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Why so much about the environment? Editor's comment

As a Marin Post reader, you’ve probably noticed we post a considerable number of articles about environmental issues. What has been surprising, however, is how many readers in Marin have been critical of this. The complaint is that it’s too much "boring," bad news. Perhaps. But, maybe that’s the point.

I understand feeling overwhelmed and helpless to do anything about most of it. But, something’s got to give. We’re reaching a proverbial tipping point and on the other side of it things don’t look good. It would be wise to pay attention, even if only for our own self-interest. Maybe, it’s a time to push through the bad news without turning away?

So, here’s my argument to those who’ve lodged complaints.

Last week, we posted an article revealing that in the past year the Amazon rain forest produced more carbon than it sequestered. This is mostly due to “progress.” People are burning it down to grow crops and raise animals to sell (which is “good for Brazil’s GDP”). The Amazon just got a case of Covid and it looks like the lungs of the world are losing the fight.

Yes, this is very bad news, but shouldn’t people want to know about it? Maybe, losing the conscience-soothing salve that there’s this big forest out there helping us breathe is a motivation to start taking environmental degradation and climate change, seriously.

Perhaps, the really bad news is if you rely on mainstream media or most social media, you will hardly see or hear anything about the major battles going on to keep the planet habitable (ground water salinity and pollution, advancing desertification, ocean dead zones, mass species extinction, dangerous chemicals in everything, and much more). Almost all popular media (cable, network, and social media) is about entertainment, escapism, dumbed-down politics, salacious scandals, horrific crimes, “celebrity” commentary, gossip masquerading as information, or personal exposes and self-absorbed diatribes that are mostly banal and boring.

Sure, there’s talk about being “green” and “climate change” and we're shown images of melting ice and smoke stacks. But the science presented is always shallow or sensationalized. It’s basically just another TV sound-bite. And, yes, there are beautiful “nature” shows (BBC, PBS, etc.), but the depths of the problems and their connection to everything we do in our lives is watered down for prime time.

I’m not saying that the time we spend discussing and dissecting the latest crime, tragedy, or social justice issue is not important. Of course, it is. But none of that will matter if the world runs out of potable water, wildfires destroy our homes, crop failures become commonplace, and the air we breathe and the chemicals we ingest are killing us.

Documentaries are the only refuge for in-depth information and have been for decades. Yet, after all these years, there is still not one channel on cable or network where the average person can watch a wide variety of quality documentaries for free. The internet is the only source and even then you have to hunt for it. But, worst of all, the older demographic of corporate decision-makers don’t typically use the internet to get their news (other than to go to the same traditional branded sites like Time and Newsweek) and they certainly don't use it to watch videos. Meanwhile, young gadget-using CEOs evidently don’t care very much, even though the majority of the technological innovation they depend on is driving some of the biggest negative environmental impacts around the world, due to the industry’s voracious demand for natural resources (rare earth, metals, virgin plastic, etc.) and its contributions to our toxic waste problems.

Today, less really is more, at least until we can find a way to make a consumption-driven economy and the products we use less environmentally impactful to make and transport.

Since the 1970s, the mantra has been “think global, act local.” A lot has changed. Now, it’s more like ‘think about everywhere and act anywhere and in any way you can.’ And hurry up about it.

There is no escaping this reality. It certainly doesn’t do any good to have a second home in Tahoe, if the wildfires are burning there or your plane can’t take off because the runways at SFO are underwater at high tide. And that beach house is looking more and more like an insurance liability, by the day.

The health of our planet is the ultimate “we’re all in this together” proposition, no matter what any of us believe. Yet, while our environmental challenges are becoming trapped in a spiraling, negative feedback loop, our culture, as best personified by the world’s billionaires, is obsessed with escape, like flying cars and spaceships to the Moon and Mars and selling tickets to millionaires for the first pleasure rides in space.

Meanwhile, here on earth everything you can imagine is increasingly in need of repair, renovation, and re-imagination to provide basic life support: things like clean water, clean air, non-polluting energy, sanitation, a reliable power grid, healthful food accessible to all, public transportation, affordable basic medical services, a decent education, and a solution to all the garbage and waste we’re producing by the freighter load, every day, to name just a few.

There was a brief flurry of excitement and anticipation about addressing these needs, in November. Yes, on some social justice issues there has been welcomed progress. And it looks like we’ll get a few bridges fixed. But in the bigger picture, in the environmental picture, it’s a different story.

Take a look at the image, below. It’s a chart of the PowerShares Winderhill Clean Energy Portfolio ETF (“PBW”). This is one of the best proxies for the entire alternative energy and green tech industry. It’s a portfolio of innovative companies with solutions that seemed so promising just six months ago (solar, wind, alternative fuels, etc.).


Click image to enlarge

It is said that the “market” is a forward-looking mechanism. It looks ahead to anticipate what will happen 6 to 12 months in the future. You’ll notice that starting in November 2020, PBW’s price began to rise, dramatically, as the market began to anticipate a greener future, one with widespread investment in alternative energy and new technology with the help of government incentives and jobs training.

Today, however, PBW has lost almost everything it gained and it’s still heading south. The “market” has spoken. It is saying that the U.S. has little chance of a green future, any time soon. It is saying that all that investment and all those incentives will fail to materialize in any meaningful way. It is saying it’s better to be in Dogecoin, than to worry about the planet.

And we all know, Dogecoin is anything but boring.

Bob Silvestri is the Editor in Chief of the Marin Post, a Marin County resident, and the founder and president of Community Venture Partners, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit community organization funded by individuals and nonprofit donors. Please consider DONATING TO CVP to enable us to continue to work on behalf of California residents.