FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Environmental Catastrophe Fatigue

by ALAN FARAGO

Since the Gulf oil spill catastrophe, more than two months ago, I have dropped in regularly to the excellent online coverage by the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. Recently the web edition of the the newspaper has segregated the Gulf oil spill catastrophe into a special section, relieving readers and subscribers from a ceaseless tide of bad news. To be fair, the Times Picayune has an entire click-thru feature filled with news and information of the unfolding Gulf catastrophe, but I’m not imagining the necessity of sublimation. Americans are an “up” people. We are not weighted down by history. We are inventors, entrepreneurs and builders. The paper is responding to a phenomenon well-known to close observers: environmental catastrophe fatigue.

People tune out. It is one reason that large environmental organizations focus on the iconic symbols of the environment: polar bears, whales or wolves. The gritty details of oil washing onto beaches and into wetlands, one tide after another, is different. On the blog– eyeonmiami.blogspot.com– I have written about the Gulf oil catastrophe nearly every day since the BP Deepwater Horizon tragically exploded. As a writer and expert witness on subjects of environmental and political failure, I was determined to use repetition to chronicle how America’s worst environmental disaster was the natural culmination of decades weakening laws and ensuring that new technologies and profits would not be hindered by protections that might otherwise be afforded public health, our air, water and climate. And our blog readership numbers dropped. I’m guessing the same happened with the online edition of The Times-Picayune, and so the newspaper changed its online edition layout.

I noticed a related phenomenon: that the best visuals in the news online were appearing in newspapers and online editions far from the source of the spill. The Boston Globe, for example, dedicated more comprehensive coverage to the visuals of the oil catastrophe than The Miami Herald. Too much bad news, too close to home, is bad for profits. If the bad news is fifteen hundred miles away, or further, that’s another story. At the same time, it is interesting that the Gulf oil catastrophe has pushed news even more calamitous– America’s ceaseless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan– deeper into the half hour.

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. Somewhere in the news, we are making a positive difference.

The wise forefathers of the United States conceived a government set against the blue skies of a rich continent, filled with forests, minerals, and natural bounty. We’ve tapped out. (Watch “Gasland” on HBO, for a clear picture of the new American landscape, organized around the natural gas industry.) The notion of limits– that our economic prosperity should be guided by precaution now that we have picked all the low hanging fruit to fuel our centuries of industrial progress– is heretical to a large segment of the American population. It is the gutteral chant: we are not Sweden or Denmark or “Old Europe”: USA! 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.

ALAN FARAGO, conservation chair of Friends of the Everglades, lives in south Florida. He can be reached at: afarago@bellsouth.net

WORDS THAT STICK

 

Alan Farago is president of Friends of the Everglades and can be reached at afarago@bellsouth.net

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 27, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Media Ban! Making Sense of the War Between Trump and the Press
Dave Lindorff
Resume Inflation at the NSC: Lt. General McMaster’s Silver Star Was Essentially Earned for Target Practice
Conn Hallinan
Is Trump Moderating US Foreign Policy? Hardly
Norman Pollack
Political Castration of State: Militarization of Government
Kenneth Surin
Inside Dharavi, a Mumbai Slum
Lawrence Davidson
Truth vs. Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Extradition Saga of Kim Dotcom
Robert Fisk
Why a Victory Over ISIS in Mosul Might Spell Defeat in Deir Ezzor
David Swanson
Open Guantanamo!
Ted Rall
The Republicans May Impeach Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Why Should Trump―or Anyone―Be Able to Launch a Nuclear War?
Andrew Stewart
Down with Obamacare, Up with Single Payer!
Colin Todhunter
Message to John Beddington and the Oxford Martin Commission
David Macaray
UFOs: The Myth That Won’t Die?
Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail