Green Yellow Journalism?

Jonathan Adler over at The Volokh Conspiracy points to a somewhat infuriating article by Jack Shafer at Slate which attempts to characterize (or is it caricature?) “green journalism” as a successor to the yellow journalism of the past. I get the impression from Adler’s previous work that he probably agrees with a lot of what is said. I do not.

The column’s major gripe is a series of articles that have appeared in Slate since the fall in conjunction with the dirty hippies of treehugger.com. I am having trouble sniffing out a substantive criticism of the articles. Shafer bemoans their coequal presentation of a variety of carbon-reducing activities with both substantial and fairly insubstantial impacts. This seems like a quibble to me. Every bit does help, and, to appropriate Shafer’s example, not everyone does fly frequently. Everyone does, however, use a shower.

Moreover, he is incredulous at their suggestions to seek out food grown locally and avoid meat. In environmental circles, this is not considered radical at all, since cows and other meat animals are a major source of methane, and since transporting food is just as wasteful as transporting people. (Shafer acknowledges that transporting people emits a hell of a lot of carbon in the preceding paragraph.)

His concern about carbon offsets also seems somewhat overplayed. He notes, correctly, that the Financial Times and others have found some carbon offset firms to be doing very little actual offsetting. He fails to note, however, that other offset organizations engage in legitimate reductions, vis-a-vis the distribution of fluorescent bulbs in the developing world for example.

Shafer’s concluding caveat paragraph is also pretty half-hearted and unconvincing. There is a lot of internal debate in the environmental community over proper priorities and goals, which is not the impression the author is trying to give Slate’s readers. Instead, he finds a few convincingly offensive outliers, tries to inflate another harmless article into an offensive one, and calls it a critique. I am unimpressed.

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