(Caez, J. 2006. Ivory-billed Woodpeckers)

Nature as Important in its Own Right

Section
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
Page
6.7

Thankfully, after this sometimes profoundly depressing journey through the media’s use and abuse of Nature, there is a group of stories and a section of the media that takes Nature seriously, engages with it deeply, and nourishes our appreciation of its role in our lives as well as the wonder of its ‘otherness’.

We all know that serious journalism is finding it harder and harder to be heard in the Tower of Babel that is the modern mass media, but there are, and have been, fine pieces exemplifying the above; pieces that seek to explore and build, rather than tear down and subvert.

Section 1.1 ‘Articles’ contains examples of first-class writing about the environment and our relationship with it, so I will not reproduce them here. Some other examples of worthwhile environmental media are included below.

Dyani Lewis won the Finkel Foundation Eureka Prize for Long-Form Science Journalism in 2021 for a piece on coronavirus. Here, she tries to unravel the taxonomy, ecology and politics of Dingo classification and management in Australia.

 

Is a Dingo a Dog? The Answer Could Determine Its Future – The Atlantic

‘Dingoes Have Created a Scientific Rift’

Is classifying the wild dog as a species good strategy or bad practice?

By Dyani Lewis and Undark,  15-8-2019

(MB Photography/Getty Images. 2019)

The Atlantic is, of course, not the mass media; it is a serious magazine, but at least it shows that more thoughtful, balanced pieces can be written. Differing viewpoints are presented and respected, and above all, the article is about connection and context: what does a seemingly dry taxonomic debate have to do with the Dingoes’ fate and what impact will that have on Australia’s environment. No need for identifying enemies, no agendas and straw men, no danger or cute angles, no ideological axes to grind: straight, clear and interesting prose, as if the environment mattered.

(Note: There have been recent proposals to re-introduce dingoes into natural areas where they once lived as an ‘apex predator’. Currently, these calls have largely been rejected. This is a worldwide debate of much interest, whether it be re wolves, bears, tigers, eagles, or mountain lions).

Attempting to conform to the ‘mass media’ brief of this section, worthwhile pieces are harder to find. I have included the following from the mass-circulation ‘Los Angeles Times’ because it demonstrates an interesting blend of mass-media populism and framing, and more serious comment and environmental context and concern; it is a sort of ‘half-way house’, or a bridge, between the shallow and the meaningful.

Reported Sighting of ‘Extinct’ Woodpecker Drives Bird-Watchers Batty – Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)

‘Reported Sighting of ‘Extinct’ Woodpecker Drives Bird-watchers Batty’

Brett Martel, 19-11-2000

(Caez, J. 2006. Ivory-billed Woodpeckers)

First, the tedious framing: bird-watchers are weird and ‘batty’ (what is it with sub-editors and their headlines!), the sighting has caused “a considerable squawk”, and the swamp is uninviting and dangerous. Ho hum. (Compare this with Carl Hiaasen’s depictions of the extraordinary swamps and wetlands of this ‘southern world’: Section 1.3.10).

After we’ve delivered the tired stereo-types, it seems, thankfully, that we can get to some substance: the bird is ‘majestic’ and possibly extinct, and “it represents the primeval forests of America – sort of a lost heritage of the virgin forests of SE USA”; and, most importantly, the causes of it decline and its environmental context are referenced: its habitat has all but been eliminated by “massive logging” making it doubtful that there is anywhere for it still to be found. (This is a shock: ’habitat’ is almost never mentioned in modern-day environment stories).

If I had set-up this story and wanted to send a strong conservation message about extinction, habitat, logging and swamplands in the USA, I would probably accept the article as a reasonable outcome for dealings with the mass media; it is a compromise between the media’s ‘needs’ and environmentalist desires. More on this interplay in webpage 6.8.

Note: Despite the glimmer of hope in the above article, and numerous searches, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker has now (2021) been listed as officially extinct. Read more here: U.S. declares ivory-billed woodpecker and nearly two dozen other species extinct – The Washington Post .

 

A third, and final, example of better mass-media environment stories is the ‘War on Waste’ series that I believe started in Britain with BBC’s ‘Hugh’s (Fearnley-Whittingstall’s) War on Waste’ in 2015, and was re-created in Australia by the ABC in 2021. It can be viewed here:

War On Waste : ABC iview .

The ABC version had Craig Reucassel (a comedian in his other life), fronting it, and he was brave to do so as I imagine most media people when asked if they would do a show on waste would run away screaming, “They hate me, they hate me!”. Despite this, they made a good attempt to address a topic no one wants to think about, and made it engaging and important.

The host has a lively, friendly manner that gets people on-side, and he is good at converting hard-to-understand figures and volumes (the ‘scale’ problem alerted to elsewhere in T10), to meaningful quantities and examples (e.g. the Melbourne tram full of disposable coffee cups).

At times, the four programs are perhaps a bit too directed at the individual and what he/she can do, and not enough ‘up-scale’ and strategically, at collective centres of power, such as the advertising industry, but this is defensible because he is trying to engage, as he says, “everyday Aussies”, and to make the topic understandable (much as T10 thinks the individual scale is a good starting – but not finishing – point for engaging with many environment issues). This said, he does, at times, deal with powerful, structural players, like supermarkets and politicians, but doesn’t go further to their need, and support of, constant growth, profit, and subsequent – waste.

The ABC and BBC should be congratulated on dealing with an obviously most ‘unsexy’ topic, and in an informative and engaging way, but critics will say that their engagement with ‘the environment’ is highly selective and limited (for instance, two thirds of T10’s ‘vital’ environment topics, such as #3 ‘Replace the Growth God’, or #9 ‘Economics and the Environment’, or #5 ‘Population’, or #7 ‘Habitat’, or even this section, ‘Media’ will never, or extremely rarely, appear) and thus this is Chomsky’s faux consultation, faux debate1, that creates the impression of diversity and dealing with issues while effectively excluding them and shutting them down. While I think this observation by Chomsky is perceptive and – sadly – often too true, application of this interpretation to ‘War on Waste’ would perhaps be ungenerous as the show was popular, effective, with a surprisingly large audience, and you would never see anything like this on most networks, certainly not commercial outlets. As such, I think the glass is half full on this one, not half empty.

 

1 Chomsky, N., Herman, E. 1988. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Pantheon Books, New York, USA.

Explore Other Media Environmental Context

6.1 Introduction

The media is one of the three, great ‘poles’ of power in the world (alongside political and corporate power) and how they frame and present ‘the environment’ has a profound effect on how we respond to Nature. Those who doubt the power of the me...

6.2 Media Structures and Filters

Well-known linguist and public intellectual, Naom Chomsky, has suggested that the mass media needs to be understood through its operations, or ‘filters’, of which he thinks there are five. A short video (< 5 mins) introducing the filters can be...

6.3 Five Environment Stories: Nature as Dangerous/The Enemy

The understandable and primal fear of being out of our element, vulnerable, and exposed to danger, is fertile ground for the media. It seems that it doesn’t take much to turn caution into downright terror, and the famous film, ‘Jaws’, was a classi...

6.4 Nature as Classist/Racist

The old saying of: ‘To a hammer, everything looks like a nail’, informs much of this response to the natural world. If your framework of the world is race and class, and your modus operandi is uncovering racism and classism and repression, then al...

6.5 Nature as Cute and the Optimism Imperative

Thankfully, this page offers some relief from the truly depressing depictions of Nature and those who care for her in 6.3 and 6.4. This said, the ‘Nature is cute’ formula isn’t without its problems, particularly as to depth and context, but at lea...

6.6 Nature as a Stage

While listening to evening radio on the public broadcaster a few years ago, the presenter, who was new to radio, said how much he’d learnt from experienced radio people, such as the oft-lauded morning presenter, whom I have spoken of previously (s...

6.7 Nature as Important in its Own Right

Thankfully, after this sometimes profoundly depressing journey through the media’s use and abuse of Nature, there is a group of stories and a section of the media that takes Nature seriously, engages with it deeply, and nourishes our appreciation ...

6.8 Better Outcomes

There are many books, websites and training courses on ‘dealing with the media’, and a good, straightforward and commonsense structure is that adopted by CP Communications - 5 great media training tips (publicrelationssydney.com.au) – and I will b...

Explore Other Sections

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
1/11

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship

This section is designed to foster appreciation and insight that will – hopefully – lead to novel ways to build a better relationship between human beings and Nature. This section is also atypical ...
2. Reduce Consumption
2. Reduce Consumption

2. Reduce Consumption

I hope Reneé Descartes would forgive us for saying that, at least for the modern world, he was wrong.  When, in 1637, he said: “I think, therefore I am”, he could not have anticipated that the majo...
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

In a supposedly secular age there has arisen a global religion and god like never before, a religion whose reach and power makes every other belief system before it seem pitiful and insignificant: ...
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

What we do in our day-to-day lives can have great impact. Section Four divides up these actions into three groups – Work (4.2 & 4.3), Volunteering (4.4), and Action, e.g. voting, protesting, et...
5. Reduce Population
5. Reduce Population

5. Reduce Population

Even on top of Mt. Everest, in one of the remotest, most difficult places on earth, there is a great traffic-jam of people jostling for position. And yet, ever more vociferously, we deny that overp...
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

The media is one of the three, great ‘poles’ of power in the world (alongside political and corporate power) and how they frame and present ‘the environment’ has a profound effect on how we respond...
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

New York is an exciting, mesmerising place. Human culture is extraordinary and often wonderful. Our powers of transformation of the natural world seem limitless. The trouble is, we don’t seem to be...
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

Our current energy largesse is an extraordinary ‘gift’, an unprecedented gift of the ages; millions of years to produce and from millions of years ago. Coal, oil and gas, forming...
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

Just as with the previous section – ‘Energy’ – which is, inescapably, all about fossil fuels so pre-eminent and extraordinary has been their dominance and transformation of the world in the last 20...
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

Section 10 will attempt to organise this enormous topic by addressing the context and status of pollution in 10.2, before focussing in on air pollution; particularly greenhouse gas pollution and cl...