In a stunning move, El Presidente Bush made the Northwest Hawaiian Islands into the largest marine reserve in the world.. Rumor has it that it was a viewing of Jean-Michel Cousteau's film about the region (which particularly noted the accumulation of marine debris) which moved him to follow in the footsteps of the previous president who first got the ball rolling with an executive action near the end of his second term. So for all you cynics out there who say, "What good is another documentary film going to do?" just ask Monsieur Cousteau.
Jean-Michel Cousteau: make a film, save an ocean
We live in a very confusing time for information flow. Political groups have learned how to make mountains out of mole hills in attacking their opposition -- i.e. how to use small, unimportant details to discredit institutions, individuals and entire disciplines. In the current attacks on science, entire fields of study are being questioned using trivia-based critiques because the big facts are unassailable. The same problem of the public being unable to discern big versus small crops up in trying to get the public motivated about environmental decline.
Here's a very good story in the Washington Post about some of the big versus small accomplishments in restoring the Chesapeake Bay. It's a challenge to keep the big picture straight. Yes, shad levels today are great compared to the 1980's when they were so depleted the entire fishery was closed. But the Potomac isn't exactly running silver as was written about back in the days of George Washington. So it's a classic shifting baseline story for many who fail to grasp what was once there. And given the bigger picture of annual late-summer oxygen depletion, algae blooms and elevated temperatures, it sounds a bit like a ray of sunshine in the impending storm.
But that brings up the question of "motivational messaging." Some people feel the most important thing is "to give people hope," so they don't just give up on everything. Others feel the truth, at all costs, is more important. I tend to fall on either side, depending up on the circumstance. But one thing I do know is that when you do have a great story of hope, you really need to lead with it. Which makes me disappointed that in Al Gore's movie he spends the whole time predicting doom and gloom and only near the very end does he quickly say, "oh, and by the way, once upon a time the whole planet came together to fix a similar problem with the Montreal protocol."
I guess I'm not supposed to say anything negative about the sacred Al Gore film, but it sure would have been more effective (and fewer people sitting around me would have fallen asleep) if he had opened with this great story about, "Once upon a time, on a little blue planet there was this atmospheric crisis that all nations came together and solved. And it didn't involve carbon dioxide -- it was about chloroflurocarbons and the ozone hole in 1985 ..." And then launched into the premise of, "Why isn't this happening today with the global warming problem." THAT is an example of using a positive example to inspire hope and guide the way.
But its different from the idea of using "minor victories" as motivation in a failing battle, and running the risk of people getting the wrong message that "we're winning" and so not worrying about the problem.
Its a complex time that requires sophisticated thinking in all this "messaging."
Chesapeake Bay: the operation was a complete success, but the patient may still be dying