ecostory 31/2006
Why Journalists Do What They Do
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Reporting about war and the environment

Comments emailed to Editor in Chief of Time Magazine, Richard Stengel.

"Why We Do What We Do", Iraq - Baghdad Diary (Time Magazine of August 28, 2006)
Geneva, 28 August 2006.

Dear Mr Stengel,

This is not a Letter to the Editor, meant for publication.

I really appreciated your Editorial. You write that a journalist's job is providing the information so that the democracy can function. For that you go to the battlefield and report on realities, which are often far away from the theories of the plotters.

The same holds true with regard to environmental developments. Although here the situation is more complicated. On the one hand the worldview of economic growth is so pervasive that it's almost a religion. On the other hand the factual environmental realities are so frightening that people seek refuge in hopes and expectations that are scientifically unwarranted. The plunge into Baghdad's airport may knot one's stomach. But the actual risk of a hard landing is low.

It is certain, however, that the Earth's resources are finite and that we are depleting our resources - all of them, not just oil - rapidly and irretrievably. Therefore, once one of the crucial resources has passed its peak extraction - be it crude oil, fresh water, ordinary climate conditions, biodiversity, or food production - a dive to the botom will start and a crash is far more likely than a controlled landing at a lower level of consumption and production.

It is this sort of realistic journalism that is conspicuously absent from the mass media. Journalists are embedded in the theories and practices of the discipline of economics. And they are normal people with a tendency to deny those realities and the possible scenarios that are too horrible to digest.

One possible scenario is a final war over the last remaining resources, once easy fossil energy will have dwindled, thereby crippling industrialised food production (tractors, fertilisers, transportation). A relatively benign scenario would be the forced relocalisation of production and consumption, which will possibly depopulate the megacities and put additional strain upon agricultural areas.

Think of "The Ultimate Warrior", which describes New York almost empty but for a few gangs who survive in the remnants of the city. Think of "Soylent Green" where people are directly recycled into protein bars, the city hermetically sealed off from the agricultural land and - most importantly - the oceans are dead, devoid of life.

The latter image could be not far off, if one reads the discomforting news, for instance by the Los Angeles Times in their "Altered Oceans" report. See,0,6670018,full.story.

For me that is a sign of what I call "Total Toxification" of our environment, which could be one other factor that could trigger disaster and dieoff of hundreds of millions of people.

The stark environmental facts lead to the conclusion - not new - that we have dramatically overshot the Earth's carrying capacity. We are 6.5 billion, as compared to 1 billion before the industrial revolution. And our production/consumption per capita is a multifold of what it was then, predominently based upon the depletion of non-renewable resources, such as free space, water, minerals, clean air, etc.

Despite these scientifically correct evaluations our opinion leaders in politics and economics still push for more economic expansion, which they call "growth". Some of the ideologues even take refuge in "immaterial growth" theories, as if not every dollar of GDP would represent an equivalent amount of physical ressources that are mostly converted into gadgets that we don't really need and waste.

Every dollar of economic growth means more than a pound (0,54 kilograms) of climate changing carbondioxide spewn into the air. See for the calculation.

We should not fall into the common trap of thinking that our problem is a lack of energy. The real source of our plight is the surplus of easy fossil energy that has allowed our species to expand beyond sustainable limits.

That is the sort of investigation and reporting that I would wish journalists to undertake and magazines to publish. We owe it to our children to become real, or at least try to do so, shedding off the blindfolds that Economics and Co apply to our vision.

What do you say, Mr. Stengel? Who has the courage and the rank to defy the outcry expected from the defenders of the status quo? Would you give it a thought to report in a realistic way about environmental developments and limits?

With kind regards and thanks in advance for your kind attention and reply,

Helmut Lubbers
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