How to Read the News Without Losing Your Mind: Emma Varvaloucas

Photo by Nijwam Swargiary | Unsplash

We’ll go back to more on the Squillace paper next week, but based on comments, it appears that not many people (this week, at least) are interested in BLM and Forest planning.

I’ve been spending time during this season of Lent online with a group of spiritually-oriented folks. In our online discussions, it was common to say things like “we have destroyed the planet” and one spiritual leader whom I respect greatly said “we are like a metastatic cancer.” There wasn’t really an opportunity for me to say “that’s Malthus!” or “that’s Edward Abbey!”. People just tossed that off as if it were a fact, that everyone must know, and agrees with. I attribute this, and especially the certainty around it, as being influenced by news sources. It’s particularly prominent in the environmental/forest world, but occurs everywhere. I recommend reading this entire piece, by Emma Varvaloucas, and here are some excerpts.

Is it possible to stay informed and engaged without destroying our faith in humanity every morning?

Yes. The key is learning how to read the news with an understanding of both its structure and your own brain’s, a critical (but not distrustful) eye, and an equanimous, long-term perspective. We’ve gathered these ideas into a five-step approach for how to keep reading the news—without losing your mind.

Remember the Long Game: In Case of a Crisis, Zoom Out
The word crisis gets a lot of exercise in the news. During one week in June 2019, news outlets reported on the following crises: child-care, college dropouts, immigration, the climate, opioids, Sudan, homelessness, cops’ mental health, rural healthcare, retail landlords in the UK, lead, farming, money laundering, guacamole, sex abuse, the automotive industry, Iran, Moldova, India’s GDP, Pakistan, Venezuela, Israeli bacon, Trump’s reelection prospects, Boeing’s 737 MAX, the world economy, pastoral courage, and Canadian national unity.

That is a lot of crises to keep track of. And, with no disrespect to the importance of Canadian patriotism or avocados, they cannot all possibly be a crisis.

In 2018 the Los Angeles Times and others reported on “an epidemic of nicotine addiction among kids” because of the rising numbers of teens who had tried vaping, or electronic cigarettes. CDC figures attest that between 2011 and 2018, there was a 1.5% increase in high schoolers who reported that they used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days and a .6% increase in middle schoolers.
Meanwhile, during this nicotine “epidemic,” cigarette, cigar, and smokeless tobacco use all went down during the same period for high schoolers, with a 7.7%, 4%, and 2% drop, respectively. (Hookah use stayed the same.) And lest you still think that today’s kids have just switched from Marlboro to Juul, take a look at these long-term numbers from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. This is the percent of students by grade who smoke cigarettes, including traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and hookah, daily from 1976 to 2018. Since the seventies, and consistently from the late nineties on, youth tobacco use has been plunging:

So are we in the midst of a nicotine epidemic, or simply a changing landscape in the midst of a long-term success story? The point is not that we shouldn’t be concerned by teenagers vaping—we should, especially if new companies are specifically targeting young people and nonsmokers. There is a reason why this story appeared in the news, and tobacco use hasn’t dropped so dramatically because action wasn’t taken.

But as always in the case of a crisis, take a moment before you panic, and try zooming out. No one has the time to research the wider long-term narrative of every news story they read. You can, though, keep in mind that there often is one.

Hopefully we can contribute to the “wider long-term narrative” of some forest-related news stories.

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