Annapolis Institute Overview


Eco-paparazzi are in our face

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, September 16, 1997

The environmental paparazzi are everywhere. Just like their photojournalist cousins, who use bicycles to stalk their celebrity prey, eco-paparazzi use everything from rubber dinghies to spikes in trees to get what they want from oil or timber industry prey.

Eco-paparazzi are in your face at every turn, trying to outlaw backyard barbecues, pointing fingers at people who drive cars and use air conditioning. Reason: These practices, they say, are increasing the volume of CO2 and other so-called greenhouse gases, which, they tell us, are causing global warming. Now, the globe hasn’t warmed up much — maybe 1 degree Fahrenheit in the last 100 years or so, and most of that was before 1940. And some scientists feel the slight warming has had significant benefits — including huge increases in global food production.

The photo-paparazzi supply mass media outlets with imagery of the rich and famous. Reason: celebrity is what sells and celebrity is what people buy — at least the general public, who are numbered in the tens of millions.

But elites are different. They are as different as the Atlantic Monthly and Peoplemagazines — and The New York Times and The Enquirer newspapers. So, eco-paparazzi must supply elite media outlets with a different kind of imagery. Elite media thrive on macro-level gloom and doom out and on “complex” problems that require hand-wringing consideration by “serious” people. Reason: There is a big market for gloom and doom among U.S. elites. The more problems we have, the easier it is to make a case for expanding the role of government, the primary way “born-to-rule” elites exercise power in an otherwise egalitarian, democratic society like America’s.

The latest eco-paparazzi tantrum is found at the top of the elite media food chain, TheNew York Times Magazine. On Sept. 7, Wade Greene, a former editor of the magazine, wrote “Falling off the Edge,” a woe-is-me story about how this well-heeled man is losing his summer cottage to beach erosion on Nantucket Island. Result: Editor-writer-consultant-turned-paparazzo Greene and others who now “summer” in this playground for the rich may have to move to the neighboring island of Martha’s Vineyard. The only thing missing was an appeal for funds, which, in his own way, he did by suggesting that the government might want to install a dewatering system or a seawall or some other contraption to stop the “rising seas.”

But herein lies the tantrum. What is causing the rising seas? Global warming, says former editor and now eco-paparazzo Wade, complete with the obligatory reference to the Kyoto conference on global warming in December sponsored by the United Nations.

Greene tells us that in his lifetime there used to be 250 feet between his cottage and the shoreline. Now there is only 40 feet. “The most cataclysmic losses,” Greene admits, “have come with the nor’easters that are legendary” in this region. “But a more insidious process is at work — sea-level rise.” Oooohh. Scary stuff.

These sea levels have risen more than 400 feet since the end of the last ice age, but now, says Greene, they are rising faster because of global warming. Says Greene andThe New York Times, “The hypothesis now accepted in most scientific circles is that because of humanity’s voracious burning of fossil fuels, the globe is becoming markedly warmer.” Greene then tells us, “Icecaps are melting, and the volume of water in the oceans is expanding as the water warms.”

Paparazzo Greene is following the admonition of Stephen Schneider, a Stanford University atmospheric scientist who said in the October 1989 issue of Discovermagazine, “We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements… Each of us has to decide what is the right balance between being effective and being honest.” Paparazzo Greene has clearly made his decision — and so has The New York Times.

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