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Bill McKibben’s Rolling Stone Article Was a Hit — So Why Didn’t It Make a Splash?

Jason Mark, Earth Island Journal
The mainstream media is reluctant to cover an issue that questions the very foundation of our economy
Have you seen the numbers on Bill McKibben’s numbers? If you follow environment-related news (and even if you don’t), there’s a good chance you’ve read Bill McKibben’s recent Rolling Stone article, Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math. I know this because of the numbers displayed right below the article’s headline: 112k Facebook likes, more than 12,000 mentions on Twitter, 7,300 Stumble Upon tags, and nearly 5,000 reader comments. “Wickedly viral,” is how the New England-dwelling McKibben has described the response to the piece.

McKibben’s article was a success because many people are hungry to hear the cold, hard
truth about global warming.

“After the article came out, a Rolling Stone editor called up Bill and said they had never seen anything like it,” a staffer, Daniel Kessler, told me recently. Mark Neschis, a spokesperson for Wenner Media (the publishing group that owns RS), was coy about discussing readership stats with me. “We don’t really get too much in[to] specifics about traffic,” he wrote in response to questions about the article. But Neschis did acknowledge that the article “was the top performing story on our site the month it came out.”

Without firm statistics from Wenner Media, figuring out the exact number of people who read the story is difficult. Still, the social media tags provide an indicator of the article’s success. I can’t find any other recent Rolling Stone story that even comes close. The magazine’s damning expose of Stanley McChrystal, “The Runaway General,” has less than a thousand thumbs-ups. Matt Taibbi’s take-no-prisoners lashing of Goldman Sachs, with its infamous line comparing the investment bank to “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity,” earned 15,000 Facebook likes. The only American magazine articles (excluding celebrity coverage) I can find that are in the same league are Jane Mayer’s unveiling of the Koch Brothers in The New Yorker (122k likes), and the much discussed, and much derided, Atlantic essay by Anne-Marie Slaughter, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All (201k Facebook shares).

At the risk of hyberbole, it appears that McKibben’s Rolling Stone article is among the most widely read single articles on climate change … ever.

The success of “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” raises a couple of important questions for climate justice campaigners, climate scientists, and journalists covering climate change and the environment. First, why exactly did McKibben’s piece go viral? And, given its success, why was it greeted with such a yawn by the mainstream media?…
(14 September 2012)

When Journalists Are Dying to Expose Environmental Plunder

Andrew Revkin, dot earth
Mike Shanahan, the press officer for the International Institute for Environment and Development and an energetic participant in the invaluable Earth Journalism Network, sent a compelling reaction to my piece on the brutal murder of an environmental journalist in Cambodia that is posted here as a “Your Dot” contribution:

It’s a sad reflection of reality that my first reaction to the news of Hang Serei Oudom’s murder was not one of shock or surprise. The Cambodian journalist’s body was found last week in the boot of his own car. He had apparently been axed to death just days after reporting on links between the military and illegal logging there. Oudom’s story was just the latest in a series that had shed light on the corruption and criminality that are tearing Cambodia’s forests apart for quick bucks to line powerful pockets. As the Bangkok Post reports, a military policeman has now been charged with his murder.

My lack of surprise as this grisly crime stemmed from the fact that Oudom is not alone, as I have noted in a post at my Under the Banyan blog called ‘They kill environment journalists, don’t they?’.

It describes how journalists in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the former Soviet Union have been intimidated, threatened, beaten or even killed for coming too close to exposing the ways powerful figures enrich themselves while harming the environment that everyone else depends on.

The extent of these threats to environment journalists makes a mockery of the 20-year old commitment by almost all nations on Earth to ensure that the public has access to adequate information about the environment and can participate in decision-making about how it is managed….
(17 September 2012)

Haiti and the Shock Doctrine

Matt Kennard, OpenDemocracy
Haiti, an already very poor country, was shattered by the earthquake of January 2010 centred on the capital, Port-au-Prince. In the aftermath, a rigorous economic programme was imposed by rich-world agencies and governments that took no account of Haitians’ true needs. A forensic investigation of how this blueprint has overridden the hopes of a new generation of Haitians, by Matt Kennard.

“In the Western hemisphere, in Haiti and elsewhere, we live under the shadow of your great and prosperous country. Much patience and courage is needed to keep one´s head” – Doctor Maigot to Mrs Smith in Graham Greene’s The Comedians

In the middle of Port-au-Prince, along a dusty road and behind some imposing metal gates, sits the E-Power electricity plant. In a capital city where electricity blackouts are a nightly occurrence, E-Power is the kind of company the international financial institutions (IFIs) running Haiti believe will lead “reform” – by taking power away from the state-run company, and running it for profit. The company was founded in 2004 by a group of Haitian venture capitalists excited by the departure of social-democratic president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The aim, it said, was to “offer a solution to power generation in Haiti”. Sure enough, two years later, in 2006, the new United States-backed president, René Préval, launched an open bid for a contract to provide electricity to Haiti’s capital city. Seven companies took part: E-Power won.

For many in the Haitian business elite, such economic liberalisation should now be the model for the new Haiti being built after the devastating earthquake of 12 January 2010. “The earthquake created trauma that could have been better exploited”, Pierre-Marie Boisson, board director at E-Power, tells me as we sit in the upmarket offices at the plant. “Because of the political process that took place after that, it took too much time.” He adds: “Earthquakes should be an opportunity because they destroy. Where earhquakes destroy, we have to build. When we have to build we can create jobs, we can create a lot of changes, we can change a country.”

However, Mr Boisson’s cynicism about the slow rate of “exploitation” is not quite accurate. In the aftermath of the earthquake, the opportunity afforded by the destruction wreaked on Haiti was, in fact, pounced on immediately – and to stunning effect.

As the dust was still settling in Port-au-Prince, the IFIs and various US agencies – what became the de facto government in the absence of a Haitian alternative – carved up the society’s different sectors and doled them out amongst themselves. The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) got education and water; the World Bank bagged energy; the United States Agency for International Development (Usaid) gratefully accepted the planned new industrial parks. Alexandre Abrantes, the World Bank’s special envoy to Haiti, tells me how it worked: “We basically have agreed that where we have each of us the competitive advantage, we then divide … the sectors among ourselves, and add in some sectors which go together.”

The mass privatisation of state-run assets and the turning of Haiti into a “Caribbean sweatshop” – via an export-led garment-production and cheap-labour model – was something that the US and the IFIs had been pushing forcefully from the mid-1990s through the 2000s. Now its realisation became a distinct possibility. They could enforce it with minimal pushback from a decimated civil society and a denuded government. All the extra-Haitian bodies, particularly the US government, saw the same vision, which made it even easier. “There is a lot of agreement, so I would say one of the unusual and very positive aspects about this project is that it is really done in partnership”, Jean-Louis Warnholz, a state-department official working on Haiti, tells me…

The shock

Bribery might prove an effective strategy for the poorest country in the western hemisphere, but it would still be messy. There was after all a Haitian parliament, populated with nationalist elements, which could continue to stall or even kill the massive privatisation programme the US favoured. But as the US was honing its strategy for its latest push, on 12 January 2010 a huge earthquake hit Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, creating one of the worst humanitarian crises in the history of the world. More than 300,000 people were killed, while millions became homeless. The capital city lay in ruins, including the majority of government ministries as well as the presidential palace. What was left of an already strangled civil society and social institutions was destroyed. Haiti was a blank slate.

The US and its allies in the IMF and World Bank did not waste any time in realising that this was the opportunity to push through their radical neoliberal programme from the 1990s with little resistance. The opposition to this privatisation programme – which had ranged from quasi-nationalist politicians to worker-based collectives – had all but disappeared. Without a government in place to agree or disagree with the US and the IFIs, which were soon running the country, Haiti was ready for the “shock doctrine” – the radical economic prescriptions enforced throughout the world and outlined in Naomi Klein’s eponymous book….
(14 August 2012)