Activists that have been lobbying for greater environmental protection for climate change often use a common tactic – the idea of the “crisis”. The slow residual changes to global temperatures, ecological structures and ozone are not enough to convince the average consumer to change the way they shop, or to actually care about investing in green energy. If legitimate scientific evidence isn’t enough to make the public care, how can they? Through focusing on environmental crises.
Our discussions of climate change have been centred around sensational, violent weather like hurricanes and floods – even the modern face of climate change, the polar bear, is represented as a sensational violent victim and a crisis that must be averted.
If it bleeds, it leads, and the headlines in the mainstream media reflect this. When a hurricane is coming (in the worst hurricane season ever recorded), climate change remains an issue in the media’s headlines for about a 24 hour news-cycle, and then, as the death-toll falls into history, so does the real, pressing issue.
Rob Nixon coined the term “slow violence” to describe humans’ violent interaction with the environment: a type of interaction that isn’t spectacular or filled with blood, but instead mundane and occurring daily. Slow violence is far more difficult to depict, and far less alarmist, resulting in being shunned almost entirely by the media. But in doing so, the media’s screen memory ignores the residual effects and legitimate consequences of news-making events.
The ISIS attacks on Paris are an example of sensational violence in its purest form. Terrorism against civilians, to make a cloudy, wanton political point that garners a lot of attention and sympathy. During, and following, the attacks, “Paris” was trending on Facebook and Twitter; a new temporary profile lens took off, allowing Facebook users to change their profile pictures to the colours of France’s flag; and news coverage and reports were constant.
As wonderful as it is to gather so much sympathy, prayers and cries of support for a great injustice and illegitimate violence, one can’t help but wonder where this sensationalism will take us. There is a massive disparity between our nation’s screen memory, and the collective memory of the afflicted citizens. So, long after our profile photos have been reset, the people of France will remain under the terror and insecurity of such an attack.
Even on Friday night as I was tweeting live the updates on the Parisian attacks, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other news stories and tragedies had been usurped by this developing crisis. Many have pointed out the difference in news attention between this week’s coverage of Paris, and the Kenyan massacre in Garissa University College that left 147 people dead. This isn’t to compare the actual tragedies, but rather their ability to resonate in the public eye.
On Friday night, I saw an update from The Associated Press that declared the situation “over” with the death of the terrorists, and I couldn’t help but think of how reductive that assertion really was. The lives of many innocent civilians are over, yet, the trauma in the collective memory of both France and around the world are far from over. Even after the news scrolls return to headlines about Donald Trump’s racist remarks of the day end, families, friends and a vulnerable country will be forced to work through its trauma.
- Steve Nadon