Monday, August 21, 2006

enviro-science-media cocktail, wilkinson on cod

An Inconvenient Truth. (Guggenheim, 2006)

"Dirty Jobs" On the Discovery Channel. Tuesdays 9PM EST.

"The Lobsterman." by Alec Wilkinson. The New Yorker. July 31, 2006

A concerned and observant citizen may notice changes in the local fauna.

"Dirty Jobs" Two out of two graduate students (I did a poll) have a huge crush on Mike Rowe, host of Dirty Jobs. I learned about "Dirty Jobs, the new Discovery Channel series that profiles the unsung American laborers who make their living in the most unthinkable — yet vital — ways" during a week with cable TV and I really enjoyed this show. Rowe asks good questions and explains things well (how the hippo tank works) and he manages to balance curious and respectful without being too sensational . . . he seems cool and comfortable when he pitches in to help and he seems to do a nice job explaining what kinds of education and experience the "unsung American laborers" bring to their work. Did I mention this show is about "unsung American laborers" ?? Well, it is. How brilliant is that? The voiceover for the show says explictly that we rely on this labor for the things we enjoy, etc . . . never mind the ethics of hippos in cages, I'm being strategic here. Hold your horses.

An Inconvenient Truth. A stirring documentary about the making of a fact-filled powerpoint! A triumph of the dull! What were they thinking? Mr. Gore seems really invested in facts and the truth and what have you, but like the (unidentified?) Chinese girl says in the Q&A session, "What do we DO?" I understand about as much about the science of global warming as I ever did (maybe more, maybe less) and I understand the scientific imperative, but what can we do besides vote? Don't give me a few pointers for modifying my individual behavior at the close of the film; my generation grew up with a few pointers and they haven't helped whatsoever.

When Gore tries to introduce a moral imperative and an emotional appeal for fighting global warming, he falls a bit flat. World War II? 9/11? Exploitative and cliched already. Katrina and Mumbai floods? Millions of people don't live in Louisiana and/or Mumbai because they don't even want to see poor people.

Good points: I think the film really made it clear to me what we lose, as a public, as citizens, when we abandon rational scientific discourse. The whole smoking-cancer link as a "theory" rather than fact was great.

"The Lobsterman" No wonder people like the New Yorker.

"Fish scientists typically think that what fishermen know applies only to the behavior of fish on grounds the fishermen work and can't be applied to a species. Or they dismiss what fishermen tell them because it doesn't easily fit into the computer models the scientists rely on, or because they believe that in passing from one fisherman to another the accounts have been corrupted."

"Fishermen are scornful of scientists. 'A bunch of eggheads that don't know enough to tie their shoelaces, and ninety-nine per cent of them never saw salt water till they worked for the fisheries department.'" (58)

And so on and so on, until . . . Ted Ames, fisherman biologist, who combines interviews and oral history with population studies and a familiarity with the environement with a belief in the power of knowledge to manage and preserve species for commerical profit and sustainability.

In the words of a professor of marine biology, "'What Ted was able to do is use his background in science to turn the oral history that he knew from his childhood into something valuable to the scientific community. Everything he did, he did in a peer-reviewed, publishable way, and it was rigorous, but I bet you he knew the answer when he started." (62)

So I propose a new Discovery Channel show, starring and/or produced by Mike Rowe in which the host visits various communities across the US and talks to residents (not necessarily environmentalists but rather people like Ames and his subjects who live in and depend on changing environments) about the changes they have noticed in flora and fauna, air and water quality, temperatures, even development.

Then these issues could be put into dialog with studies at local universities or broader discussions of the consequences of global warming. I think a show like this could validate and explore lots of different kinds of knowledge and involve new and different voices in the environmental movement and even promote good science education and technological innovation on the local and national level . . . Anybody have a good suggestion for a name?

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