Saturday, July 07, 2007

Match Game Gone Wrong.

It seems that the goal of many journalists is to catch someone being hypocritical. Maybe that's fair. But it's also very easy. You compare a word against a word or a word against an action and see if they line up. It's not fancy. You're playing the match game -- a card game that three-year-olds learn. We see this approach used frequently in political journalism. A congressman says this but does that. Again, it may be a fair reporting vehicle as it hopefully holds people accountable, but occasionally it misses the point. It makes the person finding the discontinuity between word and action feel smart and smug. But the find-the-hypocrisy tool is one that they are too eager to use, and unfortunately, the only tool in their arsenal. They use it because it's easy. But the context gets lost. The big picture abandoned. Intelligent thought is thrown out of the window.

I've been reminded of the faultiness of the find-the-hypocrisy approach when I see coverage of the Live Earth music event happening this weekend. Live Earth is a series of concerts staged around the world that are meant to bring awareness to environmental issues. The hope is that this awareness will result in people making changes to their behavior that benefits the environment. Recycle. Change to an energy efficient bulb. Plant a tree. Buy a car with more miles per gallon.

However, the majority of the news coverage seems focused on one specific point: The amount of pollution and energy wasted to simply host these concerts. Every journalist is leading with their find-the-hypocrisy tool by saying, "How can you tell everyone to save the environment when the platform you're using takes up so much energy?" It takes a lot of energy to fly the musicians to the venue. It takes energy to power the amps. It takes energy to cater the event. Unnecessary trash is created.

The concert promoters have done a good job of combating this line of questioning by saying that they are using environmentally safe methods wherever possible, and measuring every drop of energy used to later compensate the environment.

Now "how much energy does the event consume" may be an interesting factoid, but it makes a meaningless point. Take a few steps back. There's an adage that says, "You must spend money to make money."

The real question is not, how much energy does the event consume, but what is the net gain or net loss? The real question is: How effectively does the event propagate the message?

Please stay with me -- I'm about to do some math. If it takes 10 units of energy to host the concert, but it empowered 100,000 people to change their behavior and each one is able to save 1 unit of energy, then that's 100,000 units of energy saved. So then, does it really matter if the concert cost 10 units to stage or 100 or even 1000? No. You have to spend money to make money. Stop the hypocrisy witch-hunt.

And look at all of the musicians at the event. If some of them see how they can reduce energy waste at this event, then perhaps they make use of this information on tour. I haven't seen any journalists talk about this.

I notice that critics of environmental policies frequently believe in energy absolutes when loading their gun -- that a person's footprint should fit on a pinhead -- and anytime this doesn't happen, the person is attacked. And more frequently than that, I find that if critics tend to not like a person, they use the environmental route as their attack agent. Again, it's easy, and critics are lazy.

There's only one way to have an environmental impact of zero. Suicide. The only person in history to approach a minimal footprint was Johnny Appleseed. Being environmentally conscious isn't about having a zero footprint. It is simply this: If you have a decision to make, think about the one that has the least impact to the environment. It's about making choices.

Michael Moore faces the hypocrisy-heat-seeking criticism with almost every movie he makes. Everyone begins their latest find-the-hypocrisy witch-hunt by saying, "How can he make a movie about the health care system when he is overweight?" Simple. They have absolutely nothing to do with one another. Someone having or not having health care has nothing to do with the fact that Michael Moore is overweight. People want to somehow tie these together because thematically they seem to go together -- i.e. a person who is overweight is more likely to encounter health issues and would more likely make use of the health care system. But if you have health insurance and like your provider (which I'm assuming Moore does), then it's not an issue. There are twenty-five year old athletes that have heart attacks. But if the critics can tie the two parts together (Sicko's theme and Moore's weight), then they can simply use that find-the-hypocrisy tool they wield, and not really have to think, because that's really where we're at now. Intelligent discourse has become passé.

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