Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Switching Off

As many know, I hold Newsnight to a high standard.

Few serious, in-depth news shows remain, and even fewer give you a slim chance of the issues being challenged and discussed.

More often than not these days even they seem to have excavated below the base of the barrel in terms of trivia and are often almost rivalling BBC Breakfast News in the blonde and bouffant sofa set stakes when it comes to cringeworthy topics, one presumes in an attempt to broaden their appeal.

However I did not consider Ethical Man to be in that category. When it started it seemed a decent attempt to inform and debate, to which I often contributed.

But it lost its way a bit, especially when the reporter (and his family) seemed to become more important than what he was saying. And the needs of TV took precedence over the theoretical example being set. Flying to Jamaica to install a low energy bulb being just one rather dubious example.

And at the end I was more than disappointed. Instead of a rational round-up, the overwhelming feeling was one of 'thank heavens that is over'. It was portrayed as a rather unpleasant (Jamaica?) exercise in doing without that was disposed of like this week's refuse. Been there, done that, got the hemp T-shirt... and the promotion.

Were sharing environmental issues always so convenient to package, and then move on from.

Hence I was intrigued to see it reappear again, somewhat out of the blue.

And the topic was not one that had really excised me as barely relevant, namely the human remains element of composting (which obviously still does as a daily household task).

Is it legal to compost your loved ones?

It seems that some anorak has nagged him/them on a point of order, and so he/they (possibly as a requirement of charter) have replied.

It could have been a worthwhile addendum I guess, but came back more as a snipe. But for me, one small thing bubbled up again and made me see red.

'...after the demise of Ethical Man I wanted to move on. I didn’t want to let his shadow affect the rest of my working life...'

Is this just personal, or BBC-endorsed corporate practice after any piece or editorial regarding potentially environmentally sound practices by individuals?

It just rather comes across as a tad 'well, we only got all nanny-eco on you viewers for the programme at the time. That was then. Now there are new ratings to climb.'

So... all back in the 4x4s and off on the international bus... holiday jollies swigging imported water again?

That's the problem one runs into when some messengers undercut the value of the messages they claim to be promoting. Like a Spice doing 'Planet Earth Cool' one week 'for her kids' and hopping a Lear the next.

With luck any future promoters of what 'we' should (or was it always just 'could', a stance I'd favour but seldom how most finger-wagging ecoslots I see tend to come across: 'Ban all plastic bags - except composting ones of course, which only work in vessel and hence are no good in the back garden with Uncle's corpse - and buy a fashion hemp job from my mate's bijou shopette now!!!!') do for 'our' own good may inspect the story chalice they are handed from every angle before they grab the career-enhancing, if limited duration, profile it represents. And fully consider the consequences if not done for all the right reasons.

'Nice, middle class, middle income Yuppie journo dabbled in some cute eco stuff and found it wasn't much fun and cramped a lot of style, not to mention career and social avenues, and so quietly dropped it for the next in line to pick up equally temporarily as he headed to less carbon-friendly pastures'.

Like Mr. Cameron's wind turbine, it may be better to not do it at all than make it seem like a bit of a passing fad.

That is, if Aunty does really think there is a bit of a potentially man-worsened climate change issue it mightn't hurt motivating the public around.

Or is this 'do as we say, not necessarily need to do'?

On reflection I wonder if I was being totally fair. He was just doing his job, and mostly what he was told to do. But that's the point. There is a bigger issue here, and that is the media, and especially our national broadcaster's role in how we portray environmental issues.

On the one hand we have near daily nags and finger-wags and guilt-trips about how we as individuals are not doing all we can to save the planet, and yet so often when it is treated less superficially with a special or an in-depth report the science is so skimpy, the agenda so blatant and/or the reporter so flip that the whole thing just comes across as playing at it to score a cheap topical rating or to fill a target or box-tick.

And so very rarely are real-life, practical ways the normal consumer can do something and still have fun, maybe save some real money get portrayed. Possibly because they are often mundane, and hence not very televisual. Hence we don't get an investigation into why we have packaging that is 'compostable' but actually not unless it is at a special facility (which few will know) or what might happen if we all decided on back-garden loos, a health issue on par with planting Uncle I hazard.

It seems depressingly symbolic. Doing right by the environment seems to be 'so last year'. At least in the way those in the public eye are now coming across. Which is serving the cause poorly.

One reason I have not set myself up as a great example is that I may yet falter. And while what I am doing now is as good as I can be, the demands of career or social pressures may yet also drag me to do things that are not the best examples to set. But at least I have not been saying folk should be doing these things from a very high, but very temporary pedestal. With good reason. Many just don't seem reasonable, or practical, for the vast majority in modern life, and especially without first putting place much better mechanisms to help us.

So the next time we get some well-funded, camera-crew surrounded (it's amazing how the whole town turned out to help) extreme 'eco-hero', I hope those that create the concept bear in mind the consequences when the hero is revealed to be all-too human. Especially when it comes across as not mattering much anyway.