Good job bringing this to light. People won't realise how huge the problem is and municipalities are woefully ill equipped to...
Agreed; mining can never be sustainable, but then how do you get the metals to make all the things you need in the course of...
Very good piece.
My friend Paul Wapner, assistant
professor of environmental
politics at the American University in
Washington, Dc, has just published a
book, Environmental Activism and
World Politics. He argues that international relations is no longer the domain
of governments, as most scholars in the
field continue to believe. Civil society,
aided by the growing web of international communications, is increasingly
exerting an influence on international
relations. He cites what is, indeed, the
most dramatic case in this field, namely,
that of environmental activism, which
has resulted in numerous international
treaties over the last few years.
I enjoyed reading the book because
of the detailed description Wapner provides of the strategies that Greenpeace,
Friends of the Earth and the World
Wide Fund for Nature have adopted to
influence international action. Greenpeace, of course, is the most widely
known, and its strategy is probably the
most focussed: the media impact it can
create on the issue it is pushing for.
Every journalist knows the simple
maxim that a picture is worth a thousand words. And Greenpeace has internalised this lesson so well that it has
turned it into an art. It organises action
in such a way that the media gets not
just words but pictures full of drama.
Not surprisingly, when Greenpeace gets
going, everybody sits up. Even the staid
Economist has admitted that corporate
PR managers should learn a thing or two
about public relations from this doyen
of Western green organisations.
Wapner's book, thus, is engrossing, to
say the least.
I hadn't quite finished reading it,
however, when two friends from
England turned up in Paris to talk to me
about a film they wanted to make. In it,
they wanted me to present my views on
the environmental concerns affecting
the Third World, and how the Western
media has neglected to convey them to
people in the North. We started talking,
and soon agreed that the media, especially the powerful visual variety liked
simple messages because they were so
much easier and effective to get across.
I too pointed out how I had once
been deeply moved by a BBc documentary in which a huge rainforest tree was
being hacked down. It came across like
murder in paradise, and I immediately
wanted to join the movement to protect
rainforests. But within a few minutes,
my mind started working, and I began
asking questions: who was this man who
was cutting the tree? Why was he doing
it? Was it his economic desperation to
get a piece a land to eke out a survival, or
was he simply being paid by a corporation to meet the consumer demands of
the rich? And then, no longer was the
tree important in itself, but ,the rest of
the world, its economy, politics, rich-poor divide, issues of equity and justice,
all became intertwined and important.
But there was precious little of that in
I felt disappointed. Yet, it was
clearly a very moving film, and had successfully motivated millions to join the
movement, albeit in a very naive manner. But if, indeed, it had tried to deal
with all these complex issues, it could
have ended up being a very confused
and ineffective film. Probably that is
why it tried nothing of the sort. The
media is the victim of its own limitations.
Probably that is why organisations
like Greenpeace have failed to educate
the Western public about complex
issues. Unfortunately, most Third
World issues are complex. For instance,
the West can't just say that the Third
World should not develop further
because there is the threat of global
I remember having a public debate
with a Greenpeace spokesperson at a
press conference in London in 1991.
The gentleman said India and China
were also responsible for global warming and must begin to cap their greenhouse-gas emissions. I asked him for the
basis of this assertion. just the quantum
of the two countries' emissions? But
what about the sizes of their populations, their needs? And to factor all that
into the equation, Greenpeace had to
talk of how we share the benefits of the
atmosphere, bring in issues of equity
and justice on a mindboggling global
scale, and so on. That was a bit too complicated for an organisation like
Greenpeace to tell the rest of the world.
So, all that I could end up concluding
publicly was that his planetary politics
was partisan and that he had no right to
be the spokesperson for the world.
But as I talked to my friends about
the film they wanted to make, 1, ironically, had to confront the same problem
that Greenpeace has handled with such
aplomb. My message was that the Third
World must have development, but it
must have it in a way that protects the
enviropment and its people from harm,
a large majority of whom are poor,
which in turn raises questions about
entitlements to nature's myriad benefits, 10'c'al democracy, equity, justice,
transparency, and what have you. But
all that was too complicated for a television documentary.
Immediately, we had to ask ourselves: how do we simplify this message
so that it can be captured in a few, sharp
images? We talked for hours. My friends
almost missed their train back to
England. They are still pondering over
the problem. The television company is
still interested. I do hope they can crack
the problem and find those dramatic
images, because I'd love to work on this
film with them. The media, after all, is
the creator of global consciousness, and
we are all its victims.