THE CRIMES OF AESTHETICISATION
THE ANAESTHETICS OF ENVIRONMENTALISM
POINT recently acquired a radio, and different radio stations have been heard playing tunes or reporting news at various times around the OFFICES. The state broadcaster has been one of the stations we have tuned into recently and we’ve been paying attention to the kinds of information flows which it channels and to the kinds of information others choose to channel through it. Mining, Oil and Gas Exploration (and associated industries and interests) have been exploiting a considerable amount of that precious resource which is ‘air-time’ in recent weeks, and well, strange things seem to be happening there - air-time pollution perhaps. Listening to an interview with the ‘honorable’ Nick Smith (‘Conservation’ Minister), Gareth Hughes (Green Party spokesperson) and Damian O’Connor (Labour MP for the West Coast Tasman), I was somewhat surprised (indeed, even alienated) by a game of rhetorical topsy-turvey which saw our Conservation Minister and Gareth Hughes fighting over whose party was in fact the ‘real’ supporter of mining in this country - both fought desperately for the same scarce resource of sensible and pragmatic supporter of mining.
But that interview was not the first to raise the suspicion that political and rhetorical strategies in this area are ‘not what they used to be.’ A few days earlier, in a radio documentary dedicated to the ‘Petroleum Industry’ (and also aired on the state broadcaster) considerable air-time was given over to representatives of both Shell and Anadarko in addition to their opponents (notably some prominant activitists from here in Dunedin). Although disappointed I was not surprised that environmental opponents would be busy attempting to attack the economic grounds on which oil and gas exploration were being promoted (the same rhetorical strategy Gareth Hughes seemed to be running in the other interview, which unfortunately cedes the terms of reference to the economistic opposition). But I was, at least initially, surprised to hear the representatives of Shell and Anadarko spending their time talking about ‘environmental’ issues and therefore ceding terms of reference to the environmentalist opposition. A bizarre situation with everyone ceding terms of reference to their opponents. . . or were they?
As I listened more carefully I realised that the way that rhetorical territory was being given up by the pro-drilling lobby was slightly awry. The kind of environmentalism they were espousing was both depoliticised and de-ethicised. It was an environmentalism of ‘beauty’ and of the ‘sublime,' a conservationism dedicated to protecting the delicate and tasteful aesthetic semblance of ‘green’ and ‘pure’. By aestheticising the environment, the pro-oil lobby managed to depoliticise it. On the other hand, by talking dollars and cents the environmental activists managed to anaestheticise the real import of their environmentalism. Shouldn’t those other numbers, the ones relating tons of carbon to degrees of climate change be the real issue under debate . . . Is this, I found myself asking, the way radio channels information?
This editorial was originally published in POINT Issue#34 3-9 JULY 2013