An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.
Humanity has progressed from small-scale hunter-gatherer societies to larger settlements based on agriculture to the endorsement of science and technology in complex societal structures that have propelled us into the age of information. This development has drastically altered the way we live and interact with each other and has created new challenges for humanity. The primary problem with information is the rate of its accumulation and the decisions we have to make regarding all this new input. Scientific verities have a much shorter lifespan today than in the past, given the amount of scientific investigation being carried out. It is also nearly impossible to gain complete expertise in any one field, as one could not spend enough time learning all the newest data that is constantly being discovered, invented or accumulated. Also, the overall complexity of society and its diversity of problems and challenges put a huge strain on the problem-solving capabilities of humanity.
The factors just mentioned have greatly impacted on the decisions we have made about our advancement and how we employ nature to meet our ever-increasing demands. Unfortunately, many of our attempted strategies and solutions have not been eco-friendly. We now face serious problems that may have been unknowable and unpredictable in the past, due to limited knowledge, but have become illuminated with more current information and presently threaten the very survival of humanity and all living creatures. However, if the information age is wisely applied at solving environmental problems, positive outcomes are likely to be realized.
Information Dissemination About the State of the World
People rely on the media, television, radio, their governments and the scientific disciplines to inform them of important information regarding both local and global issues. Unfortunately, much of the pertinent information is not made public due to the covert practice of not alarming people into panic reactions or covering up issues that are being obscured due to other interests usually involving capital gain, power plays and or corruption. Propaganda is a frequently employed tactic that disempowers the public in critical decision-making. Nationalism is also appealed to in order to sway public support for various endeavors. When the populous is not properly informed, they cannot act in their best interests or support appropriate legislation and this consequence is a large contributor to our ecological crisis.
For example, at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, one of the largest environmental gatherings of all time, sustainability was the primary agreed upon strategy to be adopted by all nations present but only weeks later when the seven nations met again in Munich, not a mention of environmental issues was heard as global economic concerns had taken precedent.
A few months after the Earth Summit, a document called the “World Scientists Warning to Humanity” was released to the world. It was signed by 1600 or more senior scientists from around the globe, over half of whom were Nobel Prize winners. It concluded that humanity’s behaviors and actions would put society at a serious risk for failure in the very near future if immediate action were not taken to rectify the environmental damage that had already been done. Also stated was that the initiation of sustainable strategies was imperative for the ongoing survival of our species.
Despite the seriousness of this statement, no North American newspaper or television network aired this declaration and the two prestigious American newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post claimed the warning was not newsworthy.
It is obvious that pertinent information about global issues should be available as undistorted fact, regardless of its content and disposition, so individuals can make appropriate decisions and actions regarding its effects on their lives. The media should not have the right to decide what information the public should be privy to and for what reasons.
From Naked Ape to Superspecies, David Suzuki and Holly Dressel, Stoddart Publishing Co, 1999, Sez Who, pp. 68-69.