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Who Needs Stephen King When We Are Living In A Nightmare?

By Tim Murray

01 November, 2010

Publishing trivia and avoiding inconvenient truths

More than a year ago I was invited to become one of the people the Vancouver Province newspaper would turn to when they wanted a short opinion on current issues. "Here is your chance to get your say in The Province!" they explained. Silly me, I expected to be asked to comment on issues of over-riding importance. But I forgot that newspaper owners don't see that their mandate is necessarily to inform and educate the public. Instead it is to both tillilate and sedate them with inconsequential rubbish. The world is burning so let's all fiddle. As long as the advertisers and subscribers are happy, who the (expletive) cares? Even environmental journalists tip-toe around brutal inconvenient truths to satisfy our psychotic need for a happy ending. As T. Michael Maher revealed in his seminal study, "How and Why Journalists Avoid the Population-Environment Connection", only one in ten environmental stories identified populaton growth as a root cause of the problem, even those reporters who are most aware of its critical importance shied away from it. Newspaper editors and reporters won't go near the ticking time-bomb of human overpopulation---- they are so frightened of tackling this taboo that they choose instead to frighten us with symptoms and sideshows.

Why conjure up imaginary horrors?

The following is a sample of the kind of trivia that excites the editors of the mainstream press. "What do you like to do to celebrate Halloween?" the Vancouver Province asks. What would your response be? Mine would be something like,

"As a dress rehearsal for the impending collapse of industrial society I want to spend my Halloween hunkered down in my bunker provisioned with enough food supplies and ammo to deal with the legions of starving marauders who will attempt to get at them. For entertainment I will watch "The Road" which conjures up more terrifying images than the ghosts and gobblins of Halloween night. Instead of indulging in the cliched fantasies of the supernatural, why doesn't the Province attempt to educate its readership about the very real horrors that Peak Oil will visit upon us?"

There can be no 'duck and cover' from $300/barrel oil

The submission date is providentially ironic, October 27th. It was about this time of year when, following my 12th birthday, the Cuban missile crisis was upon us. At school I was taught to "duck and cover", and on my way home, the air raid siren two blocks away went daily off just for practice in case I wasn't traumatized enough. Like other kids, on more than one occassion, I ran home in panic . For almost two weeks, I would come home to find my mother standing over the ironing board in front of our black and white TV set, with her eyes glued to Walter Kronkite while, almost robotically, her hand guided the iron over the newly dried clothes, or sat mending them from a chair positioned to see the unfolding drama. On some afternoons she would just sit there transfixed and paralytic. I can still see her now. Like my classroom, my home was a morgue, and I could read the same fear on the faces of my parents that my teacher, Mrs. Nergaard had. They didn't dare to tell us how serious the situation was, but they didn't have to. School children of all ages knew. They read body language too. After all, we got Reader's Digest and I remember it was full of nuclear war scenarios. I remember reading one story about how a family survived the onslaught of Russian bombers by being prepared. How I begged my Dad to build a bomb shelter. But my parents were wise. They made it clear that there was there was no secure shelter from an atomic blast in our city nor from the fall-out thereafter. Even if we did survive for a time, they pointed out, our supplies would run out, and if they didn't, we could not possibly prevent less prepared survivors from taking them. The same arguments could be made now. We will see a collapse of some kind of horrendous and unprecedented proportions, either abrupt or protracted, and there will be no sanctuary from privation when our economy crashes. And certainly not from the nuclear, chemical or biological war that could ensue from the desperate competition between nations for scarce resources. There can be no duck and cover from $300/barrel oil.

As if real-life horror was not enough to contend with

What struck me then, even at that age, was the absurdity of having been 'scared shitless' for two weeks in October, and then, still shaken, being subjected to an obscene but sanctioned ritual at the end of the month whereby kids were once more 'scared shitless' ---- only with corpses, skeletons, axe-murderers, poltergeists and demons instead of mushroom clouds. All in good fun, you see, and with enough of a sugar overdose from Halloween candies to keep our pancreas pumping for days. As if real life-horror was not enough to contend with.

Forget Stephen King. I will stick with the two Richards, Duncan and Heinberg. That's horror enough for me now.

Have a Happy Halloween.

Tim Murray
October 25/2010

Tim Murray is an environmental writer and activist and VP of Biodiversity First