Saturday, October 08, 2005

God to Bill Moyers. Moyers to Journalists: Who Will Tell The People To Save The Earth?

I was lucky enought to be invited to do a panel and the annual Society of Environmental Journalists Conference in Austin, Texas, last weekend. The highlight of the day I was there was a luncheon speech by one of my heros, Bill Moyers. Part of the speech was the usual (and justified) criticism of the Bush Administration (and it's business cronies) for its destructive environmental policies

Wistfully remembering how Roosevelts of both parties challenged the power of corporations, Moyers notes that the bad times have returned:
But 100 years later mighty corporations are once again the undisputed overlords of government. Follow the money and you are inside the inner sanctum of the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the American Petroleum Institute. Here is the super board of directors for Bush, Incorporated. They own the administration lock, stock and barrel, and their grip on our government’s environmental policies is leading to calamitous consequences.

Once the leader in cutting-edge environmental policies and technologies and awareness, America is now eclipsed. As the scientific evidence grows, pointing to a crisis, our country has become an impediment to action, not a leader. Earlier this year the White House even conducted an extraordinary secret campaign to scupper the British government’s attempt to tackle global warming—and then to undermine the U.N.’s effort to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions. George W. Bush is the Herbert Hoover of the environment. His failure to lead on global warming means that even if we were dramatically to decrease greenhouse gases overnight we have already condemned ourselves and generations to come to a warming planet.
But Moyers didn't just curse the darkness. Using the story of Noah, he also attempted to light a candle to show us a way that environmental journalists might be able to reach the religious folk that the Republicans have gotten so good at catering to and taking advantage of:
Both scientists and Noah possess knowledge of a potentially impending global catastrophe. They try to spread the word, to warn the world, but are laughed at, ridiculed. You can almost hear some philistine telling old Noah he is nothing but a “gloom and doom” environmentalist,” spreading his tale of abrupt climate change, of a great flood that will drown the world, of the impending extinction of humanity and animals, if no one acts.

But no one does act, and Noah continues hearing the word of God: “You are to bring into the Ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you.” Noah does as God commands. He agrees to save not only his own family but to take on the daunting task of rescuing all the biodiversity of the earth. He builds the Ark and is ridiculed as mad. He gathers two of every species, the climate does change, the deluge comes as predicted. Everyone not safely aboard drowns. But Noah and the complete complement of Earth’s animals live on. You’ve seen depictions of them disembarking the Ark beneath a rainbow, two by two, the giraffes and hippos, horses and zebras. Noah, then, can be seen as the first great preservationist, preventing the first great extinction. He did exactly what wildlife biologists and climatologists are trying to do today: to act on their moral convictions to conserve diversity, to protect God’s creation in the face of a flood of consumerism and indifference by a materialistic world.
And he issued (or re-issued) a challenge to journalists:
We are journalists first, and trying to reach one important audience doesn’t mean we abandon other audiences or our challenge to get as close as possible to the verifiable truth. Let’s go back for a moment to America’s first Gilded Age just over a hundred years ago. That was a time like now. Gross materialism and blatant political corruption engulfed the country. Big business bought the government right out from under the people. Outraged at the abuse of power the publisher of McClure’s magazine cried out to his fellow journalists: “Capitalists…politicians...all breaking the law, or letting it be broken? There is no one left [to uphold it]: none but all of us.

Then something remarkable happened. The Gilded Age became the golden age of muckraking journalism.


The Gilded Age has returned with a vengeance. Washington again is a spectacle of corruption. The promise of America has been subverted to crony capitalism, sleazy lobbyists, and an arrogance of power matched only by an arrogance of the present that acts as if there is no tomorrow. But there is a tomorrow. I see the future every time I work at my desk. There, beside my computer, are photographs of Henry, Thomas, Nancy, Jassie and Sara Jane—my grandchildren, ages 13 down. They have no vote and they have no voice. They have no party. They have no lobbyists in Washington. They have only you and me—our pens and our keyboards and our microphones—to seek and to speak and to publish what we can of how power works, how the world wags and who wags it. The powers-that-be would have us merely cover the news; our challenge is to uncover the news that they would keep hidden.
Go forth...