Canadian media’s environment ennui shapes national discourse

There were three environment stories in the media today that, though seemingly unrelated, are pretty typical of Canada’s environment news, at least under the Harper regime.

Item 1: Bizarre environment story, with lots of vagueness in the media as to who is responsible

Headline: Tens of thousands of fish rotting on Lake Erie Shore (The Toronto Star)

Point: Scientists are befuddled by thousands of fish that showed up dead on the shoreline. They say it was probably caused by lake inversion (from cooling water) though residents are suspicious it may come from runoff from a nearby pig farm.

Item 2: Let’s save Canada’s environmental resources, but not look at the obvious culprits inhabiting the TSX, and talk about it at this conference

Headline. Scientists want to save “Amazon of the North” from jurisdictional scramble (Ottawa Citizen)

Point: 1.8 million square kilometres of the Mackenzie River basin can be saved by better unified management not a federal patchwork of management + joke about how it’s not just the tar sands/Hydro Quebec that will kill it

Oh, and the Arctic is melting.

Item 3: Enbridge pipeline moving along in its plan to transport toxic tar sands oil across Canada via Northern Gateway pipeline, boost stock of wealthy Canadians

Headline: Enbridge likens Northern Gateway Pipeline plan to nation-building (Financial Post)

Point: Enbridge pipeline being rebranded to get more support, screw the environment and First Nations who inhabit/own land that it will be built on.

So these stories are about different things, two of them related to energy issues and the other about an environmental clean up. However they are pretty typical archetypes of the kinds of environment stories you see over and over again in Canada. The wacky story. The light solution story. And the story about a Faustian oil pipeline.

They’re all, however, typical of the kinds of stories and attitudes you often see in the media: environmental ennui.

Story 1 has a kind of dark comedic tone to it. Isn’t it funny that all these fish showed up dead? But nothing to see here folks! Isn’t the environment wacky sometimes?

Story 2 and 3 make references to environmental antagonists—the tar sands, Hydro Quebec, global warming, etc.—as if they are tropes to touch upon. Yes! We know these are problems! But we’ve talked about it so much everyone knows it by rote…

Sure a big part of media is to find a new angle and a new story, and who wants to read the same story over and over again. What would be nice to see is some gravitas in environment stories every once in a while.

The trouble is one of the reasons the public takes the environment less seriously is that it’s still seen as either an “occasional wacky story” or something very dull that can be put on the shelf for later when there’s anther wacky story (freak weather, snow monsoon etc.). It also makes it a lot easier for the environment to be portrayed as a fluff issue, or one requiring less funding by Parliament.

So what’s the lesson? Well the media isn’t responsible for the country’s/province’s attitude towards the environment; that’s a collaborative effort. However, something to think about is the way we talk publicly about the environment. Is it boring? Or weird? Why can’t it be something we take as seriously as gun crime, because environmental disasters (many cause by humans) can be just as deadly? Just some things to think about.


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