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Posts Tagged ‘Wildlife’

Why is daily news and consideration of our natural habitat missing from our ever-expanding daily news diet?

Why questions, I am reminded, are dangerous, especially in journalism. First of all they elicit argument, as asking why presumes the observation is true, or the question a judgment rather than an observation. Why did you run over the cat in the street elicits “Who said I did?” and Why is there a dead cat in the street? is too often solved with “I dunno…” because the possible answers are too many to narrow down in the few seconds devoted to the answer. Environmental news coverage has suffered from the same malady.

In a Gallup survey compilation (it’s unclear what year it was compiled) on paying attention to news stories a week after the event, while 97% of Americans were paying very/somewhat close attention to stories like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, or Princess Diana’s death, only 41% were paying very/somewhat close attention to “biotechnology and modifications to food”. More importantly, other than the occasional weather event (Katrina) or the Asian tsunami of 2005, or a brief discussion of the XL pipeline or biotech, there were no other news stories on biodiversity loss, the environment, climate change or water/food issues even making the 200+story list by Gallup!

Why questions are also the last answered in journalism, after who, what, when, and where, and thus don’t normally make it into ‘normal’ fast headline news anyway.

According to Slate last year, fewer than half of people who arrive at a story at their website continue reading past the first scroll and 10% don’t scroll at all – which means never make it past the first 4 paragraphs.  And if there’s a photo at the top (to draw you in) it’s likely you are getting only the first two lines before hopping off elsewhere.  We’ve become a nation of skimmers.  And visually hooked skimmers at that. (Thanks Farhad! Great article!)

Four paragraphs doesn’t leave much room for discussion of interrelated issues and consequences, such as those covering the environment, the biosphere, our habitat, or even the connections between climate and extraordinary weather events as this winter’s weather (drought in the southern hemisphere; heavy snows and gales in the northern) might give us pause to wonder about.  To me that means we need Why questions at the top, lots of photos, cute or otherwise, and the news of our habitat place in front of us everywhere.

I’ll put a cute picture here in the hope you’ll keep reading…

© Lee Karney/USFWS

© Lee Karney/USFWS

 

Actually two lines or four paragraphs doesn’t really give room for most kinds of news reporting other than what Neiman is now calling ‘solutions’ reporting, which includes not only why but how can we fix/solve/ resolve/become engaged in the story or its outcome.

This ‘solutions reporting’ kind of journalism is something we tried 2 decades ago at our award-winning environmental magazine Buzzworm. Not wanting to leave readers sad or discouraged at the end of our (ahem) 2500 – 5000 word articles replete with beautiful photography to entice our readers into our written coverage, we included what any reader, even you, could do to make a difference in the issue. It became a popular and engaging form of environmental journalism.

By the end of our run, most major daily newspapers had an ‘environment beat’ as well as a weekly section devoted to coverage of the issues.  Phil Shabecoff, in his article on the environmental beat for the Neiman Foundation backs up my experiential impression (Thanks, Phil, great article). Data gathered by the Pew Trust’s Excellence in Journalism and reported in the Columbia Journalism Review noted environmental stories were less than 1% of the entire mainstream news coverage.

Granted, major dailies do cover bits of our environment on their websites, yet much of these issues are still covered only in niche readerships – one must find it and click on it, rather than have it thrust into in plain view on a headlines page.  Nonetheless, bother to click on today’s Environment page at The New York Times, and the first 6 headlines should give you pause if not a chill or two: To wit: 2013 one of the warmest years on record( no, really!); bee deaths appear to be from a virus that rapidly mutates to tobacco and soy as well (gasp, a world without cigarettes or tofu or beef feed); a new leak at a Japanese nuclear reactor; and our 30-year-old war against the killing of rhinos seems to be lost.  That’s all above the scroll, too.

Of course, I applaud these news outlets that do provide coverage; I just wish it were part of the daily diet of headline importance at the main page, especially in America.  Apparently the Pew study, too, noted that the average reader is still not being served a daily offering of news on the health of our life-sustaining habitat news. I put it this way, as most ask me “why” when I mention I have devoted my professional writing-life to covering the environment. The ‘life-sustaining habitat’ part sometimes gets their attention while the ‘environment’ does not.

And I marvel at how much is not said on the daily local evening news, where weather events are often covered as breaking news. I’m told some local weathercasters would like to include the connections of weather to environment, climate change, air and water quality, but that it seems to just not go with the rapid one-line flow of crime, business corruption, traffic and sports, and as such are told to stick to weather, as it is the main reason people even bother to tune in to local broadcast news anymore.

And this is the point: as long as issues of our habitat are not placed in front of us on a daily basis, we reside in silent ignorance of the consequences for our only home and life-sustaining Earth, until the day dawns that we jump from crisis to crisis, wondering how we got here.

I’ll put another picture here, in the hope that you’ll scroll down to read the last of this missive. . . .

 

© Gary Stoltz/USFWS

© Gary Stoltz/USFWS

 

Is an extreme weather-event news? Yes. Should we ask ‘Why’ there seem to be so many of them these last few years? Yes, if we want to have a hope of responding intelligently in the years to come, whether locally or globally.

Is the loss and change of our habitat’s biodiversity globally news that we might connect to our local habitats with good reporting? Yes, as such loss portends effects everyone’s well-being. Not only should we ask why, but doing so an opportunity to inform on the consequences able to be anticipated and thus met. Biodiversity loss is ultimately a loss of quality of life story as any habitat crisis story is (such as the polluted W, Virginia water crisis story last week), but it is also an economic story, a business story, a crime story and a social equity story. And it’s something we can take action on, locally as well as internationally. Many of our large predators and vast tracks of wilderness would be long gone if those somewhere else in the world had not been informed and raised their voices in care and concern.

Why questions can beget understanding; sometimes it takes more than 4 paragraphs or the first couple of lines if I’ve put a photo at the top to draw you in. Considering the care of our only habitat  — the only one we have and which sustains our life — is perhaps the most important story.

Why?

For it is our life-support system.  If it’s in our daily view, it’s thus able to be among our heart-felt considerations of what is important to us and to our children today and tomorrow. Then we have time to ask why questions and to take good, life-sustaining actions.

 

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A talk from the heart by Boyd Varty, who has learned in his life that we are connected andmade better by our connection with each other — ubuntu — but that is also true of our connection with our Earth, our habitat, and the other animals with whom we share this beautiful planet.

A long, long time ago, I too walked a river near Londolozi in South Africa, and too saw the shadows and faced my deepest fears. I too learned of what it meant to be reliant on others to open the world, touch my heart, carry my spirit to safety, and to experience the humility of our deepest connections of heart, of spirit, of life and how these interconnections are made stronger by extending to the living creatures around us… but these are stories for another time. For now, listen with open heart to Boyd Varty and allow yourself to be immersed in his heart and story. It’s not just about meeting and knowing a great person, it is also about learning to know that together in spirit we are stronger.

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Grizzlies on action cam of a Rockies forest. Image courtesy of USFWS.

The US Ninth Court of Appeals recently ruled that Grizzly Bears in the Yellowstone area must remain protected as an threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, because a main food source for the largest mammal of our North American forests is being wiped out by pine beetle and drought, maladies laid at the feet of climate change. Until the US FWS can establish a measure of the threat posed by the complex relationship between the grizzly and its important Autumn food source in white pine nuts, the magnificent predator will remain listed.  


It’s an example of the depth and complexity of the problem of habitat before us —  rapid climate change leading to swaths of dead habitat throughout a region the size of South Carolina, leaving the wildlife of the area without a vital source food at a time of feeding for winter.  
How do we preserve a forest, a habitat of such size as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, much less an Arctic habitat for the polar bear?  The size of change taking place with climate change is truly unfathomable; that it is happening at a rate several times faster than what was predicted should chill us all.  
But this change is largely out of sight of the mainstream urban populations, thus 37 percent of Americans maintain that climate change is a figment of scientists’ imaginations, a number largely unchanged since last May, in a study by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communications. “A Gallup poll from last month found that Americans rated global warming as the environmental problem they worry about the least,” noted US News in August 2011.
Perhaps one of these Americans could explain this disbelief to a starving grizzly bear in the Yellowstone area.
Pregnant females are needing to eat high calorie foods, such as the rich nuts of the white pine tree carefully collected into the middens of red squirrels, to survive a winter of bearing their young.  The bear is an amazing animal — if the female runs out of sufficient calories while hibernating, her young do not make it to term within her.  If there are barely calories enough to carry to term, the female can easily starve while the young are born and nursing as she still hibernates before the spring thaws of the high mountains reach her snow-bound den.  The female bear teaches her young where to find food at each time of year, and this knowledge is passed from generation to generation, year after year, ensuring the life of the species as the years carry on.
The grizzly is a beautiful creature of muscle, shaded coat and ooh-inspiring cute young; it is easy to how they inspired  the old fairy tales of royalty hidden and bewitched inside their golden, brown or white coats.  One is blessed to ever get to watch their care of their young in the wild, as I was once honored to spy on an early morning in Yellowstone a decade ago.  On an early June morning, a huge brown and golden female gently swatted her two lagging, playful cubs into rolling balls of fur over the far mountain meadowof glistening green grass, potently urging them to stop romping and rush to the safety of the white pine forest before the sun and danger of discovery rose any higher.  In such wide-eyes moments, one’s breath stops at seeing — nay, feeling — the wild garden thrive in our ruled and paved world. It is possible to feel more — and finally — at home in this edenic place, among the life and wilds in which we too were planted as a partner within Nature.
We come home to wilderness; we must relearn our way on the paths of the forest, and remember what it feels like to be hungry and desperate to feed our young in a habitat that no longer supports us. While our feelings could not be so different than those of that grizzly bear when finding the winter food source is not there,  it is also a feeling we share in common with millions of other mammals, including fellow humans.
How do we save an entire forest for the trees — and the bears — if we do not even see it or the climate change destroying it?

We will be poorer without the bears and the other members of their complex white pine forest habitat, should it or they not survive the rapid change of our shared home planet Earth.



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From The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/gallery/2011/nov/16/stranded-polar-bears-alaska-in-picture)

From a photo gallery published in the Guardian.UK (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/gallery/2011/nov/16/stranded-polar-bears-alaska-in-picture) by wildlife photographers Will Rose and Kasja at 70˚North, a multimedia project

The polar bears (above) have returned, pacing day after day, on this beach of an island in the Arctic Sea where they are marooned.  The are looking for the sea ice their mothers and the mothers of their mothers taught them was their way to survive. Day after day, they are finding the sea ice is not there.

 

 

Biophilia: Eric Fromm (1964) reimagined by the equally brilliant biologist Edward O. Wilson, introducing the ancient concept — some might even say primitive or indigenous or mythic  (and not meaning these are the same thing) — of a human innate love of our bios, our habitat, our living world, from the cute and cuddly to the breathtaking beauty of forests, ocean, sky, natural spaces. It is a Love of the Garden, as I like to call it, in all its wildness, resilience, force, and tear-inspiring awe. We have left the Garden so completely, and thrown ourselves into the black, outer-world of exile where there is much gnashing of teeth, that Wilson offered us a reminder that such care, even such love, of our natural world is a natural, ingrained response within us. At Lexic.com it is noted that the medical definition of biophilia is the instinct for self-preservation (love of one’s life).

 

BioMimicry: Coming soon in 3.8, helping us to discover — again, as our ancestors knew so well — that as Nature progresses she teaches us to evolve or survive, reconnect and hopefully resolve our destructive tendencies to come (return?) to a way of living that is more sustainable in the face of the laws of Nature. Put in Nature’s way of work: Evolve or Die; To Be (Clever), or Not To Be.

 

 
BioEthics: Boiled down greatly to a decision regarding how an individual chooses (or is forced) to live or die in the medical sphere.  Perhaps it should have meant what has become known as Environmental Ethics, a wilderness in which we are led by the brilliance of Holmes Rolston III, among others, in considering how (not whether) Nature has standing and thus value — just because it exists — in our human system of values.  Also consider BioCentrism, as explored by Paul Taylor in the age of environmental enlightenment of the 1970s and 1980s, as an attempt to balance our species’ plague of anthropocentrism.
Biocide: Traditionally a means developed by scientists to kill off living organisms, presumably the ones humans choose to be dangerous or a distraction.  Of course, with little movement on this slippery slope, we find ourselves wonder whether we are also killing off our bios, our habitat in which case it transmogrifies to suicide.
BioEmpathy: The Institute for the Future defines it as “The ability to see things from Nature’s point of view” and is becoming a taught concept within the Episcopalian Church of the US.

 

 

I would add another meaning, however. BioEmpathy is not only the ability to see things from Nature’s point of view, but also the ability to feel what the object of our focus in Nature is feeling in any given moment.  BioEmpathy means to allow ourselves to feel the suffering, the sorrow and the mourning, em pathos, in understanding and suffering, just as the “other” feels.

 

 

In the instance of these polar bears, BioEmpathy is to be willing, able and strong enough in Spirit to allow your self to feel the pain of hunger these bears feel after weeks of being unable to leave the island in the Arctic Sea. It is to allow yourself to feel their fear and bewilderment at the startling recognition that their “normal” way to leave this island in the middle of the Arctic is not there, and that they are starving.

In the face of this choice of starve or swim in search for sea ice, some polar bears strike out into the ocean, their adaptation as strong swimmers and instinct to survive leading them on.  In the case of at least 8 bears discovered floating dead in the Arctic Sea by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, led by their will to live, these beautiful, powerful creatures drowned during their swim to survive. They died trying. We have no way of knowing how many more of these magnificent mammals are lost each day of each month while trying to survive long enough to adapt to the new conditions of their Polar habitat.

Lost.

 

Doesn’t that word alone invoke feelings of desperation and desolation within you, and within your spirit?

 

Can you feel the bears’ hunger?  Can you feel their confusion at what to do next?

 

Can you empathize with what they feel at what they see:  in this case no way out and no “normal” Way of survival?

 

Are you brave enough to feel this — and does it cause a few tears to well in your eyes for these polar bears’ situation?

 

If so, that is BioPhilia — love of life and love of self-preservation. For you are then feeling alive and connected to another mammal who lives with you on our Earth, our habitat and home, our Garden and Life-Support.

 

 

It is only when we can be strong enough to feel as these bears do and to feel their lurch of desperation in our own hearts and a cry of panic in our own spirits, that we then also feel the impetus and inspiration to change and nurture their future — the future of so much of our Garden habitat that we love — and thus change and nurture our shared and common life in our Earth home.

We are able to do something about global warming. You are, and I am.

They cannot.

We are able to do something to lessen or even halt the spread of pollution in their habitat and the invisible leaching of PCB’s through their water. You are, and I am.

They cannot.

Let’s do this — Now.

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Why is it we call ‘Natural Disasters’

Acts of God?

Does is mean that, for a moment, we see Nature as being part of God?

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