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GR Press stories on the environment presented primarily from a business perspective

March 22, 2010

Yesterday the Grand Rapids Press ran part three of a series of stories focusing on issues during the 2010 election cycle. Michigan’s environment was the stated focus of yesterday’s stories, but in reality the focus was on seeing Michigan’s natural environmental as resources.

The three articles that were included in the Press were all framed around how Michigan’s economy can benefit from the use of natural resources throughout the state. The lead story was headlined, “Are Michigan’s natural resources for sale? Next harvest must make sense for economy, environment and society.”

The story, written by Press reporter Jim Harger, begins with some reflection on how Michigan’s forests were devastated 100 years ago because of industry and then asks the rhetorical question whether these same natural resources help Michigan rebound economically. Harger writes, “Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is often yes.” Harger also accepts the language of those promoting this free market model, the triple bottom line, which says it has to be profitable, good for the environment and socially responsible.

Of course, you have to look at whom the question is being asked of in order to understand why the answers are favorable to using resources for profit. The first person sourced in the article is some from the Land Policy Institute at MSU, which tends to have a pro-business approach to land conversation. Soji Adelaja says that the state must attract young “knowledge workers” who can plug in their laptops to make a living and still go backpacking, thus the emphasis is on attracting workers, not environmental protection.

The next sources cited in the story are all in the agricultural sector. They include someone from the State Department of Agriculture and the Michigan Farm Bureau, a pro-agribusiness lobby group, which has tremendous influence on the state’s agricultural policies. In this section both sources are coming from pro-business perspective and discuss the benefits of large agricultural practices. There are no perspectives provided by the growing number of small, organic farmers and what impact they are having on local economies and protecting the soil.

The State Agricultural Department source cites the amount jobs Michigan has due to the agricultural sector, but he doesn’t say how many of the 1 million jobs are those of migrant workers. The article also doesn’t mention that the Michigan Civil Rights Commission is releasing today a new report on how bad worker conditions are in the state for migrant workers.

The next section of the article discusses urban sprawl and land use. The only sources cited here are the Michigan Farm Bureau and Russ Harding with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, an ultra-right think tank. Harding is quoted as saying that the free market should dictate land use not urban planners.

The article also has sections on the use of forests as resources as well as oil, gas and mineral extraction. The source cited in the section of forest is with the Michigan Timbermen Association, a pro-business/pro-industry group, which also lobbies the state on forest policies.

In the oil, gas, and mineral section the sources cited are the Wolverine Oil & Gas Company and the Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company, which was recently given permission by the state to extract nickel from the Upper Peninsula. The article does mention that there are environmental groups opposed to the mining of nickel, but none of the groups are mentioned by name, nor the reasons for their opposition.

An Environmental Perspective at the end

It is not until the very end of the article that an environmental perspective is included in an article about Michigan’s environment. The only source cited is James Clift with the Michigan Environmental Council, based out of Lansing. The MEC does mostly policy work and is not even in the trenches of doing environmental protect around the state.

The Press reporter not only minimizes environmental voices, but he excludes grassroots environmental activists and the point of view of the Native communities throughout the state. This article is not only brazenly pro-business it also adopts the pro-business language of “sustainability,” which concludes that Michigan’s resources are commodities.

Water as a commodity and tourism

There were two supplemental stories included in yesterday’s Press that were included with the election year story. The first article dealt with the issue of water diversion, which is just a technical term for privatizing Michigan’s water.

The article included some background information on the legislative language, which allows Michigan’s water to be privatized. The article cites Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak, Noah Hall (A legal expert at Wayne State University), a spokesperson from Nestle, which is selling Michigan water and Russ Harding from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Again, there are no environmental perspectives included even though water privatization has been a major battle that groups like Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation have been fighting. The only picture included with this story was one from inside a Nestle water bottling plant.

The other article included in this series was one on Michigan’s tourism. Once again the story is written from the point of view of how Michigan’s beaches and forests are a great way for the state to make money. The perspectives provided here are from the tourism industry, the state and a Michigan Association of Recreational Vehicles and Campgrounds spokesperson who says, “RVs are a means to get back to nature. We need to do more to put more money into promoting tourism in Michigan and enticing RV owners from other areas in the country to come and experience what we have.”

Anyone who cares about the environment in Michigan should be appalled by this type of reporting and demand that the Press not only include other voices when reporting on environmental issues, but that they question the premise of today’s green business approach and its claims of “sustainability.”

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