Monday, June 27, 2011

Good news

It is often said that bad news dominate media, and that positive developments are ignored since they do not have the dramatic news appeal of a disaster. Climate change kills ice bears makes more headlines than the consumption of ecological food increases.


There is some truth in that, but unfortunately the opposite is equally true. According to Google "ecological food consumption" renders 3,900 000 hits, while "climate change ice bears" renders merely 1,600 000 hits. Media consumers do sometimes cherry pick positive news in a negative trend, as recent reporting about threatened species show. (Isn't it funny how often two opposite things are equally true? Maybe the world should not be understood in truths, but in riddles and contradictions).

The fact that the Arabian Onyx is not any longer threatened is of course positive. It was duly reported in on-line media during the last weeks. The animal was once hunted into close to extinction and only survived as a minuscule population in zoos. But hard work of reintroducing it to wildlife has brought fruit, and the species is not any more threatened. A cynical mind would probably add that the Arabian Onyx, being specialist on desert survival, is more than average fit for the new word of desertification and global warming.

Whereas the Onyx became a poster child for hope, a promise that everything that is broken can be fixed, much less media attention was given to the fact that the total number of endangered species is higher than ever, in spite of years of hard work from biologists, NGO's and authorities. The most threatened group of animals are amphibians, and what is troublesome that unlike the Onyx it is not mindless hunting or other human misconduct which threatens them but the way we feed ourselves. We have done away with the wetlands, and those we didn't do away with are rapidly covered by grass, fueled by the enormous spill of nitrates from agriculture.

To change that would take action on a completely different scale than a wildlife preservation campaign. It is unlikely to be done before amphibians go extinct, and someone should start thinking about what that means for humanity. Someone else should ponder over what it means for morality that humans not only make use of nature, but dispose with species at will.

The Arabian Onyx was a global story, southern Sweden had its own local eco-sunshine story. A peregrine falcon, the hallmark of threatened species, the bird whose almost disappearance led to the ban of DDT and fueled the emergence of the ecological movement, has started nesting under the Öresund bridge.

Great news, in deed. Over all, the Öresund bridge has not become the ecological disaster that some people feared, it has rather added life to the marine environment. That shows that humans can build without threatening animals and the eco systems, no? It does. But once again it is ridiculous to see the commotion about the peregrine falcon, when the list of endangered species and plant is growing also in Sweden, for the same reasons as elsewhere in the world.

So is it really true that bad news get more press than good news? The short answer is no. A little longer one is that the problem is that only news that can be good headlines are discussed. Arabian Onyxes and peregrine falcons are big and beautiful animals, and it is very easy to invoke human sympathy for them. Having sympathy for a toad usually requires either a religious veneration of the creation, or an understanding of its role in an ecological system. Which is why religious and scientific thinking are anything but opposite when it comes to nature.

The media logic also affects what bad news are reported. A good story has a beginning, a development and an end. Things like wars, revolutions and floods meet these demands and get reported. But the underlying trends - positive like the factual and gradual emancipation of women in many countries, or negative like a gradually warming climate or the gradual loss of biodiversity among insect and amphibians do not meet these demands and are therefor underreported.

How wonderful it could be if we could be glad about the Arabian Onyx, and let those good news inspire us to do something for other species as well. But if we acted like that we would be gods, not humans.

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