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Dean Whitbread 2013

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Written on January 24, 2010, and categorized as Homo sapiens, Secret and Invisible, Society.
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We constantly confuse the window with the view. The media is at once our view on events and also the events themselves. Post #CopenhagenFail * little has been said or done on the subject of ecology, despite the fact that nothing has improved, and no replacement route for improvement exists.

Once Copenhagen ended with only the slenderest, non-binding agreement between a handful of countries, with the newly beknighted peace warrior Obama choosing to pick a fight with China rather than use his diplomatic super-powers, we were left with a yawning disappointment, with a big fat nothing, with the question, still unanswered hanging in the air, what the heck do we do now?

We were hyped by saturation coverage to expect an outcome, and when none was forthcoming, the lack of a happy media ending felt very awkward. Mainstream media commentators, largely uncritical of the conference, going with the vast majority of the science, were simply stumped. It could have been bad, but surely not that bad, when so much (as explained in endless video packages from Antarctica, the Amazon, the Maldives, Tuvalu, Bengal, the Himalayas, Croydon) was at stake.

Now that nobody has any idea what to do, even worse, the entire issue is now almost entirely off the media agenda. The price we pay for focusing our cameras and microphones on single events is that the real issues disappear once the events are done and dusted. Copenhagen was so yesterday.

The media also over-simplifies, on the basis that it has to make complex problematic issues ‘understandable’ for commoners. Thus, Copenhagen was about climate change, which was therefore all about carbon. No mention of industrial pollution, of the desertification of oceans, of mass extinction. Just global warming, climate change, and carbon, carbon, carbon.

This played nicely into the hands of vested interests and deniers who would do prefer to do nothing. Ignoring the very real, provable and immediate problems of the natural world, and wacking on about carbon / climate gives them a nice, small target to hit, and despite the vast majority of the nay-sayers’ ammunition being scientifically laughable, a fight means controversy, which means readers, viewers and listeners. This tiny but vociferous Rearguard of Old Poisoners manages to command a media footprint far larger than it deserves because of ratings-driven media habits.

On the 17th January, just a few days ago, I noticed a thoughtful article written by the UK Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, on the BBC website, entitled Biodiversity near ‘point of no return’ which went widely unnoticed. Hilary Benn speaks in moderate language and doesn’t preach. He sensibly asks us to widen the debate, and looks forward to the next important international eco-plenary, the Convention on Biological Diversity.

“Our ecological footprint – what we take out of the planet – is now 1.3 times the biological capacity of the Earth.

In the words of Professor Bob Watson, Defra’s chief scientific adviser and former chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we are in danger of approaching “a point of no return”.

So the action we take in the next couple of decades will determine whether the stable environment on which human civilisation has depended since the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago will continue.

To do this, we need to widen the nature of the debate about biodiversity. Flora and fauna matter for their own sake; they lift our spirits and nurture our souls.

But our ecosystems also sustain us and our economies – purifying our drinking water, producing our food and regulating our climate.

Climate change and biodiversity are inextricably linked. We ignore natural capital at our peril.

The UK and Brazil are hosting a workshop in preparation for the next UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Representatives from more than 60 countries – from the Maldives to China – will attend the three-day event to discuss how we can ensure that the post-2010 targets stand a better chance of being met than those set in 2002.

The majority of those attending are from developing countries, including those with the rarest and greatest biodiversity. They need to be listened to.

It is easy to have principles when you can afford then – economics and ecology are interdependent.

So when it comes to biodiversity, we desperately need to start restoring links between science and policy, between taking action and evaluating it and between economies and ecosystems.”

Politicians are notoriously short-sighted, concerned with gaining and keeping power from one election to the next, playing the media, who make or break them, at the expense of making difficult but crucial long-term decisions.

Difficult though this is to suggest, and controversial given the secretive nature of governments and corporations, I find myself wondering whether CBD might be more successful for having less media attention.

The cynic in me hopes that some major sporting event, celebrity death or natural disaster happens to coincide with the convention, just in order to limit the amount of coverage, because I really don’t think that the obsessive, single-issue coverage assisted the Copenhagen process at all. I don’t think it added to general understanding, and I do think it scared and then exhausted millions of hopeful people wordwide who were led to believe we were going to act to belatedly begin to save all our skins.

What do we do with the fear that was generated, the awful consequences of failure that were so vividly illustrated by our oh-so-very-helpful media?

The monster we have created creates us. Media attention moves on, and so does popular attention.

I grew up in the shadow of nuclear war, and it gave me nightmares. As I slept I knew that no less than six Russian nuclear warheads were targeting me. I didn’t actually expect to grow up. By creating this media-fed eco-panic, are we similarly tainting the lives of the emerging generation of children who, whether we make good collective decisions or none, will have to confront the results of our greed, apathy and idiocy?

* the short code hashtag which stands for the complete disaster of the global conference which was supposed to produce the foundations for collective international action to prevent ecological disaster from humanity’s mis-use of resources

Posted via email from Dean Whitbread

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