Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Air Pollution & Airwaves Pollution

We have a wonderful guide here in Hong Kong: a young mother of two named Donna.  Donna has lived in Hong Kong for many years.  That’s why she doesn’t notice the air pollution the way we visitors do.  We squint through the haze at the dim silhouettes of nearby mountains and buildings. But Donna doesn’t much notice.
Sometimes you need to be away from home to see the obvious.  It makes me wonder: Back home in the States, what do we fail to see because it’s always with us?
Well, it just dawned on me as I was watching Chinese TV the other day.  It’s the ads.  The TV here has lots of ads we’d recognize.  They advertise cosmetics, tinned cookies, pizza and milk products.  They advertise movies, financial services, nutritional supplements and electronics retailers.  They advertise public service matters, like vaccines and public health concerns.  The ads are a bit strange to my American eye, but they’re not fundamentally different from what we do in the U.S.
But then it dawned on me that something’s missing.  It’s what they DON’T have.  There are none of those oil, gas and coal ads that don’t appear to be selling anything at all.  No one is telling the Chinese every day how good a thing it is that they can burn fossil fuels all the time.
"Clean Coal" ad campaign
Now maybe you’re wondering, what fossil fuel ads? Well, any morning or evening, just flip on the cable news station: Fox, CNN, MSNBC, or whatever you like.  Within 30 minutes, you’ll see several ads like these:
Clean Coal; America’s Power: The coal industry incessantly attempting to wed two fundamentally incompatible words, despite the near total abandonment of serious “clean coal” technologies;
Natural gas “could create one million new American jobs”:  The American Natural Gas Association telling how safe, clean and abundant gas from hydro-fracking and shale gas really is;
ExxonMobil telling us how “oil sands” in Canada are as clean as “some other conventional oils,” and promising more American jobs;
Exxon's fracking guy reassures us
Chevron apparently siding with environmentally-conscious young people in their criticisms of the oil industry, telling us that they’re already way ahead of the curve; and
BP inviting us all back to the Gulf of Mexico, where everything is now just fine.
I can recite some of these ads from memory.  But here’s the thing: What are they spending all the ad money for back in the U.S.?  And why don’t they bother in China?
Well, from a distance, it’s obvious. America establishes its energy policies at the ballot box. China doesn’t.  If the facts freely spoke for themselves, any nation in the world would act quickly to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, as the Chinese are working feverishly to do, despite their enormous industrial growth.
Back home, our political process is awash with oil & coal money.  But much of it doesn’t take the form of political contributions.  The money behind all those ads keeps our news outlets happily dependent on the fossil-fuel industries.  And they hammer into our collective consciousness the soothing message:  Don’t worry about the future; just keep using more oil, gas and coal. You can trust us to take care of you.
ExxonMobil ads feature attractive people working for a better world
But like Donna and the air pollution here in Hong Kong, we hardly notice all this back home. And I think – don’t you? – that that’s pretty much what the oil & coal advertisers are counting on. As I watch the U.S. political process from afar, I think they’re getting good value for their ad money. Burning fossil fuels into the atmosphere is our God-given right; and the barrage of TV ads are making sure it stays that way.
Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.
J. Elwood

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