The Green Post: Can green be sexy?

2012-02-17 06:59

It’s easy to be depressed when you’re working the environmental beat.

Every day you are bombarded with stories about acid in your water, uranium blowing in the wind, and chemicals in your fruit that will make you produce babies with two heads. Another rhino poached.

And that life for your grandchildren on this planet might indeed be a very hot affair.
But the worst is when you realise that the stories you passionately craft never seem to get the same amount of attention as the latest Juju corruption story.

If a big crime story breaks on deadline and space is needed in the paper, it is the environmental story that will be held till next week.
The reality is: How many people would choose a story about bees disappearing over a juicy scoop of a politician’s tenderpreneurial tendencies?

Yet the stories about a mine and a community competing over water, illegal pesticides on crops, and species going into extinction would have a far greater impact on people’s lives than the fate of yet another corrupt politician.

If bees go extinct, food security on this planet would be in serious jeopardy. Now if the politician’s story could only involve a tender that somehow was responsible for bees disappearing...
The ignorance around environmental issues, even among my peers, sometimes sends me straight to the liquor cabinet.

Despite laying the groundwork for a new world order, the UN’s annual climate change conference in Durban last year didn’t lift many people’s skirts. And I wanted to hide when people told me they thought the ozone layer thing had been laid to rest and they didn’t see the need for another conference.

“Are they still talking, why haven’t they left yet?” ordinary people seemed to ask at the end of COP17.

Perhaps we as environmental reporters are failing miserably in how we present the news.
But how do we dress up green news as sexy, without losing the plot?

The green criminals are not your underworld assassins, plotting the next conspiracy. More likely they are the executives or mine bosses planning the next development that will create a host of new jobs, bringing prosperity to an impoverished region.

And if a family of bullfrogs lose their “vlei” in the process, that surely is not the end of the world?
Why should we care about green news? Surely environmental issues are the domain of the privileged in a country where we have to deal with bigger social problems?

And so often the red tape of an environmental assessment is viewed by our leaders as an irritating hold-up that is preventing development.
But when acid water comes guzzling out of a tap in Carolina, there is no clean water available to irrigate crops and a community’s crops keep on failing because of climate change, environmental issues hit home in the most cruel way. And we as environmental reporters have to be there to tell these stories.

At the same time it is easy to be alarmist and predict the end of the world with every bit of bad news this beat produces so regularly.
Can we be passionate environmental reporters, without becoming activists, if you as a reporter see all the environmental degradation around you every day, with little action? The environment beat can also be an angry beat.

But maybe the best anti-depressant to the curve balls the green beat keeps throwing is when that lesser-known story about a community member taking on a mine or a farmer standing up against a big corporation manages to make a difference.

A favourite environmental story of mine is about a bunch of part-time environmentalists, taking on a developer near Lanseria. Housewives, accountants and businessmen struggling to make a living all joined forces against the estate developer, because they were worried about what the development might do to their environment.
The developer took umbrage and sued them for millions for defamation, millions that the motley crew of part-timers simply didn’t have.

But they refused to shut up and fought the developer in court. And they won. Now the developer has to pay them millions.

And that is why I drive to work in the morning – to keep telling important environmental stories that will encourage more people to become motley crew, make-shift environmentalists that do care about what tomorrow might bring.

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