,431; (3) National Association of Realtors $33,280,206.
- I received in the mail, from my New York State senator, Kemp Hannon, a 2008 Legislative Questionnaire. The first part asks to “please select the five most important issues facing you and your family,” and it then lists 10 choices to choose from: cost of living, property taxes, employment opportunities, foreclosures, health insurance, quality of health care, quality of education, traffic, cost of education, open space preservation. Then there are five questions dealing with health insurance and health care. Then comes a question dealing with whether the state should make a law prohibiting utility companies from making charitable donations and sponsoring events. Next come three questions dealing with property taxes, specifically relating to the STAR property tax discounts. Finally, there are four blank lines upon which to offer comments or suggestions.
In this whole questionnaire, “open preservation” is the only mention of anything pertaining to environmentalism. Preserving open space, expanding recycling programs and reducing consumption of fossil fuels, usually represent the extent of our imagination, when it comes to environmental issues. So many facets of environmentalism are wholly left out — both in terms of taking action and in terms of discussion.
- On a page from The New York Times Book Review (Dec. 12, 2010, p. 10), titled “The 10 Best Books of 2010,” five fiction books, and five nonfiction books, together, are given this honor. None appear to have anything to do with environmentalism. Of the nonfiction works, the subject matter includes ballet, Cleopatra, cancer (a “biography” of), a book having to do with theater music, and a book about America’s “Great Migration” (“in which six million African-Americans abandoned the South between 1915 and 1970”).
- Whenever I see a photo of the 9/11 memorial’s falling water and reflecting pools (located in New York City, at ground zero), I can’t help but reflect on what a colossal, unconscionable waste of energy that is. Continuously pumping such a huge volume of water, obviously must require an enormous amount of energy; and this is completely, one hundred percent, unnecessary. The fact that this is something no one seems to be cognizant of, just adds another dimension to the problem. As of January 1, 2014, I have yet to see any acknowledgement or mention of this, anywhere. This is just another illustration of how eco-consciousness virtually never finds its way onto our radar screen, in any substantive way.
- What about the Ten Commandments? Is there anything in there that promotes eco-conscious thinking? No, there is absolutely nothing there about revering and taking good care of the Earth.
- What about the five pillars of Islam? … Again, there is nothing about revering the Earth.
- And Kwanzaa? Nowhere in its 7 principles is there any specific reference to revering or taking good care of the Earth.
- Since its inception in 1910, more than 110 million Americans have become members of the Boy Scouts of America – according to the Wikipedia article I read several years ago. The Scout Oath requires pledging duty to “God and country,” and pledging to keep oneself “physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” The Scout Law has 12 points: “a Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” Why is there no specific mention, in the oath, about our responsibility to the Earth, without which none of us would even exist?
- Remember the so-called “Contract with America,” that 1990s contrivance of the Republican Party? It included ten separate categories for proposed legislative action: the Fiscal Responsibility Act; the Taking Back Our Streets Act; the Personal Responsibility Act; the Family Reinforcement Act; the American Dream Restoration Act; the National Security Restoration Act; the Senior Citizens Fairness Act; the Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act; the Common Sense Legal Reform Act; the Citizen Legislature Act. Notice anything missing? There’s nothing whatsoever about protecting the air, water and land, nothing about conservation, global warming, ozone depletion, loss of biodiversity, overdevelopment, overpopulation, and so forth. Just more fiddling, while Rome burns.
- Although the Green Party platform is unusual in that “ecology” does actually hold a place among its 10 key principles, (a) I believe it should be elevated to an even higher status than that (e.g. make it one of only two core principles), and (b) the Green Party itself is hardly “on our radar screen,” now is it?
- A March 1, 1999, article published in Newsday, (The Washington Post, “Strong GOP Stand Against Abortion”), begins by stating: “Conservative Republicans yesterday crushed a bid by moderates to take over leadership of the California GOP, electing a chairman who believes ‘killing babies is the issue of the century’ and would withhold party money from nominees who do not oppose the procedure opponents call a partial-birth abortion.” What can be more anthropocentric than referring to abortion as “the issue of the century?”
- An op-ed piece in Newsday, June 19, 1990 (Sydney H. Schanberg, “The Cardinal’s View Is Too Narrow,” p. 52), quotes Cardinal John Joseph O’Connor, as stating that abortion “is the most important issue of our day.”
- In a op-ed piece in Newsday, tracking the presidential campaign of 1992, under the headline “The Big Questions for Candidates in ’92” (2 Jan. 1992: 75), Elaine Ciulla Kamarck lists her “survey of killer questions for the 1992 presidential race.” There are half a dozen questions, and none of them have anything whatsoever to do with any environmental issues.
- In his November 7, 1999, The New York Times column (“George W.’s Makeup Exam”), Thomas L. Friedman lists “the 10 questions George W. should be asked” (referring to then-presidential candidate George W. Bush), and there is not a single question among these that relates to any environmental issue.
- Newsday columnist James P. Pinkerton, in a January 7, 2003 column (“Democrats Circling, Waiting for Bush to Err,” p. 27), says “the president must juggle four big balls for the next 22 months.” What are these balls?: Iraq, North Korea, the economy, and homeland security. Environmental concerns are once again wholly lacking.
- Scrutinizing a list of 27 items, under the heading “Congressional Record: What the 107th Congress did and didn’t do during its two-year run” (The Associated Press, Newsday 21 Nov. 2002: 49), one could observe that there isn’t any item related in any way to any environmental issue. Indeed, one item mentioned is something that clearly will exacerbate pollution and global warming: “An energy policy encouraging more production.”
- A diagram in Newsday, titled “Pataki’s Proposals / Highlights of the proposals in Gov. George Pataki’s 1998 State of the State address” (The Associated Press, Jan. 8, 1998, p. 5), is a good illustration of something I see frequently. Even when “Environment” is included as one of the topics mentioned (in a diagram, article, newspaper, magazine, newsletter or mailing), often it in no way represents anything close to an actual environmental issue or concern (environmentalism). In this example, for instance, while there are six subheadings (health care, education, crime, taxes, jobs, environment) on this page, what’s listed under “Environment” is (a) “Renovate visitor facilities in Niagra Falls,” and (b) “Renovate sports facilities in Lake Placid.”
- In a piece devoted to remembering the late New York Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Newsday (“Moynihan – Irreplaceable Scholar, Senator,” March 28, 2003, p. 35) columnist and editor, James Klurfeld, writes “Maybe I’m too cynical, but after three decades of reporting on political figures, I don’t believe any belong on a pedestal.” Then he continues: “Daniel Patrick Moynihan was the exception.” But once again, nowhere do I see anything pertaining to environmentalism – those considerations are always conspicuously absent (never on our radar screen). And that is the problem. We need to be thinking in those terms. We need columnists to be thinking in those terms. And we need politicians who think in those terms. Otherwise, nothing will change.
- A Newsday editorial (“Party Favors” Dec. 8, 2002: A29-30) explains how money from legislative slush funds known as ‘member items,’ can be dispersed to any group a member of the New York State Assembly or Senate chooses. Examples of recipients of this cash – $85 million in total (for this particular year) – include the Association for the Help of Retarded Children, United Cerebral Palsy, the Long Island Philharmonic, the Queens Arts Council. In short, all the recipient groups listed in this editorial article, are people-related causes, and none of them are related to environmentalism in any way.
- Even on those rare occasions when eco-consciousness does become a blip on our radar screen, it is never particularly meaningful, or long-lasting. Consider, for example, the book that then-Senator Al Gore wrote, prior to his being chosen to be then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton’s running mate. Earth in the Balance is in certain respects a laudable work. Yet it hardly foreshadows eight years of vice-presidency, in which I cannot recall a single substantive accomplishment. He also didn’t champion the environmental cause during his presidential run. Even after the 2000 presidential election had faded into the fateful events of 9-11, and Gore began work on another book, neither was it related to environmentalism in any way, nor was it related to 9-11 in any way. It was a book about the American family. After that, did he focus on environmental issues? No, again. He began work on launching a new cable channel for young adults, to cover such topics as music, fashion, travel, entertainment, relationships and politics. And even his Oscar-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth – which also helped earn him a Nobel Prize – didn’t deal with environmental issues, per se, but dealt with just one specific facet of environmentalism: global warming/the energy issue.
- For another example of how environmental issues are never really on our radar (in any substantive way), just look at our former presidents, and the causes they have championed after leaving office. These were, after all, among the most powerful people on earth at one time. Imagine all the big-name connections and contacts, right there in their Rolodex. Their capacity to create great and lasting change in the world, far exceeds that of the average citizen. And yet, with the exception of Al Gore, have any past presidents done anything big related to environmentalism? No! Not yet, anyway.
- Something else I find profoundly disturbing, is the fact that I will occasionally see exactly the sort of article which people need to see, and see prominently displayed, instead, pushed all the way back in the newspaper, where fewer – perhaps far fewer – readers will likely even see it; and even when they do see it, and read it, such issues don’t have as much of a chance of gaining a foothold in our higher consciousness, when they appear on page 40, as opposed to page 2 (where they belong).
Here are just a few examples, of articles or news items, that have appeared over the years, which should have been more prominently placed:
- How many people saw this (it appeared on page 45): “More than one in three of Europe’s freshwater fish species faces extinction because ecosystems are being destroyed, the World Conservation Union says.” (Anonymous, “European fish endangered,” Newsday 22 Nov. 2007)
- Here is another short news item, which appeared in the “Briefing” column on the “Health & Science” page (page 48) of Newsday, under the heading “Soil time bomb?” It states that “Gases trapped in the soil are bubbling out of thawing permafrost in amounts far higher than previously thought and may trigger what researchers warn is a global climate time bomb.” According to the article (there is no by-line, but it indicates this news information came from The Associated Press) “methane – a greenhouse gas 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide – is being released from permafrost five times faster than thought, according to a study in yesterday’s issue of Nature.” (8 Sept. 2006)
- “Disaster in our lifetime” is a heading which appears on page 28 (The Associated Press, Newsday 31 Oct. 2006). The opening paragraph states that “Unchecked global warming will devastate the world economy on the scale of the world wars and the Great Depression, a British government report said yesterday.” The article quotes Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair as stating that “If the science is right, the consequences for our planet are literally disastrous. This disaster is not set to happen in some science-fiction future many years ahead, but in our lifetime.”
- “Dismal Reports on Lakes, Rivers” appears on page 57 (The Associated Press, Newsday 1 Oct. 2002). It mentions how the EPA had just concluded that “More than a third of surveyed rivers and about half of all lakes and estuaries [in the United States] are too polluted for swimming or fishing.”
- There are just two sentences in all, under the heading “Bird extinction,” on page 38 (the “Health & Science” page) of Newsday, devoted to reporting that according to Stanford University’s Cagan H. Sekercioglu and colleagues, in a report published by the National Academy of Science, “About 10 percent of all bird species face extinction by the end of the century and 15 percent more are on the brink.” (The Associated Press, Dec. 14, 2004)
- “90% of Big Fish Gone, Study Finds” – this article was buried way back on page 42 (Robert Cooke, Newsday 15 May 2003).
- The New York Times puts “Arctic Ice Is Melting at Record Level, Scientists Say” on page 40 (Kenneth Chang, Dec. 8, 2002). This article states that “In 50 years, the Arctic may be almost ice-free in summer.” It also mentions that in the current issue of the journal Science, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the Royal Observatory of Belgium reported that melting glaciers have even changed the shape of the planet, making it slightly more oblate, “like a pumpkin.”
- This article (Robert Cooke, “Another Danger to Clean Air,” Newsday 4 Apr. 2001) – which appeared on page 28 – opens by stating: “New measurements show that the global atmosphere’s ability to keep itself clean seems to be decreasing, perhaps dangerously so, scientists warned yesterday.” Then it goes on to explain that atmospheric levels of the hydroxyl radical (OH) have been shown to have fallen by as much as 10 percent below 1979 levels.
- “Hole in Ozone Expands,” which appears on page 30 (Newsday 6 Oct. 2000), states that the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica has “ballooned to a record size” – just under 11 million square miles – and for the first time ever extends to a populated area.
Incidentally, slightly more than two years prior to the day this item above appeared, Newsday included a news item reporting that the ozone hole had expanded to its largest size ever, “covering an area 2 1/2 times the size of Europe,” and quotes a World Meteorological Organization official as stating this is “very, very serious.” That’s on page 28. (“Ozone Hole Expands,” Oct. 2, 1998)
- Finally, to conclude this section of my website, here is another way to illustrate my point about how environmental issues virtually never show up on our radar screen. I spent a few days doing a quick analysis of the front covers of the issues of Newsday that I still had on hand (according to Wikipedia, Newsday was once ranked 10th in terms of newspaper circulation in the United States). Before I reveal the results, let me first make a few things clear:
- I only examined the front covers.
- I tallied all the main cover stories (the cover story most prominently displayed each day), and anything else that was included on one of these cover pages.
- I was specifically looking to see how many were genuinely related to environmentalism, and therefore did not include in this category stories about natural disasters, natural events like beach erosion, or “too many deer – LI [Long Island] ponders what to do,” and so forth. I was specifically looking for reporting on pollution, conservation, ozone depletion, global warming, acid rain, loss of biodiversity, deforestation, Earth’s “carrying capacity” (regarding human population), solar and wind energy, reducing the size of our ecological “footprint,” and other such related topics.
- In the rare instances when there is a special wrap-around section (e.g. for Democratic convention coverage, Republican convention coverage, Election 2004 coverage, coverage of the London bombings), I might instead use the “actual” cover page inside this special wrap-around section – particularly if the special wrap-around section only mentions that one particular special news matter.
- The results for this research that I did on Newsday cover stories and cover headlines, extends from the period starting with the Dec. 17, 2003 issue, and goes all the way through to the end-of-August 2005 issue. The only issues I was missing from this collection were: Dec. 18 and Dec. 21 2003; Jan. 13 and Jan. 21 2004; July 3-22 (20 issues); and Sept. 23, 2004. In total, I had 596 issues for this period, for which only 25 issues were unaccounted for.
Incidentally, one of the items that most sticks out in my mind, is this: “Meet the man with 11 TVs in his car” (Feb. 25 2004). This reminds me of a memorable line from comedian Lenny Bruce: “A Christian who owns two shirts, when there is someone in the world with none, isn’t a Christian.” So what would he say about someone with 11 television monitors, in their BMW? The following thought also crossed my mind: not once can I recall – not just on these 596 covers, but ever – seeing a cover story related to questioning our materialistic, consumer-driven life-style. Doesn’t that say so much right there – especially when we take into consideration how we as Americans disproportionately use so much more of the earth’s resources than do people in other parts of the world?
Two other Newsday covers worth mentioning: First, the cover for Mar. 13, 2004, includes a photo, with the following caption: “MORE THAN 2 MILLION PEOPLE, or about half the population of Madrid, demonstrate in the Spanish capital” [in the rain, the day after terrorist bombs kill 199 in Spain]. The reason I bring this up, is because it provides me with another perfect opportunity to make my point: two million people pour out onto the streets because 199 people were killed by terrorists, and yet there is no similar display of concern when, for example, a news story reports that “More than one in three of Europe’s freshwater fish species faces extinction …” Or when a news story reports “About 10 percent of all bird species face extinction by the end of the century and 15 percent more are on the brink.” Why don’t people ever pour out onto the streets the day after a major new scientific study reveals some new alarming news about the hole in the ozone, the melting of the icecaps, or the desertification of natural habitats, all around the world?
The other feature cover story I would like to comment on, is from the October 14, 2004, issue, and is about the previous night’s presidential debate: “In final presidential debate, Bush, Kerry trade jabs on the economy, prescription drugs, gun control.” Turn to the related story on page three and four, and the article includes some of the other topics the debate touched upon: taxes, economic policy, Social Security, the flu vaccine shortage, an amendment to ban gay marriage, the minimum wage, abortion and faith. There is no mention of environmental issues or concerns, which affect not just this nation, but the whole human race, and posterity, and the integrity of the biosphere (upon which all life on this planet depends).
Now, here are the results of my research:
Of the 596 main cover stories, in total, that I examined, only six, in my opinion, could genuinely be regarded as pertaining to “environmentalism” (by my “definition” – which admittedly is probably akin to “I’ll know it when I see it”) in some way. Maybe seven, if I decided to include the Jan. 11, 2004 story “Holy Mackerel! Some Foods Are OK,” which makes reference to the previous day’s article about contaminants such as PCBs, dioxins and the banned insecticide toxaphene, being found in higher amounts in farmed salmon, as opposed to wild salmon – even though it reports this in a “What, me worry?” sort of way. And I chose not to include the Feb. 13, 2005 piece about how “Activists hope to block natural gas terminal just as similar effort kept nuclear plant from opening,” because I didn’t see in the story any mention of specific concerns relating to real threats to the environment.
Here are the six main cover stories that I deemed environmentalism-related, in some way (out of the 596 in total):
- (Dec. 23, 2003) OFF-SHORE WINDMILL DEBATE (About the Long Island Power Authority’s proposals for constructing a windmill farm off Jones Beach.)
- (Apr. 4, 2004) FROM GARBAGE TO OIL / Can This LI [Long Island] Man Help Solve The Energy Crisis?
- (Oct. 18, 2004) OPEN SPACES (About local land preservation measures on Election Day ballots.)
- (Apr. 17, 2005) SAVING LAST GREAT SPACES / The scramble for Island’s remaining open land / Money is available for undeveloped land but prices are rising and there are few parcels left
- (Jun. 17, 2005) PRISTINE MONTAUK COAST / $16M deal to turn 122 acres into state park
- (Jul. 29, 2005) LAKE INVADERS / A really nasty South American plant sold in aquarium shops has invaded Long Island, strangling three lakes already and almost certain to spread to more.
As you can see, three of these six have to do with land preservation – specifically, on Long Island, only – and one has to do with an invasive species, on Long Island. Two have to do with the energy issue. Of these two, one is an excellent article about proposed plans for getting wind turbines to supply energy to Long Island residents. The other discusses something of questionable worth. For example, as the article points out: “Yet even though it’s cleaner, bio-fuel still generates some pollution when it’s burned. That bothers activists who think the United States should be moving away from the use of any petroleum and instead should be embracing even cleaner technologies such as wind and solar power.”
In addition to examining all the main cover stories, I also examined everything else included on those twenty months’ worth of cover pages, as well. In total, there were 2,207 additional topics mentioned on these covers. These included anything from national or regional news, to sports, or to stories being featured in one of the pull-out sections of the newspaper (these stories could be about finance, food, or most anything). Of these 2,207 items, I only deemed 20 to be “environmental” in nature (regardless of whether I personally considered the article worthwhile or meaningful, in that sense). I’ve listed all twenty of these, below:
- Contaminants in Raised Salmon
- Building moratoriums in Suffolk County are slowing development
- FDA issues guidelines regarding which fish to eat, and how much
- Managers at northeastern national parks warned not to issue news releases regarding budget cuts [and are told to refer to them as “service level adjustments”]
- Greenland may be melting / New study suggests CO2 emissions could lead to Greenland’s ice sheet melting in 1,000 years or more, threatening parts of Europe, Asia and North America
- BNL [Brookhaven National Laboratory] plans to clean, not bury, nuke waste. [Rather than bury waste – for as long as it would remain harmful (“roughly 87,000 years”) – they instead chose to “clean” the site (which simply means they will ship the contaminated soil out of state, so it is some other state’s problem)]
- Beach Closings / New rules for testing waters
- Judge swats Suffolk County on mosquito spraying
- Pine Barrens firefighters’ tactics being re-evaluated [several miles of trees were cut]
- Sportsmen, not just commercial fishermen, catching depleted species
- Federal proposal for protecting whales in shipping lanes
- Scientists weigh merits of animal research
- Lobsters in LI Sound dying off at fast rate
- Nature Conservancy plans to seed Great South Bay with 680,000 shellfish
- Suffolk restaurants’ grease disposal costs up 800 percent
- Rescues of seals up sharply on LI beaches
- Deal set to protect pine barrens [this may – at least temporarily – “protect” another “300 acres” from construction crews, but what will protect it from acid rain, and other forms of pollution?]
- Invasive woodwasp spotted upstate
- For 24 hours this weekend, a veteran of scientific expeditions will lead an effort to identify every living thing within a 36-acre preserve in Plandome Manor
- At beaches, it’s the water that often gets tested for bacteria, but studies show E. coli is among risks in sand.
The fact that only twenty of the 2,207 items chosen for inclusion on their front cover relate to environmentalism (according to my definition) in some way, says a lot, but let me point out a few more noteworthy observations. Only one of these relates to global warming. Most deal with environmental issues, in a regional sense only, and in a microcosmic sense, not a macrocosmic sense (e.g. one species, one type of pollutant, local land preservation, local biodiversity). There is nothing that really raises the alarm over what we are doing to the planet – except maybe the one related to global warming (but when people read the “in 1,000 years or more” part, they’re not compelled to act – it doesn’t adequately address the seriousness of global warming issues). There is nothing about the alarming rates of deforestation around the world. Nothing about the shrinking rainforests (where proportionally, a very large percentage of earth’s species live). There is nothing about overpopulation, or about earth’s carrying capacity for the human race. Nothing about acid rain, and its destructive effects on forests. Nothing about solar energy, which we can be much more actively promoting. Nothing about questioning our life-style or technology addiction. Nothing about the environmental movement, in general – to educate the public about the deeper more substantive views relating to environmentalism. And yet, we see, again and again, coverage of the ailing pope John Paul II, or about more casualties in Iraq, the latest sports scores, stories about DWI accidents, violent crimes, and whatever else happens to be the latest news flavor of the day. Evidence of eco-consciousness is never on our radar screen (in any real, substantive sense).
All told, adding up all the main cover stories, and all the other items mentioned on these covers, I come up with a combined grand total of 2,803 items. And yet, as I see it, only 26 of these in some way – usually in a very minor way – relate to “environmentalism.”