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Thursday, December 05, 2002

NRDC: Rewriting the Rules: The Bush Administration's Assault on the Environment

This April 2002 report documents the sweeping rollback of environmental safeguards being quietly carried out by a handful of Bush administration agencies. Nearly 90 agency actions -- spanning the spectrum of the nation's most important environmental programs, including those protecting our air, water, forests, wildlife and public lands -- are cataloged by the report, which also finds that the administration intensified its assault after September 11, when public attention was diverted by the war on terrorism.

For an up to the minute catalog of how the Bush administration is dealing with environmental issues, click here.

For the full free Rewriting the Rules report (in .pdf) click here -- the report's summary follows:

Executive Summary

As this is written on the eve of Earth Day 2002, our nation's environmental landscape is changing for the worse. Agencies throughout the Bush administration are taking explicit directions from big corporate polluters, allowing these corporations to rewrite the agency rules that give life to America's environmental laws.

These policy changes will harm every American. The landmark environmental laws passed since 1970 are collectively among the most popular and successful laws ever enacted. These laws, and the regulatory safeguards they spawned, have profoundly improved the quality of life in America. They have reduced smog in our cities, stemmed the flood of sewage and toxins into our waterways, reduced lead in our children's blood, rescued threatened wildlife like the bald eagle from the brink of extinction, revolutionized hazardous waste disposal, protected our wetlands, and preserved many of our remaining unspoiled forests and wild lands.

Now, however, these safeguards face the gravest assaults since the Newt Gingrich Congress of 1995, and perhaps ever. As documented in detail in this report, the Bush administration is moving to quietly subvert the federal agency rules that translate congressional mandates into specific regulations.

The pages that follow document a staggering array of more than 100 different environmentally destructive Bush administration actions. These assaults strike at the heart of the nation's most important environmental programs from clean air and clean water to forest and wetlands protection. The Bush administration offensive documented in this report includes not only independent actions by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Interior Department, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Forest Service, and the Department of Energy, but also a highly centralized effort coordinated by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to identify and target environmental regulations that industry finds most objectionable.

The agency rules now under siege are the vital link that makes our environmental laws work. In sabotaging them, even while leaving the statutes themselves unchanged, federal agencies threaten to render these laws mere words on paper, irrelevant to what polluters and developers do in the real world.

It is not news that the Bush administration has an anti-environmental tilt. In fact, the early months of this presidency were defined in part by overwhelming public disapproval of the administration's positions on arsenic in drinking water, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and carbon dioxide pollution from power plants. Since September 11, however, the environmental assault has quietly intensified, bolstered by a growing critical mass of presidential appointees at key federal agencies actively pursuing an anti-environment agenda, emboldened by the president's surge in popularity, and unchecked by news media distracted by the war on terrorism.

Below are samples of some of the administration's most troubling actions since September 11. A more comprehensive treatment is included in the report that follows.

Clean Air. A fundamental requirement of the Clean Air Act is that older electric power plants and other smokestack industries must install state-of-the-art cleanup equipment when facilities are expanded or modernized. Coupled with the strict standards for new industrial facilities and power plants, this "new source review" requirement is intended to ensure long-term air quality improvement as older pollution sources are rebuilt or replaced.

In May 2000, apparently prompted by a request from one of the nation's largest polluters, the Southern Company, the Bush administration included in its energy plan a call for a review of this key Clean Air Act program and its enforcement against oil refiners and utilities, including Southern. (The Southern Company communication was made public in late March in response to a successful NRDC lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act.) Now the EPA is poised to give Southern Company, and other big polluters, exactly what they have long sought, carving massive new loopholes in this crucial air quality program. These changes would allow hundreds of the nation's oldest and dirtiest facilities to drastically increase air pollution, resulting in more premature deaths, more respiratory problems, more urban smog, more acidified lakes and rivers, and more haze in our national parks and wilderness areas.

Wetlands. For more than a decade, the cornerstone of America's approach to wetlands protection has been a policy that calls for "no net loss" of wetlands -- a policy that originated with the first Bush administration. With no public notice or opportunity for comment, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers moved to reverse this long-standing policy by issuing a new guidance, dramatically weakening standards for wetlands "mitigation." Mitigation is a controversial practice that has allowed the destruction of existing wetlands in exchange for the creation of new wetlands. But the new standards allow wetlands to be traded off for dry upland areas and will likely mean the loss of thousands of acres of wetlands annually that provide vital flood protection, natural cleansing, and fish and wildlife habitat.

The stunning reversal of the "no net loss" policy is only one component of a broader Bush administration effort to diminish wetlands protection. Despite the president's Earth Day 2001 pledge to preserve these vital resources, his administration has also relaxed a key provision of the Clean Water Act that regulates development and industrial activity in streams and wetlands -- the nationwide permit program. The Corps loosened the permit standards for this program making it far easier for developers and mining companies to destroy more streams and wetlands.

Mining on Public Lands. Mining activities have despoiled 40 percent of Western watersheds, according to the EPA. Instead of addressing this glaring problem, the Bush administration is making it worse. In October, the Interior Department issued new hard-rock mining regulations reversing the limited environmental restrictions that apply to mining gold, silver, copper, and other metals on federal lands. Under the new rules, the agency has renounced the government's authority to deny permits on the grounds that a proposed mine could result in "substantial irreparable harm" to the environment. The new rules also limit corporate liability for irresponsible mining practices, undermining cleanup standards that safeguard ground and surface water.

Raw Sewage in America's Waters. Sewage containing bacteria, fecal matter, and other wastes is responsible each year for beach closures, fish kills, shellfish-bed closures, and human gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses. According to the EPA, there were 40,000 discharges of untreated sewage into waterways in 2000. Before the Bush administration took office, the EPA issued long-overdue rules minimizing raw sewage discharges into waterways, and requiring public notification of sewage overflows. The proposed rules were the product of a consensus process among the key stakeholders, including the state and local governments that bear the lion's share of the regulatory responsibilities. Even so, the rules were blocked by the regulatory freeze ordered by the Bush administration when it first took office in January 2001. Now, well over a year later, the administration still has not issued the sewage overflow safeguards. Technically, they remain under "internal review" at the EPA, but in practice they are languishing in regulatory limbo. Meanwhile sewage continues to flow into our waters, and Americans are still denied even rudimentary public notice of such contamination in the waters where they swim and fish.

The OMB's Centralized Assault. The full-scale retreat at federal environmental agencies is only part of the story. Over the long term, the most telling indication of this administration's intentions is the role played by the White House itself through the OMB. The Bush administration has given unprecedented new power to the OMB to gut existing environmental rules and bottle up new ones indefinitely. And the OMB has carried this effort a step further by reaching out to polluters and their champions on Capitol Hill to develop a "hit list" of environmental safeguards they plan to weaken (see page 28). The list includes safe drinking water standards, controls on toxics, Clean Air Act requirements, water pollution limits, pollution from factory farms, and forest planning regulations.

The Bush administration would do well to learn from history and reevaluate the wisdom of its anti-environment course. When it comes to the environment, there is ample documentation to show that public concern is steadfast. Indeed, poll after poll confirms that the overwhelming majority of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, favor strengthening rather than weakening environmental safeguards. It is time we moved beyond the seemingly unending battle over attempts to weaken popular environmental laws to address such pressing challenges as global warming and urban sprawl.

The pages that follow offer a comprehensive review of the diverse and far-reaching Bush administration regulatory initiatives to cripple key environmental programs across the federal government. The report's first section summarizes cases in which federal agencies have taken final formal action. The second section reviews major administrative assaults targeting key environmental programs that are pending, or in process, as of this writing. The third section of the report provides more detail on the sweeping effort at the OMB to broadly weaken environmental safeguards by twisting the rulemaking process in the interest of industry and at the expense of public health. Finally, the chronology included as Appendix I offers a concise, comprehensive review of the full range of more than 100 anti-environment actions by the Bush administration.

Posted by Richard
12/05/2002 08:29:12 AM | PermaLink

 
Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Getting Reviewed

No, it's not the grave ecological destruction of the planet -- it's just another little review for the blog, this time at Colonel Mustard's Review Centre! They appear to be just starting out with the idea, but I love the name...and after all, we out here in radical blog-land must remember that the way this whole thing began was by helping one another, linking, and forming a community.

The other model is just dreaded techno-capital....

As to the reviews, etc. -- let me quickly take this moment to say THANKS to everyone out there who has been passing the link to this blog around and saying such nice things about it on their own (I try to contact most people directly). I can't say how astounding it is to come across people's blogs that have not only a link to Vegan Blog but list it with captions like "...simply the best blog on the net." Whether it is or not, considering the scope of what I'm trying to do here, it's very gratifying to know that there are people out there (real people!) who care, are getting informed, and are trying to do something about it.

Yours in the work, Richard

Posted by Richard
12/04/2002 07:49:31 AM | PermaLink

Shell Warns of Explosion as Nigerian Villagers Scoop Oil From Spill

This story just about says it all: oil-rich country filled with natural resources that should make its population live very well, colonized by transnational oil companies like Shell who pump the oil out, pollute the area in the process, and deposit power in the hands of a few corrupt leaders in return.

Americans (and here I'm talking about the relatively informed Americans that even know there is a Nigeria and that it has oil that we crave) tend to downplay the dire poverty in these resource-rich regions as being merely a result of internal corruption -- the same reason that all the World Bank money that is lent to such countries turns into an interest-bearing scheme on the part of the G-8 nations.

There is no question that internal corruption is a major factor as to why countries like Nigeria, Argentina, even Mexico, fail to live up to the real potential that their lands breed them for the world economy. But Americans need to do more homework and/or be honest with themselves (something that is often very hard for a US citizen who drives 30 miles a day in an SUV, heats their house to a comfy 70 degrees all Winter, and has all the trappings of contemporary life). While corruption is not a transnational import -- it was not invented in the West -- the facts are as plain as day that transnational governmental and corporate powers have been destabilizing (and then "re-stabilizing") regions that contain materials they covet for decades (centuries?). This is a very old game of geopolitical diplomacy -- play ball with the Godfather, or its curtains for you.

Unfortunately, the metaphor fails to hold in certain respects. For while in the Coppola and Scorcese mafia myths, the Godfather, however corrupt, was also a humane protector of community. One followed the Don's law, but as long as one did so, one also enjoyed certain benefits and freedoms. This is not the case when Texaco, Exxon or Royal Dutch Shell (and the endless like) move in. In an endlessly fluctuating market, yesterday's deal may be worth flouting if one could set up a regime willing to handshake on a more favorable set of numbers. The infrastructure needn't be that well maintained if it's liable to be vandalized anyhow. And the people of these regions in which the transnationals move in don't deserve their protection because they're not even seen as members of the community...that's the major fault with all of this,

I would argue: until world corporations start recognizing the rights of the people in the states in which they do business, they're worse than the worst of Godfathers. Stealing candy from the babes, at least as they see it, these power-brokers destroy people for a quick buck. Even by the standards of the mafia, this would qualify as little more than the philosophy of a "small-time" thug.
Lagos, Nigeria Shell Oil warned Tuesday of a "potential disaster" as hundreds of slum-dwellers scooped crude oil spilling from a ruptured pipeline that the company said could explode at any time.

A spokesman for the Nigerian subsidiary of Royal Dutch-Shell, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said large numbers of residents were scooping oil into buckets and barrels from the spill in the heavily populated slum of Maroko on the outskirts of the southern port city of Warri.

It was not known when or how the spill began. Breaking pipelines to siphon off fuel a practice known as "scooping" is common in Nigeria despite the risk of a deadly fire or punishment, including being shot on sight by police.

The size of the latest spill was impossible to immediately determine, the spokesman said. The company shut off the pipeline but residual oil continued to gush from the pipe.

Authorities of the multinational oil company feared the pipeline could catch fire as a result of the villagers' actions, the spokesman warned. Several pipeline spills in Nigeria have exploded in recent years, killing thousands of villagers.

"We are making efforts to prevent any loss of lives," the spokesman said.

A team of company officials, local government employees, and residents' representatives had been dispatched to try to "isolate the danger," he said, without giving details.

The pipeline transports crude oil from wells in the Niger Delta to a refinery in Warri.

In December 1998, a pipeline blast in the Niger Delta village of Jesse killed more than 700 people. Since then, the government has tried to educate villagers about the danger of scavenging pipeline fuel.

But poverty and residents' anger at the government and oil industry for allegedly polluting the environment and neglecting the Niger Delta an area with few roads and little electricity or running water despite its immense petroleum wealth have kept the illegal practice alive.

Victims often include young children who scoop the fuel into containers to sell along the roadside.

Nigeria is the world's sixth-largest oil exporter.

By Glenn McKenzie, Associated Press

Posted by Richard
12/04/2002 07:10:43 AM | PermaLink

 
Tuesday, December 03, 2002

[Ecopedagogy] "Paideia and Humanitas: Western Civilization's Contribution to Our Global Ecological Crisis" by Richard Kahn

Here's a link to my latest academic opus, now online: :)


Abstract:
Education, though it is not always linked so consciously, is a process deeply involved in the creation of "human" subjects. This is true of both its socially progressive (e.g. Freirean "humanization") and regressive (e.g. Adlerian proliferation of the "Humanities") theoretical orientations. The following paper makes a poststructural intervention into the pedagogical terrain of the "human" and subjects its conceptual history to an archaeological analysis. In this respect, the paper examines the relationship between paideia as practiced by the ancient Athenians, its extension as Hellenistic humanitas, and our current crises of globalization and planetary extinction. The idea that paideia was involved in a formative Western project of "human" literacy is proposed and the historical development of paideia as humanitas is revealed to be problematically complicit with a Western social legacy of domination based upon race, class, gender, and species. As there is now a wide discussion being undergone by educational and social theorists about the renewed possibility of a democratic education for participatory civic life, even as the historical cultural product of exactly this sort of pedagogy brings the Earth to the brink of annihilation, the link between the "human" and paideia needs to be articulated. The paper concludes by rejecting any naive proposal of a new form of paideia that would fail to apprehend paideia's historical development as humanitas; but drawing upon the work of Edmund O' Sullivan and Douglas Kellner, the idea of an "ecological paideia" in which the human and non-human are brought back into conscious relationship is raised as a question and possibility for future exploration.

Posted by Richard
12/03/2002 09:43:10 AM | PermaLink

Pesticides Recalled After Killing Cats

Thousands of illnesses and deaths in cats and kittens have led to a recall of some flea and tick products, along with new warning labels and other protective measures.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said last week that safety concerns stemming from use of two flea and tick control products for cats and kittens, led the agency to persuade the Hartz Mountain Corp. to enact measures to reduce potential risks to pets from using these products.

Under an agreement with the EPA, Hartz has ceased the sale and distribution of Hartz Advanced Care Brand Flea and Tick Drops Plus for Cats and Kittens and Hartz Advanced Care Brand Once-a-Month Flea and Tick Drops for Cats and Kittens. The company will recall these products, and repackage and re-label its existing stock of the pesticides to educate consumers about their risks.

To continue to evaluate safety concerns for cats, the EPA is also requiring Hartz to submit an additional animal safety study conducted by an independent laboratory, and to submit additional quarterly reports specific to cats, summarizing any incidents of toxic effects from Hertz products.

The EPA sought the agreement after investigating thousands of incidents where pets suffered adverse effects from the products. Complaints included minor problems such as skin irritation or hair loss at the application site to more serious effects on the nervous system, such as tremors, convulsions and sometimes death.

The relabeled products, which will start appearing on store shelves over the next several months, will include stronger precautionary statements and use directions. Under the revised use directions, application of the products will be limited to a single spot applied on the back of the animal's head, reducing the likelihood that the cat will lick and ingest the chemical.

The new labels will also direct users to consult with a veterinarian before use of these products on debilitated, aged, medicated, pregnant or nursing animals, or animals known to be sensitive to pesticides. The labels will advise that cats should be monitored after application of the product and if any adverse symptoms are observed, the animal should be washed with mild soap and rinsed with water and evaluated by a veterinarian.

The EPA is also requiring Hartz to conduct a consumer education program, which will include a web site, direct mail campaign to pet owners, pet stores and veterinarians on the new safety improvements. If consumers choose to return either of the two Hartz products, the company is expected to exchange it for the relabeled product or refund the purchase price.

The company is also required to improve labeling on individual tubes of the affected products to help ensure consumers are using them correctly.

For more information on the EPA's action, visit: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/citizens/hartzq_a.htm

For information regarding the product recovery and label improvements, consumers may contact Hartz by phone at: 800- 275-1414.

Posted by Richard
12/03/2002 08:18:04 AM | PermaLink

Arctic Sea Ice May Vanish This Century

Washington, DC, (ENS) - Perennial sea ice - the floating ice that remains year round near the Arctic Circle - could vanish entirely by the end of this century, warns a new study by researchers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The NASA study concludes that sea ice is now melting about nine percent faster than prior research had indicated, due to rising temperatures and interactions between ice, ocean and the atmosphere.

Perennial sea ice floats in the polar oceans and remains at the end of the summer, when the ice cover is at its minimum and seasonal sea ice has melted. This year round ice averages about three meters (9.8 feet) in depth, but can be as thick as seven meters (23 feet).

But if current melting rates continue, by the year 2099, there may be no sea ice left in the Arctic. Melting sea ice would not affect sea levels, but it could impact summer shipping lanes, plankton blooms, ocean circulation systems, and the global climate.

Read More

By Cat Lazaroff

Posted by Richard
12/03/2002 08:14:43 AM | PermaLink

 
Monday, December 02, 2002

Air Pollution Fatalities Exceed Traffic Fatalities By 3 to 1

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 3 million people now die each year from the effects of air pollution. This is three times the 1 million who die each year in automobile accidents. A study published in The Lancet in 2000 concluded that air pollution in France, Austria, and Switzerland is responsible for more than 40,000 deaths annually in those three countries. About half of these deaths can be traced to air pollution from vehicle emissions. In the United States, traffic fatalities total just over 40,000 per year, while air pollution claims 70,000 lives annually. U.S. air pollution deaths are equal to deaths from breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. This scourge of cities in industrial and developing countries alike threatens the health of billions of people.

Governments go to great lengths to reduce traffic accidents by fining those who drive at dangerous speeds, arresting those who drive under the influence of alcohol, and even sometimes revoking drivers' licenses. But they pay much less attention to the deaths people cause by simply driving the cars. While deaths from heart disease and respiratory illness from breathing polluted air may lack the drama of deaths from an automobile crash, with flashing lights and sirens, they are no less real. Air pollutants include carbon monoxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates. These pollutants come primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels, principally coal-fired power plants and gasoline-powered automobiles. Nitrogen oxides can lead to the formation of ground-level ozone. Smaller particulates, especially those 10 micrometers in diameter (1/2,400 of an inch) or smaller, can become lodged in the alveolar sacs of the lungs. They are associated with higher admissions to hospital for respiratory problems and with increased mortality, particularly from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. As particulate concentrations in the air rise, so do death rates. When people inhale particulates and ozone at concentrations commonly found in urban areas, their arteries become more constricted, thus reducing blood flow and oxygen supply to the heart. In the Canadian province of Ontario, for example, which has a population of 11.9 million, air pollution costs citizens at least $1 billion annually in hospital admissions, emergency room visits, and worker absenteeism. For more information contact: Bernie Fischlowitz-Roberts, Earth Policy Institute, 1350 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 403, Washington, DC ? 20036, Phone: (202) 496-9290 x 15, Fax: (202) 496-9325, Email: bernie@earth-policy.org . Visit their website at http://www.earth-policy.org/Updates/Update17.htm

Posted by Richard
12/02/2002 04:47:18 PM | PermaLink

'Sustainable Community' Goal of Some on Vashon

If some Vashon Island residents have their way, they someday will produce their own electricity, drive cars powered by cooking oil and grow their own food.

It's all part of a fledgling plan to turn Vashon Island into one of the nation's first sustainable communities, a place that provides for all of its basic needs so that resources don't have to be taken from another part of the world.

"Most of the destruction in the world happens because you have to go elsewhere to get energy, food, water and shelter," island resident Adam Rawson said. "A disproportionate amount of that energy is coming here to the United States."

Rawson and a group of islanders hatched the Sustainable Vashon concept as a response to the Sept. 11 attacks. According to their theory, there will be less pressure for war and terrorist activity across the globe when highly consumptive American communities like Vashon Island start supporting themselves.

Yet those behind the "Sustainable Vashon" movement are not talking about turning their island of 10,000 people into an off-the-grid post-hippie compound where modern amenities are replaced with a minimalist lifestyle.

Rather, the goal is to test whether a community can live within its means without sacrificing modern comforts.

"It's a good place to try this - politically - because people really care," said Rita Schenck, executive director of Vashon Island-based Institute for Environmental Research and Education. "Vashon Island is one-third artists, one-third attorneys and one-third environmentalists."

More than 200 people have indicated that they want to participate at some level. A dozen working groups are penciling out how the island will tackle everything from composting to recycling to creating a working farm where people can learn how to grow their own food.

According to a renewable energy study funded by billionaire Paul Allen, Vashon Island has enough solar, wind and other renewable energy potential to meet all of its power needs. There is enough land now being used for landscaping, grazing and agriculture to grow all the food islanders need.

As for transportation, organizers want to go islandwide with a home-brewed fuel-making effort. Ten island cars are now using bio-diesel, a clean-burning fuel made from recycled cooking oil.

Still, even supporters estimate that it will take decades and cost hundreds of millions to make Vashon Island truly sustainable.

Such a price tag is not "an out-to-lunch number" because islanders already spend that kind of money off the island, Schenck said. According to U.S. Census statistics, island residents earned $324 million in 2000.

But keeping more of that money on the island won't pay the whole bill. Organizers plan to seek grant money and government assistance to develop the programs that will start the transition to sustainability.

"I think the people who live here are willing to try something different," said Kyle Cruver, a board member of the island's community council, an elected board that helps King County manage the unincorporated community.

"People live here because it's difficult to get here. There's a little bit of rebel still on Vashon Island."

Not everyone will buy into the concept, but most will, said Bob Long, owner of Bob's Bakery, a popular gathering spot on the island. "People are more environmentally conscious on the island," he said.

The island is a 15-minute ferry ride from Tacoma or Seattle. When nearby Maury Island is included, the area covers 37 square miles of heavily forested land in central Puget Sound. A two-lane highway bisects the island from north to south.

The hilly island has a mix of farms, mansions, artist colonies and modest-looking homes. But there's nothing modest about the cost of living. The average price to buy a home on the island this year is $411,000, according to King County statistics.

There are about 1,000 businesses on the island, most of them home-based mom-and-pop operations.

"There's not a total environmental consciousness here, but I think people have been motivated to keep this environmentally protected," said Shaheeda Pierce, a midwife and activist who lives on the island.

Not everything that islanders need can be produced on the island.

The goal is to produce enough power, food and other resources to trade for what they cannot produce, ideally from other sustainable communities. If they can't barter for what they need, islanders at least want to produce enough to offset what they have to buy. By selling vegetables to Seattle, they can at least make up for buying coffee from Colombia and video games from Japan.

The effort is attracting outside attention.

The Pacific Northwest Economic Region, a Seattle-based group that promotes environmentally sensitive growth in five Western states and part of Canada, has designated Vashon Island as a test case. The organization could help change rules and zoning ordinances to make it easier for communities like Vashon Island to make the transition to a sustainable lifestyle, said Matt Morrison, executive director.

"There's little doubt in my mind that it's technologically and economically feasible," said Paul Horton, co-director of Climate Solutions, an Olympia-based environmental group working to fight global warming. "They will have hurdles to overcome, but in the end I think they will do very well."

By Lukas Velush for The News Tribune

Posted by Richard
12/02/2002 09:46:59 AM | PermaLink

 
Sunday, December 01, 2002

Media Slamming a Waste of Time

I am starting to lose patience with the wide-range of leftists who spend a great deal of time and words on bemoaning the fact that we live in a mediascape in which only a handful of stories get told and those that are broadcast are merely soundbite information at best.

There's no question that much of what passes for "news" on general television -- the 6-o'clock news -- amounts to little more than propaganda and national hype. If it spent even half as much time adding contextual context and educating people about the stories it broadcasts instead of treating them head-on and smiling pleasantly for advertisers, the nightly news could be a revolutionary institution.

That said, the idea that the American people are being kept down by a "lack of information" is dubious and dumb. If anything, the American people have far too much information -- so much so that they can't decide how to navigate it, put it into a meaningful context beyond spectacle and fascination, and make ethical commitments to society based upon it.

For while the majority of Americans may not yet have satellite television and internet access, a near majority does. Those that do not are surrounded by newspapers, radio, commercial programming, and indirectly are involved in the global news world by being surrounded by an audience that is involved in the same.

Again, it is a staggering truth that the average American news gatherer can receive a wealth of information on the Bush administration, local and international murders, and stock prices but fail to receive the message that within 30 years upwards of 40% of life on Earth could be extinct. But this is not to say that the message does not get out there in one form or another -- from oilspills to stories on singular extinctions to pieces on global warming -- and if one has the Internet and/or satellite television one can easily be barraged with a wealth of news on virtually any topic.

No, the main problem is not the lack of adequate news. It is the other way around -- there is no way to discriminate what is news and what is misinformation, what is important and what is hype, what is from the left and what is from the right.

And then there is one further problem: the lack of commitment to news, which we see exemplified in American news personalities and cosmopolitanites everywhere. Again, the example here is not a lack of information -- these people seem to know and have an opinion on everything: they are very well informed. But it is the relationship to the information that is questionable.

Early information theorists proclaimed that the mere experience of new information alone would radically alter and reconstruct people's identities and that as a society became information-based, it would undergo a sort of cultural revolution. Well, this may be -- but it's not necessarily for the best. For the identities that appear to be constructed are not ones that have deep ethical or moral commitments that grow out of the information, but rather these identities are in a state of permanent flux -- chasing the stories of the present in order to talk about them; indiscriminating in their tastes; and seemingly unmoved to make personal life changes and make political interventions into their society based upon the incoming news.

This blog alone has collected (often with not too much effort) enough information over the last 6 months to make anyone who is not in complete denial make radical shifts in their behavior towards animals, the culture at large, and the planet as a whole if they truely read what was presented to them. I broadcast, or re-broadcast this information, from a standpoint as someone who has been personally transformed by the information he has received. The changes in my life and lifestyle are numerous, and the information has been enough to make me deconstruct my castle in the clouds and come back to Earth one more time in the attempt to build a better kingdom here.

Happily, the readership for this blog has grown and grown and grown. Daily, it is read in over 30 countries by hundreds of readers. What effect will all this have? Is it simply another layer of useless information? Perhaps. But as the world becomes more deeply involved in destructive practices, let it not be said that the people were not informed. The Vegan Blog is but one small example of new civic information practices that are going on around the world.

The people are informed, I would argue. It's just not clear that they want to do anything about it. When news is as easily received as water from the tap, it just may not seem like something waging a life's struggle over. At that point, it's a dumb commodity like any other -- easily consumed, worthy of the trash.

Posted by Richard
12/01/2002 07:40:13 AM | PermaLink