Hosing Down Green Street

Newsday blows it again and green washes with black ink.

hosingstreetYears ago, our company produced several outdoor concerts and events. This experience led me to vow never to host an event exclusively held outside. Mother Nature is a cruel and unforgiving partner in such enterprises. Her ever-dwindling patience with our species is certainly not without cause, mind you. Perhaps this is why I felt as though we were in the clear by celebrating Mother this past weekend when the Press hosted the second annual Green Living Expo at Suffolk Community College. While the Expo is technically dedicated in her honor, I stayed true to the vow of hosting events indoors in case she was having a bad day on someone else’s account.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature’s lesser-known, ne’er-do-well cousin, “Murphy,” decided to intervene and delivered to us perhaps the warmest, sunniest April weekend on record—not exactly optimal conditions for hosting an indoor affair.
Not to be undone, redheaded stepchild “Insult-To-Injury” came along as I opened up my Newsday on Sunday to find their new Green Street LI section. Surely this will appear to be sour grapes on my part—or disingenuous criticism at best—but understand that I have also been a staunch defender of Newsday in this column before. In an era of downsized newsrooms nothing in our little world is more important than supporting good journalism. The problem is that this isn’t journalism. Not by objective standards or even their own admission.

This new endeavor actually runs a disclaimer that states it “does not involve the reporting and editing staff of Newsday.” Instead this weekly feature is compiled by the Community Affairs division with some content “provided by advertisers.” The Press shares many of these advertisers in common, actually, and most have something important to offer to the green movement. I should also mention that it is commonplace for newspapers to run special targeted advertising sections that include “advertorials.” The problem here is the altruistic packaging and the conspicuous absence of any real journalism. The mere fact that this disclaimer-laden piece is compiled sans Newsday’s editorial staff is greenwashing at its worst and boldest.

The economy alone is taking enough of a toll on the green movement that many now deem it a luxury, even though it is the ultimate necessity. This is not something to trivialize by slapping together strictly well-worn ad-supported tips. This is a topic that needs research, investigating, thinking. This moves beyond a top-five on “Why Composting is Good”; this requires coming up with a plan to make Long Island sustainable and taking down local polluters, even if they are potential advertisers.
Having spent the weekend with the true grassroots leaders on Long Island who work tirelessly day in and day out to move a positive environmental agenda forward, I can think of no greater insult to them than to have our only daily newspaper trivialize their work. Surely our fragile ecosystem, the air we breathe and the soil beneath us deserve better than this.

When I founded the Long Island Press seven years ago my father offered simple advice to me that I have never forgotten. Having lived and worked in media on Long Island for most of his career he told me that if the Press did nothing more than give Newsday a conscience, it would be a great success and enormous public service. So while gnawing away at this behemoth is my favorite pastime, this is personal for all of us. The very first issues of the Press featured lengthy editorials on renewable energy and investigative pieces on companies and government agencies that polluted the Island. Since then we haven’t wavered one bit. If Newsday has finally decided to grab a mitt and get in the game, then play ball like you mean it. If not, take a seat on the bench and leave the environmental reporting to us.

Taking Climate's Temperature

This Guy's Really Smart and Really Old

This weekend’s NY Times Magazine cover story is about the oft-quoted Freeman Dyson, a scientist who has come to embody the anti-climate change argument. The problem he presents is that he has typically been regarding as a leftist politically. Thus he’s quite the quagmire for global warming theorists because he feels as though it has been blown out of perspective; a dramatic departure from what one would assume his political and emotional leanings are. At 85 and after a brilliant career in the sciences, Dyson is in danger of being painted as a single issue mad scientist because of his feelings and the attention the global warming movement has garnered. He also seems old enough and personally comfortable enough not to really give a shit. It looks rather freeing quite honestly.

(He’s the opposite of my recollection of meeting Dr. Atkins at a dinner party just a couple of years before he passed away. When introduced to him I make the immature mistake of saying something like, “oh, the man behind the diet!” I can tell you that this is not how he wanted to be remembered. But I digress…)

I happen to believe that humans are having a significant impact on climate. But I wouldn’t want to debate Dyson. I’m not equipped to have this scientific conversation but I do have eyes, senses and a memory. I can see that my immediate world looks different than I remember as a kid. Trees struggling to determine when to bud, geese hanging in for prolonged winter stretches, fucked up storm patterns and fewer snow days. Things are, well, different. It’s difficult to determine who is in the right scientifically but frankly I think the argument itself is a waste of time. For some reason the very topic of global warming sparks debate and polarizes an otherwise important discussion.

The biggest boost to green living and the climate change movement would be to stop focusing on it. To steer the debate away from scientific theories of rising oceans and dying polar bears and focus it on the tangible aspects of the problem. Asthma, increased cancer rates and the deteriorating health of our children can be linked to poor air quality from dirty manufacturing processes, a poisonous food supply, backwards farming practices, the disappearance of important ecologies, and more. These are similar, if not identical, agents of global warming. Sick children are hard to argue against. Nothing against the polar bears but my marketing instincts tell me that Rush Limbaugh, Al Gore, Kim Jong Il and Freeman Dyson would all agree that we have compromised our children’s ability to live natural and healthy lives.

Sometimes it not what you say. It’s just how you say it.