Friday, March 27, 2009

Global warming, global restoration and journalists

Many years ago, in my journalism career, I wrote extensively on environmental issues, and in the 1980s I was among a group of journalists who established environmental investigative reporting as a distinct discipline within journalism (and in those days we spoke primarily of newspapers as the platform of journalism). My speciality was watersheds and pollution from toxic waste dumping. 

The stories that I and others wrote resulted in the federal "Superfund" to cleanup such sites. I bring this up today to point out a number of global trends that are disturbing and which the faith community has a stake in because the faith community, by definition, is part of the global community.

First, journalism: Newspapers are in a major economic meltdown and are closing or seriously downsizing. That ought to bother you mightily. Newspapers are still the major platform for serious journalism in the world; when you read a story on the internet, chances are a newspaper reporter wrote it and an newspaper editor edited it. The fallout of the economic collapse of car dealers, retailers and real estate marketers is that they have pulled their ads from newspapers, and the newspapers are collapsing. That is the result of an economic model too dependent on those sectors, and not the result of falling circulation or bad journalism (the rise of the internet is a convenient excuse for newspaper executives who made bad business decisions in the last 10 years). All of that is background for where I want to go with this.

Today marks the last day for Chris Bowman at The Sacramento Bee, where Lori worked as an editor for 20 years and I worked for 10 years as a reporter. Chris was among many journalists laid off earlier this month, caught up in the mass of layoffs throughout journalism. Chris is among my oldest friends, he was one of my two "best men" at my wedding (and my other best man, Tony Ramirez, was laid off by the New York Times last year). 

Chris is a leading environmental investigative journalist. He is a former Nieman Fellow from Harvard, which is the most prestigious fellowship in journalism. Chris is a founder of an organization that promotes environmental journalism, and he taught environmental journalism in Zimbabwe back when Western journalists had access to that country. With Chris removed from journalism (and we hope only temporarily), there is one fewer trained set of eyes and ears documenting the threats to our environment. That is an incalculable loss to all of us and to the environment.

Next, to related trends in the politics of the environment: Earlier this week, Lori and I participated in a meeting in Washington DC to hear from Mike Marshall, the new executive director of Restore Hetch Hetchy, a decades-long effort to remove the dam from Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. Mike outlined a long-term political strategy to convince Congress to remove the dam built in the 1920s by San Francisco (this post includes an artist's conception of what the Hetchy Hetchy Valley would look like without the dam). I will say more about this issue in another post. 

Last night, we joined members of St. Paul's who live at Westminster-Canterbury in seeing a film about an appalling proposal to build a strip mine in the Bristol Bay watershed of Alaska, the richest salmon waters in the world (the top photo on this post is from that watershed). The proposed Pebble Mine would include building the world's tallest dam to hold toxic mining sludge, theoretically keeping the sludge poisons out of the rivers. If you are wondering at the reliability of such dams, check out the Iron Mountain sludge dam in California, now a federal EPA superfund site, and earlier this week labeled the "worst water in the world" in the San Francisco Chronicle (another newspaper soon to fold).

I mention all this by way of pointing out the confluence of a number global trends: it takes journalists to investigate and highlight threats to the environment, especially those in places remote from the rest of us, like in Alaska. Journalists are in shorter supply today, and that ought to alarm us.

Related to this is a conversation that needs to happen (and the work of journalists can help us make it happen) around the sometimes competing politics of the environment. The dire need to reverse global warming is now the necessary focal point of the major environmental lobbying organizations, like the Sierra Club. The danger of that focus is that the specific localized threats, like the proposed Pebble Mine, will slide through unexamined by the nation, and remain only feebly opposed by environmentalists who can't be in two places at once.

This is also an issue about world poverty. Worldwide, mining companies are stripping poor countries of their resources with little return to those countries, and that is an issue for the faith community if we take seriously that greed is a sin. There is a report issued today on how mining companies are depriving African countries of much needed tax revenue (click HERE.)

Moreover, restoration of the earth -- symbolized by removing the dam at Hetch Hetchy -- must remain on the environmental agenda because restoration is part of the healing of our planet. This past Monday in Washington DC we heard just how stretched environmental organizations are in working on both global warming and restoration issues. There is much work to be done, and much organizing and conversation that needs to happen around all of this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

JR.. very well written piece. I'd heard about Chris from the old PE grapevine (Gail Wesson). Didn't know about Tony. Worry about Dan Smith, though I think it's "just" pay cut, not the ax.
We're coming up on the 33rd anniversary of you buying me lunch at McDonald's. Norman must have seen this day coming. He was right to be frugal.