As an author of my own ecological news blog, I've noticed readers lately complaining that the environment news we are covering is too scary. That we are using scare tactics to appeal to the readers. Alarmist or reactionary or just a sign of our times? To me, the news trend will probably get worse before it gets better. Locally, in Israel where I am based, the news seems to be dominated by one catastrophe or the next: last week a report came out suggesting a pastoral Jerusalem neighborhood is built above a chemical waste dump a la Love Canal USA. Then there was a massive jet fuel leak in a nature reserve, which is said to be the worst environmental catastrophe the country has faced. Egypt blew up Israel's natural gas reserves, not once, twice, three times, but four (another one this week) so we'll need to revert to polluting biodiesel.
Globally, experts like Helen Caldicott, who I am currently emailing with to interview, is telling us not to eat fruits and nuts from Turkey, because they are still radioactive from Chernobyl. The Japan nuclear crisis, which is considered to be worse than Chernobyl, she warns, will only bring untold numbers of health and environmental ailments for us into the future.
And, of course, we have global warming looming over our heads.
But how do we know if the world is getter worse, or if any of our environmental action is making it better? There are loads of trends websites on the Internet, some of them big, like Twitter or Google Analytics, and some smaller like TrendLists.com, which follows Internet trends users can vote on. Yahoo! News has a trending headline, and followers of Twitter can easily see in the right hand margin what is trendy in the news. But what about environmentalists looking to hone in on green trends? What resources can they use to put their finger on the pulse of green trends? Can they rely on what they read on Digg or through social bookmarks? Or are these results, too, just a product of sensationalist, alarmist trends?
Which begs the question, and one which is relevant with all the reports on tabloids like News of the World resorting to dirty tactics to get readers attention: Are blogs and other online media we read today too sensationalist? Some analysts today will say so, but I don't think so. Against my opinion, take a read at 2011 Almanac of Environmental Trends (PDF). According to reviews, it is a "must-have resource for anyone who wants to cut through the political spin surrounding the environmental debate and access the hard facts."
But when it comes to the environment crisis unfolding before us in every direction you turn, I am going to turn Chicken Little on you. The Almanac may be handy to sort some fiction from fact with its handy graphs and figures. But it's also important to consider intuitive sources on our judgements, not something scientists and evidence-based seekers like to hear.
When the Japan reactor starting drawing world media attention, and I started reporting on it, I had physicists writing to me telling me I am alarmist. That I should stop scaring people. But like many of the alarmists sounding the bells (does it really matter that much if the Japan reactors partially melted down or completely melted down any way?) today, hundreds of square miles of dead zone land lies fallow until the fallout, falls out.
How much radiation has spilled into the air, our seas, the veins of our earth? How long will it persist, and for how many generations onwards will our children's children wonder if it's safe to eat the apricots or Nutella made from hazelnuts originating from Turkey?
We are living in scary times and I think the time is right to be alarmist. Be scared because the environment is facing scary times. If Caldicott tells me I shouldn't eat dried apricots from Turkey because it might give me cancer, I am going to listen.
Radiation in no amount is good for us. Neither are industrial pesticides, an overuse of CT scans in diagnostics, and the amount of industrial chemicals and pollutants seeping into our dear planet. Together, this all adds up. Am I alarmist?
How can we start to clean up? If you want to find the way you can help, first stay informed until the spark of intuition strikes you on how you can help.
Start with the news to find your mission: For green news on a daily basis, the Huffington Post Green section (the one you are reading) is an important one to follow. For U.S. domestic news and global trends, TreeHugger gives a good dose of news without being too alarmist. Grist, which has a very rigorous editorial, is a good anchor to connect with. My website Green Prophet covers the Middle East, while major newspapers like the New York Times/International Herald Tribune offer a good coverage of world news.
Finding those green living websites on the Internet isn't so hard to do. Search locally for news near you, and if you can't find something that collects data and speaks about the problems that matter to your region, then start sounding your own alarm.
Karin Kloosterman is the founder of Green Prophet, the only news site focused exclusively on environment news for the Middle East.
Follow Karin Kloosterman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/greenprophet