Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Braindead Megaphone and the Plague of Dead Critters

There's been a spike in worried reports over hundreds of dead blackbirds that fell from the sky in Arkansas on New Year's Eve, and hundreds more that fell from the skies over Louisiana a few days later.

Today, the internet is panicking over dead fish that are washing up by the thousands in Chesapeake Bay and Brazil. Some of the internet's more tabloid-inclined "news" sites are consolidating these local reports in fearsome stories that seem to imply a global pattern.

Not quite. The Arkansas blackbirds were probably done in by New Year's Eve fireworks. The other die-offs probably had more quotidian causes, like cold weather.

Mass wildlife deaths are nothing unusual. A cursory Google News search from 2010 locates similar stories about manatees (early last month in Florida), freshwater fish (in Vermont this past summer), and pelicans (in California last February).

So yes, it's a global pattern - one that's been going on for MILLIONS OF YEARS.

Unlike those other wildlife die-offs, though, this flock of Arkansas blackbirds had the misfortune of dying on New Year's Eve in the middle of the Bible Belt - a circumstance that destined them for celebrity among the merchants of end-times infotainment.

So when other wildlife die-offs occurred in Louisiana and Brazil and elsewhere in the following days, our global media culture didn't treat these relatively ordinary local phenomena as ordinary local phenomena - they treated them as pieces of a narrative from the book of Revelations.

Such is the pathetic state of environmental journalism, and environmental literacy, in the 21st century: instead of a nuanced discussion of our ecosystem's real threats and complex functions, CNN, the Huffington Post, and other braindead megaphone broadcasters prefer to give us a horror-movie plot that invents a fictional environmental disaster from insinuation (because, you know, real environmental disasters are so hard to come by these days).

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