Let’s just concentrate on maintaining the status quo

Elton Wong

One significant problem with journalism is that it is only concerned with what is new.

It may be that consumers of media are only interested in what is new and cutting edge, and the media simply provides for this desire.

It may also be that the news industry has conditioned the public to behave in this way.

Whatever the cause, it is certainly true that only the most recent breakthroughs or the most current events are newsworthy — at least until next week’s magazine or tomorrow’s broadcast renders that information out of date and irrelevant.

This would not be a cause for concern if the public mind did not depend so thoroughly on the media to tell it what to be concerned with.

However, it is now safe to say that many people use the media industry to replace what is supposed to be a democratic process.

Instead of participating in public discourse, people buy it, consume it and dispose of it. Active discussion becomes passive absorption; information becomes a product.

The result of this system is that new events and issues are given precedence over more long-term ones. Case in point: the degradation of the environment.

Unlike other categories of news (the latest shootings, the most recent political scandal), the destruction of the environment is continuous and ever-present.

It is not readily reduced to the bite-sized events that the media deals with so well. People who dwell on it are thought to be alarmists or radicals.

To be sure, any especially large or dramatic ecological catastrophe is given air time on CNN, and Time magazine runs a feature every Earth Day.

Most of the time though, environmental stories are not run, and environmental issues are not present in the public mind.

This is not because such issues are insignificant. In 1992, a group of scientists, including a majority of the living Nobel Laureates in the sciences, issued what could be called a warning to humanity.

In it, the scientists state that “human beings and the natural world are on a collision course.” This is a serious problem, with serious consequences for humanity if changes are not made.

It seems that we are facing a crisis, but because it is a constant crisis, we are not fully able to appreciate or accept it.

Also, those who have the most power to cause change (those of us in wealthy, developed nations) are mostly isolated from the outward effects of the problem.

This is in spite of the fact that we consume a greatly disproportionate amount of natural resources. People are all for helping the environment — so long as they don’t have to give up their sports utility vehicles, stop eating industrially produced pork or otherwise change their lifestyles in any way whatsoever.

Humans tend to overestimate their power and independence. As Edward O. Wilson once said, “If human beings were to disappear tomorrow, the world would go in with little change . . . if invertebrates were to disappear, I doubt that the human species could last more than a few months.”

Concern for the ecosystem is not necessarily altruistic; it can be selfish as well.

When we alter the environment, we put ourselves at risk. We put holes in the ozone layer and expose the planet to dangerous ultraviolet radiation.

We destroy huge patches of grasslands to grow genetically identical crops and risk the destruction of our food supply by some microorganism that happens to like our food.

My first response was the standard one. I thought that it was a tragedy that people were too short-sighted to see that they were doing harm not only to biosphere, but to themselves. But then I realized a few things.

First of all, most people regard pollution and deforestation as unnatural. But humans are biological organisms just like any other, so anything we do to the environment is just as natural as what any other species does.

Secondly, nature is quite resilient. Many species before us have caused great changes in the environment, and it was perfectly natural. Of course, a lot of the time that species would go extinct, but extinction is natural too. Equilibrium is always restored in the end.

I think that environmentalists have the wrong idea. Instead of encouraging people to respect their surroundings and maintain the balance of nature, environmentalists ought to advocate maintenance of the status quo.

If humans do go extinct, the ecosystem will recover in time and eventually regain the beautiful diversity of life that existed before.

So, whether it is caused by the failure of commercial agriculture, nuclear war, excessive pollution or a virus that spreads through the network of human interaction, the extinction of mankind would eventually restore balance to the biosphere.

Luckily, humans have short attention spans and an inability to think about things that don’t immediately affect them.

This is in spite of the fact that they are the only species that can think, philosophize and discuss things. If we kill ourselves off, it’s not as if we deserve any better.

Environmentalists should not try to cause change. But they mostly don’t, anyway. At most, they give you something to think about when you’re walking to class.

Or hey, why don’t you drive?

Elton Wong is a junior in biology from Ames.