Tuesday, October 04, 2005

hope and SEJ conference reflections

I wrote this when I got home from the Society of Enviromental Journalists national conference in Austin and the issues of the day that environmental journalists, editors, writers, broadcasters face. I will update my blog more later - the conference was great and I now have to play catch-up! I got my new Canon Rebel Digital and have been playing with it a bit.

Hope and reflections - by Wendee Holtcamp

As someone who does not have a working TV, in the opening plenary I watched for the first time the scenes of New Orleans. It moved me to tears to see the devastation and the people calling out for help. It angered me to hear the politicians congratulating themselves for doing good jobs and claiming ignorance to the severity of the situation. What a powerful and important job we have.

Time and again in the world’s history, the powerful take advantage of those without an ability to fight back. The environment has no voice of its own. The forests and the air and the water are silent. The wild creatures that depend on healthy ecosystems for their survival do not have any voice except for their ability to affect us enough to speak for them. I do believe that the environment’s only chance for a healthy future -- and that environment ultimately sustains humankind as well --is the voice that we as journalists and storytellers speak.

So many people – people I know – truly believe that everything is fine in the world, that the politicians are doing a good job, and that the environment is as healthy as ever. I try to comprehend why so many people seem so apathetic, because people react viscerally when they see injustice, but for the most part, people are not reacting to many of the world’s imminent environmental and political crises. Citizens are not being forced to not speak out. So why are people not reacting?

I can only believe that people simply do not yet believe it. And they don’t believe it because they do not yet see it clearly. There is too much propaganda from every direction and the public has little ability judge the reliability of information. They don’t know what science to trust, what media to trust and what people to trust so they make up their own minds on who to believe. We have to gain back the trust of the public. We have to show that environmental issues pervade every aspect of our lives, and we have to tell these stories in an accurate, compelling, raw, and honest way.

In Bill Moyers eloquent speech, I believe he was passing the torch to all of us. Instead of passing it to one person, we can each hold a small light with which we can bear witness to the truth through our writing, broadcasting, and storytelling. There is a huge audience out there that we are not reaching, because if they understood the gravity of many of the environmental crises in their own backyards, in their lives, in their air, their water, their food, I have no doubt that more people would not tolerate it. People wake up, eat meals, take showers, drive to work, fill their cars with gasoline, work in their offices, go shopping, and go on with their daily lives with little attention to what truly goes into each of these activities and how their small daily actions affect the planet that they will ultimately leave to their children, and my children.

It breaks my heart to know that I may leave my children a world that is darker, more soiled, and less healthy than that which I was born into. It was my father’s generation who fought to pass the Clean Air and Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Law to leave the world a better place for me when I was a child in the 1970s. I still want to enjoy pristine forests, sustainable cities, healthy food, and clean air and water. I want all the species that exist today to exist in a hundred years. We have a right to protect what our parents fought to leave us, and that is now being stolen from under us. Our weapon of choice is the written word, and the spoken voice, and it is a critically important fight we face. As Joseph Pulitzer said in a quote I keep at my desk, “Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.”

People reason with their minds but ultimately make choices with their hearts. We need to engage both intellect and spirit in order to reach more people with the truth of what is happening in our nation and our world. There is so much darkness yet I refuse to feel hopeless or powerless, because I am not.

When I sit here at my computer writing, I like to burn a candle and to think of this light as symbolic of my ability to bring clarity and vision to those who can not yet clearly see.

As Thomas Merton said in No Man is an Island, “A man of sincerity is less interested in defending the truth than in stating it clearly, for he thinks that if the truth can be clearly seen it can very well take care of itself.

It was a great conference. Until next year, keep the hope alive.

[PS The photos were taken at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin which we visited on an SEJ conference tour. The top photo is the "green roof" or ecoroof modules that will be installed on top of a strip center in Austin that includes a Starbucks.]

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