Missing the Point, like a Polar Bear Misses Its Habitat: the Media’s Failure to Understand Frozen Planet
About a month ago, practically everyone in the entire UK (admittedly, not exactly a scientific statistic) was fawning over the BBC’s Frozen Planet. Cries of “OH EM GEE! Polar bears!” were heard across the land as people were reminded once again that the ice caps are quickly disappearing, and oh dear, wouldn’t it be a shame if those nice polar bears suddenly had nowhere to live. Quite a change from the summer, when polar bears were demonised for killing a British teenager and injuring several others. Interestingly though, the two polar ideas (sorry) of saving the lovely fluffy bears from climate change, and of hunting down and exterminating the vicious raving human killing savages, are fairly interlinked. It’s the reducing sea ice that has led to the bears looking further inland for their food, inevitably leading to encounters with humans.
Wildlife films should go beyond inspiration.
Overall, the series was fantastic. A lot of people really engaged with it and developed an understanding of the unique ecosystems that were filmed. Maybe Frozen Planet will be the Top Gun of the nature conservation world and inspire a generation to sign up to save the planet. However, a recent paper in Science (9 December 2011: 334 (6061), 1351-1352) by Jepson et al. suggests that wildlife films should go beyond inspiration and contribute financially to the conservation of the environments they film. The authors argue that – while it’s all very well raising awareness – as can be seen with the case of the polar bear, that warm fuzzy feeling only lasts until the next big piece of news, and quickly ‘save the ice caps’ can turn into ‘oh look, there’s some oil’ or something similar. It makes sense, if there’s no money going into conserving these unique environments, there won’t be anything to film in the future, and somehow I don’t think ‘The Empty, Uninhabitable Wasteland’ has quite the same ring to it. (Attenborough slowly sighing “and here…we can see…nothing…”).
“The BBC had PURPOSEFULLY LIED and KILLED PUPPIES”.
Sadly, with Frozen Planet, halfway through the series the world was DISGUSTED to learn that the BBC had PURPOSEFULLY LIED and KILLED PUPPIES by actually filming a few shots of polar bears for Frozen Planet in a zoo! A zoo. A place where they work to preserve global biodiversity and raise awareness of issues such as habitat loss. Really, you’d think that the aims of a zoo and the documentary series actually aligned quite nicely. But no, if a shot of a few bears was really filmed in a zoo, then WHAT IS REAL? Could Downton Abbey actually be a real portrayal of Edwardian life being streamed to us in the future via magic?
The media have once again blown a non-issue out of proportion.
It’s almost as if the media don’t really get the complexity that is nature – in particular, the impossibility of getting footage without interfering with natural processes. They acted like a spoilt child: “bring us real animals or nothing!” And, by doing so, they completely missed the point of the series, which was to raise awareness of the real magic that is the natural world and the issues it’s currently facing. As with the cream pie in the Murdoch hearing, the media have once again blown a non-issue out of proportion and obscured the real issues at heart.
Maybe the BBC should make ‘The Empty, Uninhabitable Wasteland’ to really wake everyone up. Then again, the headlines would just be “BBC DOCUMENTARY NOT REAL. ACTUALLY FILMED IN SAME BASEMENT AS MOON LANDING!”
In his recent ‘Fuel Poverty Review’, professor John Hills predicts that by the end of 2011, around 4.1 million homes in Britain will be considered to be living in ‘fuel poverty’. This situation, the review has noted, could directly contribute to the deaths of just under 3,000 people over the coming winter; a toll higher than the average seasonal number of fatalities in road-accidents.
Students across the UK are attempting to save money at the expense of their own health. Government statistics on fuel poverty indicate that students living in affordable yet energy-inefficient accommodation make up a large percentage of those recognised to be living in ‘fuel poverty’ by the ‘Living in Wales’ report, 2008. Swansea students in private accommodation are being let down by prepayment meters which charge a higher rate for energy than other types of meters, inefficient appliances, and poorly insulated housing. All of these things mean a situation in which keeping warm is an artificially expensive dream for students. There is no doubt that living in fuel poverty is devastating for both physical and mental health.
There are clear problems with expecting the solution to come from conventional energy-sources. Recent years have seen attempts by many energy companies to repackage old fossil-fuel solutions; i.e. E.ON’s support for ‘New Coal’. However, the appalling efficiency rating of just 45% for these new coal-powered units highlights the urgency with which we need a more sustainable solution.
To be able to bring about the changes needed to make greener energy solutions, such as the 100% renewable energy tariff provided by the company Ecotricity, more available to financially strained students, what is needed is a strong, eco-conscious current within the students movement. Past and on-going initiatives such Climate Camp, and NUS campaigns such ‘Student Switch Off’, and ‘Green Impact’ demonstrate to us an existing willingness to fight for such changes. It is now necessary, more than ever, for environmentally conscious students to show the rest of the student movement that the commitment to future generations as embodied in the anti-cuts movement should be linked to the commitment to protect the environment we share.
“A Dialogue on Israel-Palestine” That is the title of a motion proposed to the NEC (click here to download, page 38). Reading through this motion you may think that it is harmless and doesn’t actually do more than shape the dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unfortunately this motion actively ignores the issues on the ground and promotes an ideal that is literally impossible to implement.
The motion completely ignores the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land (post 1967 armistice line) and Israel’s constant violation of the basic human rights of Palestinians and then goes on to promote peace under a two state solution. A two state solution that is impossible to implement. Israeli settlements in the West Bank, with the help of the separation barrier, have divided it into separate cantons. The “borders” of these cantons are fully controlled by Israel.
These are not areas where we can pretend that freedom of movement exists.
This separation is not like separating England from Wales with a physical border. This is more like separating the different cities that make up greater London into different sections and giving each section different access privileges that are constantly changing. This violates the freedom of movement and directly impacts Palestinian access to healthcare, access to education (which the motion touches on as a vital issue) and access to water (Israel controls most of the water supply even within the Palestinian territory).
This division means that the implementation of a two state solution would not create two separate and contiguous states but would instead create one Israeli state which has control over the most valuable natural resources and a highly divided and fragmented Palestinian state. This is the solution that would be produced from a two state agreement without taking into account other issues like refugees, borders, or air space. Israel, using it’s barrier and settlements, has currently engulfed many natural resources including most of the water supply and much of the fertile land. To create a two state solution based on the 1967 armistice line, Israel would have to relocate the settler population of over 300 thousand and move the barrier back to the armistice line.
The motion acknowledges the existence of different narratives and Israel’s occupation of post 1967 Palestinian territory can be considered to fall under the Palestinian narrative. Many people would debate that Israel only reclaimed the land from Jordan and Egypt who were the original occupiers. Even if we take these different arguments into account we cannot deny Israel’s current actions against the Palestinian people.
Israel’s actions are regarded to be as those of an occupier, a coloniser or even an apartheid state.
When the debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is shaped we can almost always see that the Palestinians and Israeli’s are put on an equal footing. As if to say that the entire conflict is actually between two equally powerful states and revolves around an uninhabited piece of land. This is not the case, the Palestinians are not on an equal footing with Israel and the conflict is most definitely not about an uninhabited piece of land. If anything the piece of land that it could be about (and it isn’t, this is an oversimplification) is overcrowded and has become increasingly divided.
How can NUS campaign for children’s right to education when these same children can be held in prison indefinitely without a fair trial or any trial at all?
My main issue with this motion is its support for a two state solution. Although this solution is the one spoken about the most in the media, it remains impossible to implement because of current Israeli practices which this motion completely ignores. Not only does this motion support an unreasonable solution but it also does not set a basis for this solution (eg. the 1967 armistice line) or demand that human rights be upheld in the area. The motion touches on the right to education but still misses the point, how can NUS campaign for children’s right to education when these same children can be held in prison indefinitely without a fair trial or any trial at all? There is no room to pick and choose which issues should be supported, many of the issues impacting Palestinians are related to each other and campaigning to resolve only part of them will not solve the cause of these problems.
Yousef Cisco is a Palestinian who grew up in Palestine and lived there for over 14 years under an Israeli occupation, soldiers have raided his house (three times) with guns pointed at him and has been in the line of fire – he says ‘I know for a fact that most Palestinians have had it worse than me. My family still lives in Ramallah.’ Yousef is currently a student at Bangor University and is part of the NUS Wales Black Students’ Campaign Committee.