The Peak (Malaysia) - - Portraits -

There might be a sil­ver lin­ing be­hind all the de­press­ing head­lines.

There seems to be a sur­feit of bad news th­ese days. Turn on the TV, scroll down the com­puter or run through the news­pa­pers, and it feels like an end­less litany of woe and doom. This “steady drum­beat of bad news”, as the Amer­i­can econ­o­mist and politi­cian Phil Gramm mem­o­rably de­scribes it, can be de­spair­ing, mak­ing us won­der at the de­struc­tive in­ge­nu­ity of hu­man be­hav­iour. Just in the week prior to pub­lish­ing this mag­a­zine, UNICEF re­ported that one in ev­ery 200 chil­dren around the world is a refugee, while a re­cent study, pub­lished in the jour­nal Cur­rent Bi­ol­ogy, re­vealed that hu­mans have de­stroyed 10 per cent of the Earth’s re­main­ing wilder­ness within the last 25 years, a de­cline it de­scribed as “cat­a­strophic”. Then, there’s the story of in­dus­trial pol­lu­tion turn­ing the Daldykan River in Siberia, lit­er­ally, blood red, be­fore dis­cov­er­ing why four of man’s clos­est evo­lu­tion­ary rel­a­tives are now crit­i­cally en­dan­gered and how poach­ing has dev­as­tated the num­bers of ele­phants in the wild.

Sci­en­tists be­lieve that we are in a new ge­o­log­i­cal epoch, the An­thro­pocene, where hu­man im­pact on the Earth is so pro­found that our legacy will last for mil­len­nia. This means what we do to­day mat­ters and, based on our record so far, we aren’t do­ing a ter­ri­bly good job – here, the phrase sic erat scrip­tum (the Latin for ‘thus was it writ­ten’) has never been more ac­cu­rate – if the de­press­ing head­lines are any­thing to go by. Good news, of course, still can be found but here’s a thought: if any­thing, we should en­cour­age more re­port­ing of bad news and make greater ef­fort at dis­sem­i­nat­ing it. More in­for­ma­tion, af­ter all, leads to a more ed­u­cated so­ci­ety, one that re­alises there are bet­ter choices and how to pick the right ones. This, per­haps, will help us leave a more pos­i­tive im­pres­sion on the Earth. So, maybe it’s not all bad news, then.

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