UPDATE: I just noticed this talk is a year old. Still, it’s pretty fascinating.
Anyone interested in how the journalistic sausage gets made in the UK, about the cozy relationship between British reporters and politicians, about how climate change gets covered in the media, should watch this revealing talk by Sarah Mukherjee, who until recently was a BBC environmental correspondent.
Bishop Hill is making hay over some of her statements related to climategate and ties between NGO’s and climate science. But it was her dishing about the journalism profession that caught my attention.
At one point, referring to coverage of climate science, she mentions how difficult it is
trying to explain incredibly complex science in 50 words or 200 or 300 words. It doesn’t really fit. And what you have to do is hope that the policymakers do get it enough and are sophisticated enough in order to understand it. And fortunately, in a large number of cases, they do understand it, but they understand the Daily Mail headline more…there’s this panic [among politicians] about what the papers are going to say, and of course, depending on the mood or depending how slow a news day it is, you’re going to get a headline that will completely and deliberately misunderstand the science–often.
This next anecdote is a beauty:
The number of times I was rung at 7 oclock in the morning, ‘oh hi, it’s the desk here, there’s something about the environment on page 6 in the [Daily] mail. Could you do something?’
‘Well, what is it?’
‘Oh, I don’t know, it’s just something in the Mail.’
That was it. That’s all you had to know. It was in the Mail, therefore you had to do it. Despite the fact that you probably looked at the report and it was a load of nonsense, or the Mail had overwritten it. Most of my battles were over trying not to do pieces that had been covered wrongly by the tabloid press.
She then sighs and lets it rip:
This leads you to the conclusion that you have the political class and the media class, which are essentially the same thing. They all went to the same schools, they all went to the same places. They all know each other, have known each other since university days, or earlier…[they're] locked into some mutually destructive embrace. The politicians trust the media, because they think that they are in touch with normal people. I don’t know how the hell they are, because they spend their whole time with the politicians. Therefore the politicians give the stories to the media and the media then reflect that back…And actually nobody is talking to normal people at all. Nobody. No politicians. No journalists.
Ouch. All 75 minutes (which includes an interesting Q & A with the audience) are well worth watching.
On a recent post of mine at Climate Central, one reader left an impassioned comment that sounded as if he considered overpopulation to be the greatest threat to humanity. I’m going to break it up into three parts. Here’s the challenge, as he explained it:
An even more overlooked problem is overpopulation (defined as living unsustainably, whether due to a high number of people at a low level of consumption or a smaller number of people at a high level of consumption – basic human ecology). In most or all of the Arab countries undergoing civil unrest, unemployment is rampant due to a rapidly expanding number of people flooding the job market. Also, the fraction of the population that are children is enormous, meaning the problem will get worse very soon. Expect more countries to undergo this process, continued unrest, failed states, wars, and terrorism. Smaller families would have prevented this a generation ago.
I think he’s conveniently overlooking the venal corruption and oppression of the regimes in those countries as a major factor, and making a faulty assumption about smaller families. No matter. Here’s his solution–and because it will come too late, the consequence to humanity:
Now it will take 1 – 2 generations at one child per family just to stop growth, and a century or two to bring population down to a sustainable level. We don’t have that much time before we hit the wall of climate change, inadequate resources, and mass extinction. That’s true worldwide: we need smaller families everywhere, and drastically reduced consumption in developed countries. Since that won’t happen, expect collapse of modern civilization.
Now this final part, a riff on the nature of “graceful collapses,” is what fascinates me most:
In principle collapse could be “graceful,” with preservation of knowledge and diversity and an orderly retreat to agrarian, nomadic, and hunter-gatherer societies as humanitarian calamities rapidly lower population and consumption through natural disasters, disease, and famine that we will be powerless to prevent or adapt to.
Graceful collapses have happened before, but the odds are against it now for two reasons. First, languages and cultural knowledge are already being lost at a rapid rate as cultures go under. Second, the powerful will try to maintain their own well being by force, leading to more unrest, wars, terrorism, and possible nuclear holocaust.
Ungraceful (“graceless?”) collapse would probably mean the end of our species, and millions of years for the world’s ecology to rebuild after the mass extinction – if climate change doesn’t sterilize the planet.
Jeez, that makes Soylent Green seem like a Disney flick.
So here’s my question: Does anybody know of examples of “graceful collapses” in human history?
As for the “orderly retreat to agrarian, nomadic, and hunter-gatherer societies,” well, good luck with that Flintstones/National Geographic mashup. For a nice tonic to such romanticism, see this recent piece, the main point of which you can glean from its subhead:
Pre-modern lifestyles were fraught with violence, disease, and uncertainty. We should be happy that indigenous societies are increasingly leaving them behind.