May 5, 2009
Hyping hysteriaBy Michael J. Economides
The alliance between politicians, their supporters with agendas and the news media is an unholy union, one that does not need elaborate conspiracies to consummate. Hysteria and alarmism in the news is a business-driven matrimony and, in spite of proclamations of safeguarding the public's right to know, it has little to do with knowing the truth.
For us westerners our press was supposed to be one of the main institutions that separated us from the rest of the world, made us be smug about the superiority of our political system. It was supposed to be different from totalitarian regimes where the press expresses no opinions other than the party line. Our newspapers and TV were supposed to be unbiased and objective.
But the situation today has become pitiful. It may be because of the evolution of the internet and the collapse of the traditional press; it may also be because pop culture has changed and the press is feeding on it. As William Allen White, the father of the American regional newspaper once said: "a newspaper is as good as the community it serves."
Tarting the news, mixing gossip and the salacious with serious issues, has destroyed much of the high road. It is hard to find common ground between Hollywood theatrics (and any pretensions of social concerns) with war and economics. Still, this can be shrugged off. Nobody forces one to read a particular newspaper and the TV channel changer is one of the most powerful tools of modern freedom.
Where the press has become dangerous, a disastrous influence, is the almost universal inkling towards alarmism, where the hysterias it spawns and the responses to them, grossly outweigh the dangers from the "crises" in the first place. It sells and, used by politicians, wins them elections and advances hidden agendas.
The latest, the swine flu, came in as an enormous dragon; just a week later it was reduced to a mere lion. Most probably it will go out as mouse, not even as a lamb.
Echoes of another flu scare, this one in 1976, when the US Congress mandated the vaccination of every citizen: 25 people died from the vaccine, one died from the flu.
The list of politicians/press-fomented scares is endless.
AIDS, identified in the United States in 1981, has infected less than half a million people since then (about 1 in 600) (http://www.avert.org/usa-statistics.htm.) "High-risk heterosexual" transmission, read totally unprotected sex, is blamed for 24% of the cases which translates to about 1 in 2500. My guess is that for reasonable people the chances approach those of being hit by a lightning. And yet, if one read some of the news of those days, a good 75% of us by now would be carrying the virus. It was the religious right, the gay activists and their assorted politicians that formed that alliance. It was the religious right, the gay activists and their assorted politicians that formed that alliance.
By the mid-1980s, as if cut by a knife, AIDS changed the free and fun mores of two generations, terrified hundreds of millions to this day, but, even more seriously, it redirected an enormous amount of medical research at the expense of many others.
And who is to forget Y2K and the global catastrophe it was supposed to bring?
But nothing comes close to the global warming hysteria.
Even the most outrageous 'green' positions have been legitimized, as being "socially responsible". Environmentalism has provided the ideology for people to grab at a meaning in their life. It has become the religion of the 'non -religious'. As the recently deceased science writer and novelist Michael Crichton famously put it: "One of the most powerful religions in the Western world is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists."
Western countries have been a particular target for environmentalists for more than four decades. Global warming alarmism handed the environmental movement and socialist ideologues, often the same individuals, an unprecedented opportunity. After all, what higher moral action could there be than saving the planet? How can one have enough of a good thing? Save the planet while cutting down in size the most hated, most profligate and, oh so, more successful nations on earth?
It was perhaps the most brilliant politically and ideologically loaded masterstroke in many decades. Because the United States, one of the least polluting nations in the world could now be accused as one of the largest polluters and this was directly linked with the use of energy sources, one of the most vital links to a prosperous life. Clearly implied even if not uttered is that America's wealth and power has not only been at the expense of the rest of the world, a common refrain of leftist ideologues for decades, but, in addition, it has put the entire physical not just human world in severe peril.
Many in the press love all this.
It would be only an intellectual exercise one that would surely pass like the others had it not been for what politicians try to do. On April 17 the United States EPA declared finally what many had hoped and others dreaded: that there is "overwhelming and compelling evidence" that "greenhouse gases in the atmosphere endanger the public health of current and future generations." It went on to adopt the most strident and alarmist presumed catastrophes from climate change such as rising sea levels, more wildfires, more hurricanes and degraded air quality.
Just trying to change from fossil fuels to wind and solar, which is not just economically but physically impossible, will cost unbelievable amount of money and lots of suffering. Ultimately, it will simply not happen.
In the meantime do not underestimate the power of the press and politicians to use alarmism to affect this "change." What do not change are the transparent benefits from alarmism.
Economides is a professor at the University of Houston and Editor-on-Chief of the Energy Tribune