It is my hope and belief that media will help people see Earth as a system. Based on the preview for this NOVA trailer, I’m getting the sense that we are getting close to a good example of how it can be done. Unfortunately I’m restricted from watching it in Italy, but if you are in the US, you can check it out here.
Via Learn Stuff
The above “Remove Your Footprint” video is from the fictional world depicted in Glenn Beck’s new dystopian novel, Agenda 21. The book’s title refers to an existing non-binding guideline created by the UN that outlines planning methods for sustainable development. This imaginary propaganda video is made by a future UN-controlled one-world government that looks uncannily like Soviet Russia. This hints at Beck’s demographic–try to guess the age of people who remember the bad-old days of the USSR. Unfortunately, Beck’s fear-mongering–which I’d like to believe is ineffectual and irrelevant–impacts something I care deeply about: climate change mitigation. Anyone monitoring the state of our global climate knows that without collective action and planned decoupling from the fossil fuel economy, civilization as we know it will cease to exist within a century. Under such a scenario Beck’s dystopia won’t even be possible.
This hypothetical propaganda video from the UN’s Division for Sustainable Development associates “healing the planet” with eradicating humans as if they are a planetary disease. It depicts a particular fear and misperception at the heart of Beck’ anthropocentric worldview. He equates concern for the environment as anti-human. This is the opposite of what most ecologists believe. While it is true that some environmentalists are anti-human/anti-civilization (I know this from direct experience), most care deeply about humanity. As an ecocentric parent, my empathy extends to ecosystems, animals, plants and fellow humans. It’s not one or the other.
As for Beck’s vision, however, it is certainly one or the other, which makes no sense on a practical level. Since humans are organisms that depend on fresh air, water and food to survive, I’m not sure how Beck’s vision of freedom ensures healthy ecosystems so that our liberties may be enjoyed. But if you spend anytime peering beyond Beck’s carefully cultivated media empire, you quickly see that he is no more than an irrational conspiranoid that has somehow amplified his worldview beyond that of a ranting psychitzophrenic on skid row. Without media literacy, many will fall for the trappings of serious journalism that Beck dresses his hallucinations with (again, I know from direct experience that it works on some people). Even worse, some will likely believe the “Remove Your Footprint” video is actually real.
Beck is no Orwell or Huxley, both of whom were deeply empathetic authors that cared more about humanity than for corporations. Their visions were based on empirical observations of the world and were by no means hawking conspiracy theories as political agendas. Heck, Beck didn’t even write the book. He just bought the rights to put his name on it. Which just about says everything about the literary qualifications of his anti-environmental stance.
If you’re looking for some good background information about the link between the Internet and climate change, please read this very important article: Power, Pollution and the Internet. Put starkly, the article states:
A yearlong examination by The New York Times has revealed that this foundation of the information industry is sharply at odds with its image of sleek efficiency and environmental friendliness.
Most data centers, by design, consume vast amounts of energy in an incongruously wasteful manner, interviews and documents show. Online companies typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand. As a result, data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid, The Times found.
And there is the most shocking bit of information:
Energy efficiency varies widely from company to company. But at the request of The Times, the consulting firm McKinsey & Company analyzed energy use by data centers and found that, on average, they were using only 6 percent to 12 percent of the electricity powering their servers to perform computations. The rest was essentially used to keep servers idling and ready in case of a surge in activity that could slow or crash their operations.
There are technological fixes for the Internet’s environmental problem — moving data centers off the coal-fired power grid and onto hydro-electric, solar, geothermal and other sources; designing energy efficient devices; and using smart grids to regulate and reduce domestic and workplace energy consumption.But these fixes will not succeed without a corresponding transformation of our consumer culture into a culture of sustainability, one that ensures that social, political, and economic development does exceed or irreversibly damage the Earth’s abilities to supply and renew the natural resources upon which we depend.
Interesting graphic regarding the ecological impact of video games. However it seems to imply that downloading has no environmental impact, and that is simply not true. It is likely that downloading has less impact, but cloud storage is pushing high energy consumption on server farms. If the current trend continues, the CO2 emissions of the Internet and cloud will double in ten years. Already it’s equal to the aviation industry.
There are other impacts that video game consoles have as well. They require rare earth minerals that are often extracted in environmentally stressed zones. I write a little about this in The Media Ecosystem (pp. 5-6):
… researchers found an important correlation between the Sony PlayStation 2 and the decline of the gorilla population in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2000 speculation on the price of tantalum, a key precious metal used in microelectronics such as cell phones and gaming devices, was driven by the impending release of the PlayStation 2. This led to a massive mining boom in the Congo’s Kahuzi-Biega national park, severely impacting the population of many animal species, including elephants, tortoises, birds, and small mammals. The park is home of the Grauer’s gorilla, which represents 86 percent of the planetary population of lowland gorillas. As a result of the tantalum rush, the Grauer’s gorilla population declined from seventeen thousand to three thousand. Fueled by consumer demand for gadgets and market speculation driven by internet trading, this tragedy reflects the problem of an economic paradigm that fails to account for living systems. The inability of media and gadget companies to incorporate an Earth system ethic into their design leads to a loss of biodiversity. Not only is it immoral to create systems that disregard life, such a loss has huge implications for the climate, for as we decrease biodiversity, regional ecosystems lose the ability to thrive and adjust under conditions of the extreme ecological disruptions that are increasingly commonplace.
H/T Ecomedia Studies
Another great video from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Here they combine top-notch journalism with animation to present a systems-wide perspective on the climate costs of the American burger diet. Not only do they do an excellent job of digesting complex data into a simple narrative, it strikes a good balance between alarm and fact. With a light touch and some humorous graphics, it avoids scare tactics that often drive people away from tough issues.
Cudos to CIR for innovating and evolving investigative journalism so that it can thrive in the post-newspaper environment. Also check out their excellent YouTube channel, The I Files.
Which future will BP fuel? One that ends civilization as we know it? [video link]
“The Earth is not dying – she is being killed. And those who are killing her have names and addresses.” Utah Phillips
If you haven’t read it yet, Bill McKibben‘s recent Rolling Stone article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” is absolutely required reading. To summarize, he points out that the carbon industry–mainly the globe’s major oil and gas companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP–have valued their stock based on the extraction and burning of enough fossil fuels to raise global temperatures by 11 degrees celsius. What that means is that if they do what they promise for their investors, civilization is over as we know it. It’s hard to imagine such perverse and short-sighted thinking, but such is the state of our current economic system.
So what can media literacy advocates do about it? McKibben argues that there is power in identifying the enemy. If we can target and discredit their operations, the perceived value and reasons for continuing business as usual can be crippled. Such was the case with Apartheid and how a global movement made the cost of doing business with the South Africa regime bad for business. And as media literacy advocates know, Big Tobacco was severely hampered by educators and media campaigns that countered their nefarious messaging.
Right now the major oil companies are able to dominate the discourse around climate change. Moreover, they deploy sophisticated communications strategies to greenwash their operations. One example is the BP “Fueling the Future” ads (see above video clip) and the Team USA ad running in the US during the Olympics. Shame on the Olympics for partnering with BP, which should have gotten the corporate death penalty for trashing the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. Instead, the Olympics give a veneer of legitimacy for a shady corporation that is doing little to prevent the global catastrophe that is ingrained into its business plan.* Instead BP offers up a “target neutral” strategy for corporations to engage in unsustainable, shallow ecology.
The Climate Reality Project has already produced several videos aimed at linking the climate deniers with the PR strategies of the tobacco industry. Likewise, I believe that media educators should put deconstructing and challenging the oil industry at the center of their projects. The same skills that we use to critically engage alcohol or tobacco marketing can be applied to the way in which the carbon industry dominates discourse around climate change.
* I’ll need to comment in a separate post about the incredible integration of Olympics media coverage on NBC and the corporatist agenda. Suffice to say that there is a seamless fusion between patriotism, branding, corporatism and sport. Add to this the amazing capacity for the Olympics to transform any host site into a police state.