April 22 — the 35th Annual Earth Day — brings important news from the Corporate Social Responsibility Newswire Service. A forum called “Getting to the Heart of Conscious Commerce,” to be held April 25-27 in Los Angeles, will feature a keynote panel on “FORCES OF NATURE — The Future of Sustainability.” Chair of the panel: noted environmental activist Daryl Hannah, star of Kill Bill, Splash, and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.
Hannah, the press release informs us, “uses solar power, adopts animals, drives a clean burning vehicle that runs on biodiesel, and lives a sustainable lifestyle.” Nowhere does it tell us that only the mega-rich, like movie stars, can afford such a lifestyle. But we do learn that the panel speakers include noted economist, pro-skateboarder and X-Games gold medalist Danny Way, who is also a board member of the Action Sports Environmental Coalition. Also participating: Anthony Kiedis, the highly respected climatologist and lead singer for the rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers. (No word on whether his side-kick Flea will put in an appearance.)
After reading the news release, I couldn’t help but think of the recent missive “The Death of Environmentalism,” by Michael Schellenberger and Ted Nordhaus. Long-time environmentalists, Schellenberger and Nordhaus complain that the environmental movement’s “institutions are outmoded. Today environmentalism is just another special interest.” Schellenberger and Nordhaus may overstate the case that environmentalism is dead, but the upcoming event in Los Angeles suggests it is gravely ill.
One thing keeping it on life support is a compliant media. Most environmental groups, no matter how radical, get kid-gloves treatment from the press. When I reviewed news stories about the Ruckus Society for an article I wrote recently, I noticed that none mentioned its radical politics, and only one, in the Seattle Times, mentioned its involvement with the 1999 protests-cum-riots in Seattle. U.S. News and World Report recently noted that the Ruckus Society will hold training camps this summer to teach activists the art of disrupting U.S. Army recruiters. Given the way the press views the military, don’t be too surprised if this new tactic wins Ruckus Society the moniker “mainstream.”
It appears the media prefer to reserve the term “radical” for violent groups like the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). This week William Jensen Cottrell, a graduate student in physics at CalTech and self-proclaimed member of ELF, was convicted for his role in acts of arson and vandalism in August 2003 that destroyed 125 SUVs at various dealerships. The Associated Press story dubbed ELF “radical.” The Los Angeles Times called ELF “militant.” That was when the press bothered to mention Cottrell’s association with ELF. No mention of ELF in the Reuters account or in this blurb from the San Jose Mercury News. Perhaps it is too impolitic to mention violence by environmental extremists just before Earth Day.
Of course, what can you expect from the San Jose Mercury News? The tone for its coverage of environmental issues was set by its now-departed editor David Yarnold, who became executive vice president of Environmental Defense. Yarnold claimed he was joining “one of the nation’s most accomplished and respected environmental advocacy non-profits.” That it is also a very liberal organization, has vehemently opposed many of the Bush Administration’s environmental policies, and has extensive ties to Teresa Heinz-Kerry apparently mattered not a whit. Indeed, one can infer from the lack of media coverage over Yarnold’s career change that the mainstream media considers an editor of a large daily newspaper going to work for a liberal advocacy organization no different from a second baseman being traded from the Giants to the Yankees.
Finally, while the Associated Press may have gotten the ELF connection right, its bias was on full display in a story about an Energy Information Administration (EIA) study purporting to show that mandatory limits on greenhouse gases “would not significantly affect average economic growth rates across the country through 2025.” The article can’t help but note that the EIA study “runs counter to President Bush’s repeated pronouncements that limits on carbon dioxide and other gases that warm the atmosphere like a greenhouse would seriously harm the U.S. economy.” But while observing that Bush rejected the Kyoto treaty, it ignores the Senate’s 95-0 vote against Kyoto because the agreement’s provisions let developing countries off the hook. And what about the critics of the EIA study? Well, the AP story doesn’t mention any. You’ll have to read Joel Schwarz’s piece in Tech Central Station for that.
“Environmentalism” may now be little more than yet another than a special interest, but environmental groups have little to fear. Sympathetic press coverage can prop up a movement long after its moment has passed. And few causes currently receive better media treatment than environmentalism.