As the world watched the royal funeral and the Hong Kong police were advancing in the war against disruptive harmonica, one comment caught my eye. The author wondered why the media had so much interest in the death of Queen Elizabeth II and so little about the impending death of the planet, which was announced around the same time.
Well, there was a whiff of republicanism about this – the author was Australian – and I’m not sure the outgoing Queen’s coverage was excessive. If you’re going to have a king or a queen—which is definitely optional and probably not a good idea—you might also recognize a breakout performance in the role.
The funeral might also have seemed a little over the top, but it was just a remnant of the ceremonies that hereditary kings used to shore up their power when they already had some.
For example, the Habsburg emperors had very elaborate funeral rites because they were buried in three different churches in Vienna: the body in the crypt of the Capuchin church on the New Market Square, the heart in the Augustinian chapel next to the Hofburg Palace, and the guts in copper sheaths below St. Stephen’s Cathedral, where still Visitors with a ghoulish disposition can see them.
So I do not envy the dear lady for her motorcade. However, the point about the planet is a good one.
We seem to be approaching, with no signs of severe braking, at several points where current climate problems – floods, fires, droughts – will be joined by more serious manifestations of planetary turbulence.
On any given day now, for example, the Greenland ice sheet could physically slide from the top of Greenland into the North Atlantic Ocean, resulting in an immediate and drastic reduction in the area of available dry land. Good news for some, bad news for others. Residents of Tsim Sha Tsui apartments on the first floor will be able to walk right out of their windows to the Uber gondola. The shops below will be inundated.
This kind of thing should take up a lot of media space and it’s worth asking why it isn’t there.
Obviously, part of the problem is the way the news business operates. Thinking journalists have known for a long time that there is a bias in favor of stories that fit “news processing”, which in the old days meant it could be reduced to 12 clear paragraphs, and now that means they’ll do the sort. From the spot on the Internet is usually dedicated to cute videos about cats.
It’s common these days for the news consumer to be a fickle creature, and if he isn’t grabbed by force in the first five seconds of a report/broadcast/video, he’ll wander elsewhere in search of more excitement. But it was always like this. The disproportionate interest in the title and the first paragraph of the print story was motivated by the fear that the unattached reader would swim away.
In the search for things that work when presented in this exciting way, news businesses prefer events over operations, single events over developing ones, and specific individuals—preferably already known to our clients—over abstract crowds like “human” or “future.”
Climate change has not been put on most people’s mind map by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a voice crying in the wilderness for decades – but by Greta Thunberg. Yet most of us are still sitting paralyzed: rabbits in the headlights of a disaster ahead.
Of course we are making changes. We fiddle with the thermostat, turn on the “Eco” option that most cars seem to offer these days, test meatless meat and fish-free fish, recycle what can be recycled, reuse what can be reused…and then blow off our carbon savings by flying to Europe.
But I think the key to general indifference is that the danger is too great for individual efforts, though they may be warm to those who make them. If scientists discover that onions are bad for you, we can give up onions and look forward to a longer, healthier life. Giving up beef because it’s climate catastrophic seems like an empty gesture: the beef industry is a tyrannical force that will survive no matter what the individual consumer does.
In short, saving the planet is a collective problem that requires collective action. So the important question to ask is: What is Hong Kong as a region that has some control over its environmental impact to reduce?
And the short answer, unfortunately, is not much, or at least not much in proportion to the scale of the threat, which could render Hong Kong uninhabitable for a decade or two, at least in the summer, even if most of it. It is not submerged.
Climate change didn’t make a clear appearance in the CEO’s election campaign and it doesn’t seem like it’s been on his mind much since then. The legislature appears to be moving towards a bigger tax on plastic bags. We will be charged for garbage collection, but this is more due to a lack of landfill than a desire to reduce waste.
Hong Kong Electric has had a windmill on its premises in Wan Chai for years, and seems to have concluded from experience that wind power in Hong Kong is not suitable for power generation.
Every year or two we get another story about an electric bus being tested by a bus company. Somehow all these buses come and go. Electric taxis? do not hold your breath.
Or rather, hold your breath – the air pollution was so bad last week that some days you couldn’t see Ma On Shan from Fotan.
Our priorities do not seem to fit the circumstances. What is needed, I agree, is some variation on the panic. Security is very good. But if your house is on fire, the risk of burglary should not be your first concern.
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