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A window on France: The World’s Planet Page

August 29th, 2010 · 1 Comment

This summer represented the longest vacation in over a decade, three weeks spent in the homes of relatives and friends in France driven, in part, by a serious illness in the family. This time, often with (extremely) limited web access, provided some breathing space, too much weight gain with excellent food, and provided some windows on France and French society that reflect back on what is (or isn’t) happening in the United States.

To be clear, no society is perfect … which makes it ever more important to be open to lessons and learning from others … especially if one really is interesting in the continuing struggle to form a more perfect union.

Several weeks in France provide a window — however obscured or partial — on how France is changing in the face of mounting energy and climate challenges (domestically and locally) on the governmental, societal, and individual level. This is the first, of which will likely be several, posts providing some thoughts derived from glancing through that window.

On opening Le Monde (The World), a new element struck me: Planète. Page 4 of every Le Monde that I looked at had a full page on “planetary” issues. And, this full page represented serious reporting on serious issues.

The 18 August issue had, for example, an extensive article about delays in responding to Pakistani floods and another serious piece on development of bacteria resistant to antibiotics. The 16 August issue had an article laying out how well Europe (in general) and France (in specific) is doing in (far from) meeting its targets for renewable energy, reduction in urban air pollution, total trash per person and recycling based on a report from the European Commission with another article questioning how far we should go to protect other species.The 24 August issue had a serious article discussing how the Russian heat wave and fires are affecting Russian politics (and politicians) on the question of climate change with another serious pieces discussing the development of new fishing nets to reduce the amount of premature fish captured to foster more sustainable fishing.  The 26 August issue had a piece discussing the arsenic problems in Bangladesh (where arsenic causes 1 in 5 deaths).  The 28 August issue has an interview with Salvano Briceno, the head of the UN’s office for an International Strategy for Disaster Reduction entitled “L’homme transforme l’aléa naturel en catastrophe” (Humanity transformed to a cause of natural catastrophe), with a discussion of how climate change relates to flooding in China and Pakistan, fires in Russia, and other disaster conditions around the globe.

Many of the Planète pages had a +, -, and @ item on the top of the page: good news for the planet, bad news, and a web site of interest.  The 26 August issue, for example, had the + of volunteers in Finland using helicopters to clean up tourists’ trash in remote Lapland areas, the - a note that Great Britain’s oil installations in the North Sea had seen an increase in oil leakage from spring 2009 to spring 2010, and the @ was ekoloko.com, which is an environmental game and questions site targeted at youth 7 to 14 years old.  The 24 August issue provided readers the French government’s site on beach water quality.  The 18 August issue provided readers

Environmental, energy, and planetary reporting is not limited to (or exiled) to a single page in Le Monde, with almost every issue having articles elsewhere that could easily have been structured to be on the Planète page.  For example, a small note in the 16 August issue highlighted that 21 August represented Earth Overshoot Day as designated by the Global Footprint Network.  According to GFN’s director, Mathis Wachernagel,

This signifies that it takes less than nine months to burn through the annual ecological budget.

In other words, we are already past the planet’s ability to support 6.5 billion people at our current standards of living for 2010.

The real point is not any one of these specific articles, which generally were well reported and on target, but the quanity, quality, and prominence of this reporting. Le Monde is the critical newspaper of record in France — read by government employees and citizens throughout the nation. By opening  Le Monde and even glancing at the Planète, the newspaper’s readers will develop a substantive understanding of a wide range of the challenges, opportunities, and developments in the environmental, energy, and climate change realms — including how governmental policy is (or isn’t working) and how environmental/energy issues relate to other domains.  Le Monde is taking seriously a journalistic responsibility to inform and educate its readership.

The Washington Post editorial team has expressed confusion about why the US public is so confused about climate change issues. Moving beyond the fact that the Post’s own he said/she said type reporting, giving much visibility to anti-science syndrome suffering haters of a livable economic system (like George Will), perhaps one reason is that prominent and serious reporting on basic issues of global importance like seen within Le Monde and in the Planète page are all not a regular (and certainly not a prominent) part of reporting by any traditional U.S. media outlet.

Tags: EU · France · environmental · journalism

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