Saturday, June 23, 2012

Views may differ

Nobody sees the same thing the same way. I see the quail sitting in the morning sun on our pile of scrap metal, and I think about a bird that makes my life richer with its plumage and charmingly dorky quiff. The foundation contractor, seeing the same bird, notes "them's good eatin'."

I subscribe to a handful of magazines, and it can be amusing how differently they see the same thing. As a tree-hugger, I get the official organ of the Sierra Club. Nerd that I am, I get Science, official organ of the AAAS. I recently started getting The Economist, which I like for good writing and its acknowledgement of the existence of countries other than the US and the EU, but seems to be the official organ of people with a deal of money who want to make damn sure that they will always get more. Needless to say, how these rags see the same thing often differs.

What sets me off on this observation is the latter magazine's special feature on the Arctic in an era of climate change. You might view the Arctic as being kind of like a distant uncle--almost a stranger, partly because he's so damn hostile that he tries to kill you when you visit, but really interesting and exotic. We are in a situation where we are just starting to find out some amazing things about this uncle--but at the same time, we know that he's dying. All three magazines acknowledge that the Arctic that humanity has known for all of recorded history is toast, and own that it is due to human activity*. It's their views of the basic facts that vary.

Sierra's is boringly predictable, if justified--their hair is on fire. Science is more interesting. They remind me of a dispassionate doctor, attentively monitoring the pulse of the dying uncle, reporting the ebb and flow (actually, just the ebb) of arctic ice, the disappearance of habitat, the relentless northward creep of ecosystems, pointing out calmly exactly what is going on and how and why. Occasionally there will be an editorial suggesting that, while the uncle is dying, we really ought to at least slow the rate of decay. These editorial outbursts are rare, and as striking as Star Trek's Spock breaking down in tears.

And then there's The Economist, far and away the most interesting in how it views the matter--in the way that sociopaths are interesting. The entire thrust of the special feature on the Arctic was this: Our rich, fascinating uncle, who has been affecting our lives for as long as we have lived, and has so much to tell us, is dying. Whoohoo! I hear he has a gold watch--we can cash that in! He's got property that we can liquidate for profit, profit, PROFIT! We can actually hasten his demise by trying to get at this stuff--but he won't care if he's dead, and it will get us the stuff quicker! Hell, he's going to die anyway, so it's practically a moral obligation to hurry up! What? Oh, yeah, I suppose it's sad he's dying, but hey, PROFIT!!!

Oh well. I suppose I should give The Economist some credit for being arch-conservative and actually acknowledging anthropogenic climate change as a solid, undisputed fact. It's how you can tell The Economist is not an American magazine.

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