A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Monday, February 21, 2005


We inhabit a world of 24-hour 'News'. Is this good for us? Every second, of every day, some hack, somewhere, is taking the temperature of the Earth.

As we emerge, a tad shakily, out of a troubled night's sleep, one Joe Grundy is being harangued on 'Farming Today' about the dire impact that modern farming methods, and greedy fish farmers, are having on the dwindling populations of the Lesser-Spotted Sporran (Tartana maculata W. Scott, 1824). This endangered Scottish rarity (with an isolated Ice Age relic in East Anglia - it is always East Anglia) might be reduced to having to survive in Sweden. At 6.00 am, on the 'Today' programme, we finally wake up fully to "dramatic and incontrovertible" evidence that apocalyptic 'global warming' is really taking place (if only in the oceans), and that the Earth is spinning out of control. On reading our newspaper over breakfast, or on the train, we learn that a killer virus can spread from ducks to lambs, and then on to Mary herself, and that teddy bears harbour a serious, and potentially deadly, superbug, called Roosevelt 2. An ex-nanny tells us that we need to clean our bears daily, and much more thoroughly. She will not be pooh-poohed.

At elevenses, over the bottled water (water coolers have been declared "contaminated"), Tamara assures us that (she has just read the latest issue of SOD - Salad and Organic Days), if we eat anything other than carefully-washed (in vinegar) organic carrots and basil, it will surely give us cancer (we observe that Tamara is quite happy to use her mobile phone while driving - "I know I shouldn't, but it really is too much trying to tell us what to do all the time! I understand my own levels of risk, thank you very much," she retorts).

Then, the lunch-time Edition of the Evening Standard blares out a grim warning that an asteroid is predicted (sometime?) to hit Trafalgar Square (it is named 'Nelson 1eyE') and that the underground will be "FLOODED" if we do not increase the Congestion Charge forthwith. Meanwhile, on 'Jeremy Vine', they are earnestly discussing the benefits of holistic arboreal medicine which will heal the rift between our inner auras and the broken Earth (one Mrs Trellis has just phoned in.....)

As, in the late evening, we stagger home, the 24-hour television that dominates the Railway Platform Information Board is telling us that "a scientific study" predicts a massive rise in TB among holiday makers visiting Glasgow and among those who drink too much non-'Fair Trade' coffee. At London Bridge station, the train (as ever) grinds to a halt alongside an enormous Mordor-like billboard showing 'The Evil Empire of the Climate-Change Deniers' (courtesy of The Carbon Trust).

At last, we reach home, only to find the local rag ranting on about a monstrous mobile phone mast that is threatening the young lives of the town's school rugby team. A protest scrum will be held on Saturday. Inadvertently turning on Radio 4 (for relaxation!), we learn, via a tear-stained 'Costing the Earth', that rat populations are burgeoning in our cities, but that rats should be treated as a 'friendly' part of the ecosystem, and that one Homer Simpson has been appointed to run Sellafield. The programme goes nuclear. We can no longer face the prospect of listening to Rose, Boycott and Longley in 'The Moral Maze' rabbiting on about the morality of the Sixth Great Extinction.

However, we foolishly turn to 'Newsnight', only to be lectured that George W. is about to destroy the whole of Alaska (actually Beringia, Paxman corrects the speaker) and that polar bears are turning black to adapt, cryptically, to increased levels of soot in the atmosphere (brown bears are also turning red in the mid-West. I wonder why?). 'Newsnight Review' then praises an innovative, but inwardly dark, modern ballet, called: "Atishoo! Atishoo! We all fall down." (Deborah Bull particularly admires 'The Dance of the GM Daffodils', while Tom Paulin muses if 'The Black Pustule' pas-de-deux truly captures the wickedness of Bush's America). Finally, we are just trying to calm ourselves with a strong single malt before bed, when we notice that there is a programme on how the whisky industry is destroying our last remaining peat moorlands..... and so on, and so on, ad infinitum.

And the 'Book at Bedtime'? The Grey Goolag by Charlie Wails (Doomsday Publications, Islington).

Is it worth waking up again? "This morning, we look at the serious problem of soil erosion in East Anglia....."

The richer we get, the more neurotic we become. Hypochondriacs worry constantly about their bodily health, and they see every little twinge, however trivial, as evidence of a serious, and often terminal, condition. Ecochondriacs are fundamentally the same, with ecochondriasis being the unrealistic and persistent belief, or fear, that the Earth, and thus we, are suffering from one critical sickness after another, despite the fact that the Earth is the toughest of old boots and life goes on - indeed, is improving for many people (me included).

A prime cause of ecochondriasis is unquestionably the mass hysteria by proxy that is encouraged by our world of 24-hour 'Breaking News' and by the taking of the Earth's temperature every second of every day. This can too often reduce people to obsessive-compulsive disorders (like recycling festishistically), to phobias (fears of everything, from mobile phones to new crops), to depression ("We're all doomed!"), and to generalized anxiety disorders ("Should we use only bottled water in bird baths?"). What is particularly worrying, however, is that many campaign organisations, politicians, and much of the media actually wish to maintain people in this depressive medical condition. It is the new opiate for the masses.

About a year ago, after having taken The Gloomiad as one of our breakfast newspapers for nearly all of our lives, we stopped the order (enough was enough, and we could check anything we really needed to online).

Do you know - I have felt a great deal happier ever since. Mind you, I am truly sorry for the folk who read the Indy.

Philip, increasingly listening to Bach instead of the 'News' and smiling sweetly at our obsessive and noisy, ecochondriac world. Believe me, the Earth doesn't care - it will survive pretty well anything, from volcanoes to ice ages, from Monbiot to Lomborg. Enjoy yourself.

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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