Fenger Pointing

Becky Fenger | February 18, 2009

Becky FengerThe lure of sustainability

With the possible exceptions of the word "awesome" or the phrase "The reality is," the most overused term nowadays has to be "sustainability." Arizona State University President Michael Crow was so enamored of the concept that he created the nation's first School of Sustainability at his Tempe campus in 2007.

Offering undergraduate and graduate degrees, the School of Sustainability "brings together multiple disciplines and leaders to create and share knowledge, train a new generation of scholars and practitioners, and develop practical solutions to some of the most pressing environmental, economic and social challenges of sustainability, especially as they relate to urban areas." That's quite a lofty mission statement.

On Jan. 30 the Board of the Society of Environmental Journalism (SEJ) hosted a national forum at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU's downtown Phoenix campus. If you haven't visited there yet, you owe it to yourself to see what sumptuousness gobs of your taxpayer money can buy. Michael Crow is nothing if not persuasive, and I still envision how the legislators almost bow down to him when he makes an appearance at the state capitol for ever more funds. Well, no expense was spared in this building, except perhaps the noticeable lack of security at night in that creepy neighborhood.

Jonathan Fink, director of ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS), spoke of their pioneering research. He glows warmly as he speaks of Julie A. Wrigley, who gave the Institute $15 million in 2004. Pretty lady with an even prettier wallet. Since then, she has added another $10 million for the School. Fink asked the attendees, "How do you overcome public apathy?" He then answered his own question by suggesting tactics such as the movie, "The Day After Tomorrow," in which a climatologist tries to save the world from global warming. The plan is to frighten the public--- whether the disaster is based on sound science or not--- in order to get them to accede to their wishes.

Other panelists included Marla Cone, editor-in-chief of Environmental Health News in Los Angeles and Douglas Fischer, editor of dailyclimate.org, in my opinion a voluminous, superbly-indexed compilation of junk science. I asked him if he would post anything from Dr. Willie Soon, and he didn't know who the man was. (The fact that astrophysicist and geoscientist Soon is probably the biggest name in the global warming discussion escaped Fischer, probably because Soon refutes the alarmists with facts.)

One reason that I hate to see the term "sustainability" watered down to apply to everything up to and including a man's sexual performance is that it gives rise to that most sinister of creatures, the Central Planner. A central planner's goal in life is to make citizens of this country-- or, indeed, the global community--- succumb to his vision of the world and the way it should or shouldn't grow. It is from his fertile brain that concepts such as "growth boundaries," "transit-oriented development," "social justice" and other such nonsense arise.
The program was titled, "Brave Green World: Environmental Journalism in Emerging New Media," and raised the question of whether the new media, such as Internet blogs, will fill the vacuum left by the implosion of newspapers and other mainstream news organizations. Some of the statements floating around the room were quite shocking. One journalist complained of being "bored with the vanilla media which is the basic presentation of facts." Holy, moly. Isn't that what reporting is? Let's just make up stuff now and add some spice to our stories, shall we?

One professor said that advocacy is the source of a lot of the best information that journalists get, and then added: "The ACLU did the best reporting on Gitmo. Advocates should go all the way and be journalists." Now I start to get scared. Really scared.
But the most telling moment occurred when a friend of mine asked a question that involved the Fox News organization. The reaction in the room was immediate and visceral. I thought the lady from National Public Radio was going to spit on the floor! Yet she maintained that NPR is completely objective. So much of media are so far left that they have lost the ability to determine objectivity. Fox News Channel uses many NPR reporters on a regular basis for roundtable discussions, but NPR does not reciprocate. I rest my case.