Today my social media universe is ablaze with Elisabeth Rosenthal’s New York Times article “Life After Oil and Gas”, which is groundbreaking, but not exactly the way it is usually described.
First, a concern. Rosenthal casts oil and gas vs. renewables for electricity production in the United States, which is an all-too-common fallacy. In the U.S. renewables are competing with coal, nukes, and to a lesser degree natural gas for a share of electricity generation. Petroleum supplied less than 1% of our national electricity production in 2012.
A feature writer for NYT should know better. But this is, after all, the self-created universe of the American mainstream media (AMSM), where public perception is more important than fact.
Which brings me to my second point, which has nothing to do with Rosenthal’s brave and fundamentally accurate if slightly misinformed article, and everything to do with the way media functions in our society. This was epitomized by Bill McKibben of 350.org’s tweet that NYT “Breaks the story of the century”.
Now I understand this is a major PR coup for renewables. But Bill, NYT didn’t break this story. I could point out that I wrote an article on the same subject two months ago for Truth-Out, but the fact is that a number of people have been reporting this, many of them in Europe, for years. What happened here is that some editor in the otherwise chickenshit AMSM finally woke up and decided that this was newsworthy.
This is very different from “breaking” a story, where a media outlet is the first to report a heretofore unknown development.
I have the utmost respect for what McKibben does with 350.org. But I must lament this colonization of the imagination, where even our “thought leaders” feel that only when something is reported by the AMSM has it actually happened.
This is fundamentally problematic if for no other reason than due to something I learned reporting on the aftermath of Post-Katrina flooding in New Orleans: That the MSM are usually the last people to get what is going on.
Yes, renewables can power our electricity grid. Yes, it is a choice.
And this article is a major breakthrough for an institution that has been perpetuating the lie that it can’t.
No, this isn’t breaking news.