The Managed World: Green Noise Means You Can’t Have Everything

There is no place on earth, no matter how remote, untouched by humans. We are mighty: we can trawl the deep, explore the South Pole, and fish every single island in the South Pacific. But as every young nerdling knows, with great power comes great responsibility. “The Managed World” series in the Oyster’s Garter explores the hard choices that come from a human-dominated world.

Green is in, but for how long? As the number of “environmentally friendly” products and messages grows and grows, people are starting to see the tradeoff that need to be made. Do you care more about organic or local, salmon or renewable energy, energy-intensive paper or petroleum-based plastic?

The New York Times seems to think this is a public relations problem. They label the phenomenon “green noise” and claim it’s “static caused by urgent, sometimes vexing or even contradictory information played at too high a volume for too long.” So their solutions focus on reducing the volume of information.

But that’s wrong. These are real tradeoffs that can’t be fixed by a sleeker message. The recent Wired piece on “Inconvenient Truths: Get Ready to Rethink What it Means to be Green” gets at some of these problems, albeit in a tediously self-satisfied way. (Calling yourself environmental apostates is SO Bjorn Lomborg.)

Wired decided that it cared most about climate change, and made this list accordingly:

Now, you can take issue with these individual points – and I do. For example, I think their Farm the Forests point – that old growth forests should be razed and made into carbon-sequestering furniture, and new forests should be planted into order to trap more carbon – to be both ludicrous and incorrect. Nonetheless, the Wired article is thinking in the right direction. They focused on a particular issue instead of pretending that all environmental goals are automatically compatible.

We can’t have everything all at once. Living in San Diego, I buy local produce, which is grown in the high desert with water from the San Joaquin delta and Colorado River, all pumped for hundreds of miles over mountains at huge energetic expense and at serious ecological cost to the delta. The part of our electricity that is renewable comes from wind farms, but the windmills kill migrating birds. So, as we try to figure out what world we want, the question is not “should we make compromises” but “what compromises should we make?”


5 Responses to The Managed World: Green Noise Means You Can’t Have Everything

  1. Sam says:

    It’s true. (And problematic, because as “green” becomes a mainstream choice, the national discussion of these issues automatically dumbs down. Mainstream media don’t like complicated, nuanced discussions of painful topics with no clear right answer.)

    And I’m glad you read that article. Take it to task some more, plz! Tediously self-satisfied is only the beginning of the problem…

  2. Eric and I meant to do a series on that Wired article back when it came out, but it got away from us. At the risk of being Behind the Internet Timez, we will take it up again.

  3. Eric Wolff says:

    It’s not that the mainstream media doesn’t like complicated nuanced discussions, it’s that *people* don’t like complicated nuanced discussions. If mainstream readers consumed information that way, the mainstream media would write it.

  4. Lots of wisdom here. For a closer look at the irrationality of California water policy take a look at my website,
    I’ve been writing about California water politics for nearly 40 years, first as a reporter for United Press International and the Fresno Bee and now as an attorney/environmental activist and board member of the California Water Impact Network.
    As a former award-winning reporter I can tell you that most of the mainstream media, with a few exceptions, are clueless about the real shenanigans that go on in the water world. Indeed, not a single newspaper in California, including the Los Angeles Times, has a reporter assigned full-time to the water beat even though everyone seems to agree water is THE CRITICAL ISSUE in California.
    Lloyd Carter

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