Monday, June 28, 2010

Environmental catastrophe fatigue ... by gimleteye

Since the oil spill catastrophe, more than two months ago, I have dropped in regularly to the excellent coverage by the Times-Picayune in New Orleans at What I noticed lately is that the online edition the the newspaper is now playing down the real estate on the front page dedicated to the spill catastrophe. The paper, to be fair, has an entire pull-out feature on the spill catastrophe, filled with news and information. But the paper is responding to a phenomenon well-known to close observers: environmental catastrophe fatigue.

People tune out. I get this part of social psychology. It is one reason that large environmental organizations focus on the iconic symbols of the environment: polar bears or wolves. People never tire of icons. The gritty details of oil washing onto beaches and into wetlands, one tide after another, is different. On this blog, for nearly two months, I wrote every day (and G.O.D., too) about the Gulf Oil catastrophe. And we watched our viewership drop. I'm sure that the Times-Picayune did, too.

We noted here another phenomenon: that the best visuals in the news online were appearing in news outlets far from the source of the spill. The Boston Globe, for example, dedicated much more coverage to the visuals of the oil catastrophe than The Miami Herald. This phenomenon represents the intersection of editorial decision and commerce, along the lines: too much bad news is bad for profits.

Car crashes, yes. Because we are united by the belief; there but for the grace of God, go I. But environmental catastrophe like the Gulf Oil spill or climate change triggers something else. Depression, anxiety, and a sense of futility.

The wise forefathers of the United States conceived a government set against the bounty and blue skies of an untapped continent, more rich in natural resources than nearly any other part of the planet. We've tapped out. (Please watch "Gasland" on HBO, for a clear picture of the new American landscape, organized around the natural gas industry.) The notion of limits is nearly heretical to a large segment of the American population. Along this line, it is no coincidence that their standard bearer, Sarah Palin, comes from a frontier state-- Alaska-- where wilderness values of the original America are largely intact despite oil drilling. Nor is it a coincidence that the GOP leadership in Congress, during the Bush terms, chose an Alaskan-- Don Young-- to head the powerful House Natural Resources Committee that telegraphed its intent by dropping the word "environment" from its name.

From this demographic of the American population, a hysterical conviction arises that the US Constitution, cast in stone like Moses' tablet, is immune to the influence of toxics or climate change. With the Constitution folded in our back pockets like a cheat sheet, we adapt easily to bad news: we tune it out. Along this line, perhaps BP could fund relocation expenses for Gulf Coast residents who cherish dolphin, turtles, and pelicans but remain committed to weak federal regulation of oil and gas industries. Let the State of Alaska, its long winters and grizzly bears, take them in. For descendants of Acadians in Louisiana bayous, being forced from homes into the cold would be doubling-back on history. It's freezing in Alaska but warmer with every passing season.


Anonymous said...

Accurate cartoon!

David said...

It's a typical "progressive" move to ridicule our Constitution. The most successful political experiment in the history of this planet owes its genesis to this document.

It's also not cast in stone; there are provisions for amendments. It has been done many, many times in our history, but it's not easy; and that's on purpose. If this country and it's underpinning institutions are so abhorrent, nothing stops you from picking up and moving to North Korea, China, Venezuela, Cuba, or any of the other places "progressives" worship.