The following is an excerpt from the book Newspeak in the 21st Century by David Edwards and David Cromwell of Media Lens published in 2009 by Pluto Press. You can find out more about the book and buy it here.
In 2006, an explosive front-page article in the Independent was titled: "Earth's ecological debt crisis: mankind's 'borrowing' from nature hits new record." Martin Hickman, the newspaper's consumer affairs correspondent, explained the results of a study featured in the story:
Evidence is mounting that rapid population growth and rising living standards among the Earth's six billion inhabitants are putting an intolerable strain on nature. For the first time an organisation — a British think-tank — has sought to pinpoint how quickly man is using the global resources of farming land, forests, fish, air and energy.
By analysing data from the US academic group Global Footprint Network, the think-tank has worked out the day each year when "humanity starts eating the planet". Just like a company bound for bankruptcy, the world started falling into ecological debt on October 9 that year. Hickman explained: "Problems, affecting everything from the seabed to the stratosphere, range from carbon dioxide emissions to the destruction of rainforests to the intensification of agriculture". The crisis Hickman was describing could hardly be more serious: humanity really is devouring the planet's life-support systems. And yet, typically for mainstream reporting, Hickman's analysis of the causes behind the crisis was lost in unsupported, clichéd assertions about "rapid population growth" and global "rising living standards". It is not just that "mankind" is "'borrowing' from nature", as Hickman claimed — the problem is rooted in a particular form of politics controlled by wealthy elites.
Consider some of the key issues that should be at the heart of any analysis of the looming catastrophe under discussion. And consider how inclusion of these issues is all but inconceivable in any corporate newspaper. These issues include:
- The inherently biocidal, indeed psychopathic, logic of corporate capitalism, structurally locked into generating maximised revenues in minimum time at minimum cost. As corporations are legally obliged to maximise profits for shareholders, it is in fact illegal for corporations to prioritise the welfare of people and planet above private profits. How can this simple fact of entrenched corporate immorality not be front and centre in any discussion of the industrial destruction of global life-support systems?
- The proven track record of big business in promoting catastrophic consumption regardless of the consequences for human and environmental health. Whether disregarding the links between smoke and cancer, junk food and obesity, Third World exploitation and human suffering, oil exploration and lethal climate change, factory farming and animal suffering, high salt consumption and illness, corporations have consistently subordinated human and animal welfare to short-term profits.
- The relentless corporate lobbying of government to shape policies to promote and protect private power.
- The billions spent by the advertising industry to promote consumer products and services, creating artificial 'needs', with children an increasing target.
- The collusion between powerful companies, investors and state planners to install compliant dictators in client states around the world.
- The extensive use of loans and tied aid that ensnare poor nations in webs of debt, ensuring that the West retains control of their resources, markets and development.
- The deployment of threats, bribery and armed force against countries that attempt to pursue self-development, rather than economic or strategic planning sanctioned by 'the international community'.
- The lethal role of the corporate media in promoting the planet-devouring aims of private power.
In a powerful book titled The Decline of Capitalism, economist Harry Shutt explains how the current system ensures "the wasteful diversion of economic value added into the pockets of the small minority who also (through their disproportionate wealth) exercise largely unaccountable political power". As Shutt rightly concludes, global capitalism is "too dysfunctional to be tolerable in a civilised society". Forty years ago, Martin Luther King called for "a radical restructuring of the architecture of American society". He observed: "Global capitalism is much more concerned with expanding the domain of market relations than with, say, establishing democracy, expanding elementary education, or enhancing the social opportunities of society's underdogs." Indeed, King increasingly questioned capitalism towards the end of his life: an aspect of his inspirational speeches that tends to be ignored by establishment commentators who are otherwise keen to praise him. He associated domestic racial and social inequality with US imperialism and social disparity abroad, denouncing what he called "the triple evils that are interrelated": "racism, economic exploitation, and war". In one speech, he said:
A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will 'thingify' them - make them things. Therefore they will exploit them, and poor people generally, economically. And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together.
King decried the "evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of society" which had "systematic rather than superficial flaws". He concluded that "radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced". But this deep problem, facing anyone hoping for genuine action to combat the environmental crisis, is beyond the pale of mainstream thought and public debate.
Ecologist Franz Broswimmer put it this way: "At its very core, the prevailing capitalist ethos and liberal word view of the modern industrial era remain expansionary and imperial, involving a calculated form of indifference to the social and ecological order." The social insanity of this capitalist-fuelled expansionism leads to 'inverted priorities', to adopt the phrase used by the social scientist Immanuel Wallerstein. Hence, dominant features of the economy include a trillion-dollar global arms budget, depletion of the planet's natural resources and a deepening economic apartheid between rich and poor. These features are, in the words of eco-feminist Mary Mellor: "not the neutral decisions of a market; they are the priorities of powerful people in powerful nations, mostly men whose gender, race, and class interests drive the capitalist political economic system and its worldwide system of accumulation and deprivation". It is simply not possible to understand, far less to address, the crises facing us without understanding these issues. But, of course, they are simply "not of this world" from the perspective of mainstream corporate news reporting and commentary.
These are compelling, evidence-based arguments that are buried beneath the complacent clichés favoured by even the best newspapers. We have sketched them only in the briefest detail here - the point is they are hardly ever discussed at all.