Sparing the child

by Robert Nanninga


he first rains have yet to touch Southern California, and already the media is wrapping itself in a blanket of exaggerated paranoia. On the local and national news, not a day goes by without an "El Niño" report. If only global warming would get even half the attention being paid to that crazy kid from South America.

At the center of all this reporting is the constant barrage of images, complete with floods, mass destruction, and the dead, (both human and non-human) lining the streets. It has always been my opinion that mainstream media is anti-environment, and the way the impending weather front is being portrayed, one can't help but see himself a victim of something that has yet to happen.

Undoubtedly this sort of hyperbole is very profitable for the media machine, yet I think it is vital that we look deeper to what is a more sinister truth: the vilification of nature. Now that the cold war is officially over, Russia is currently off the hook, and as we have yet to enroll China to play the role, what better villain than Mother Nature, in all her cruel and indiscriminate violence.

Instead of addressing the real issues confronting us, such as clean air, clean water, food free of synthetic chemicals, vanishing wilderness, and dwindling resources, we allow the five multinational media conglomerates tell us when and where to panic. And since very little is known about why warm water backs up in the South Pacific, causing irregular weather patterns, it is easy for the media to whip up a fear based entirely on ignorance. Why confront problems that you can change, when you can wring your hands and worry over things that you can't?

Case in point: the fires of Malaysia. For weeks now, these fires have burned out of control, set by farmers seeking to turn rainforests into cash crops for the palm oil, rubber, and pulp and paper industries. Yet somehow El Niño has been accused of adding to the problem. At the height of the fires, the American press gave very little coverage to a host of topics that affect the global community such as increased greenhouse gases, the threat of monocultural tree plantations and the loss of endangered populations of Sumatran elephants, tigers and orangutans. So instead the networks blame the disaster on El Niño for delaying the monsoon rains, completely ignoring that these slash-and-burn tactics have been illegal in Malaysia since 1995. Also being avoided are the facts in regards to American involvement in the region's environmental destruction.


 Meanwhile, back at bluffside, intrepid reporters are searching for a human interest story. So they stick a microphone in the face of a government employee who says she is very worried about the potential danger of winter storms enhanced by El Niño's fury. Isn't it odd that these folks constantly ignore the true cause of beach and bluff erosion along the coast: development, plain and simple. If you're worried about storms washing your home into the ocean, don't build or buy a domicile situated on unstable bluffs. If you're concerned about wave damage to your beach front restaurant, does it make sense to invest in anything ten yards above the high tide line?

Convinced that it is the weather that is to blame, not poor planning choices, we seek to compound the problem by trying to hold back the ocean. So we build hideous cement barriers that only serve to remind us how futile our efforts really are. Refusing to live in balance with nature, and that includes the occasional El Niño, we vilify the elements. To make the vilification process easier, we give the storms names like Hurricane Andrew, as if that makes it easier to explain why your life was leveled.

Now don't get me wrong, even I know there is need for storm preparation: clean out the rain gutters, remove questionable foliage, stock a few sandbags just in case, all common sense. Here in San Diego the residents of the Tijuana River Valley complain every year about flooding caused by winter storms. El Niño or not, they get flooded, and as regular as clockwork they start calling for the channelization of the river. So once again the cement saviour is called upon to rescue people not bright enough to see the connection between rain and runoff.

If we were to be completely honest something currently not required by those reporting the news or those making it we would have to admit that human endeavors have a more substantial impact on the planet than a brief shift in weather patterns, which for all we know, might be a natural pressure relief valve for a weather system far greater than the El Niño itself. But instead of educating ourselves and learning to live in harmony with the planet that supports our existence, we point fingers, placing the blame at the feet of an unruly child who visits once every ten years, guilty of only of doing what it has always done.

It is now more important than ever for those of with the sense to see the sacredness of the elements as they dance around the globe, to say no to anti-environment propaganda and manufactured hysteria. It is time for us to remind people that weather happens, and it always will.

Robert Nanninga is an independent video producer, actor, vegan and an active member of the Green and environmental communities