Drama, Hype and Irresponsible Reporting

by Brad on June 4, 2018

I saw a headline in USA Today (June 4) that read: “Hawaii Volcano Sparks Irrational Travel Fears.” I think the writer left out one (important) word. It could, more accurately, have read: “Hawaii Volcano REPORTING Sparks Irrational Travel Fears.” It seems that what’s missing for almost all the reporting on Kilauea’s most recent eruptions is any sense of perspective, or context, whatsoever.

True, this latest shift in Kilauea’s eruption pattern has been devastating to those with homes near these newly-opened fissures. It is sad to experience (first hand, and even second hand) loss of life and property, no matter when or where or why. But … that stark fact aside for a moment … let’s get a grip on the larger story here, something almost none of the reporting has offered to date.

The area affected by lava flows is a neighborhood, in the Puna district, on the eastern corner of Hawaii’s “Big Island,” one of eight islands comprising the state, and one of some 1500 islands in the Hawaiian chain, most of which have been worn down to sea level by eons of weathering. The point is this: every bit of land in this entire island chain was created from the very same process that’s “causing problems” now. It has taken millions and millions of years. The wake it left behind is what we know today as Hawaii, the result of the past five million years of volcanic activity and subsequent weathering. Without what’s happening on the Big Island today, Hawaii wouldn’t even exist. Five million years from now, today’s islands will be mere relics of their former selves, and new islands will have formed. In fact, there’s a new island already forming. It’s called Loihi, and it has yet to rise above sea level.

I was on Maui when this latest event started on the Big Island, less than 100 miles away. I wouldn’t have had a clue anything was happening had it not been for texts from friends at home, certain I’d been tossed thousands of feet in the air, covered with lava, dropped in the ocean, and drowned. Their texts sound more like the reporting than the reality.

OK, so the media is here to “sell” news as much as they are to “report” it. I guess we can’t change that these days, although I think this, in itself, is irresponsible. But it’s up to us, a discerning public, to see through this nonsense and create the perspective that they seem so intent on denying or ignoring. For it is in the bigger perspective that we get the picture of what’s really happening – and the true meaning in life and its events. I suspect that this is true for almost all the news we see today, including everything that’s going on in the rest of the world. This process begins by listening carefully and by questioning all we hear. More often, however, we “hear” the drama, get lost in it, and never seem to get to the questioning part.

If tourism in Hawaii is suffering, I assure you, it’s from the reporting, not from the volcano.

And while I’m on the topic of perspective, a few other examples of humans in relationship with nature:

  • Malibu sits at the edge of an ecosystem called chaparral, common in parts of southern California. Despite the beauty of the chaparral landscape, and hence its draw for exotic homes, the landscape owes its existence to fire. Periodic fires are nature’s way to renew and replenish. A few problems here, though, ones that seem to get ignored in favor of “more immediate” concerns. If the landscape depends on fire, then it should be no surprise that homes catch fire along with the vegetation. And … land stripped of vegetation is prone to mudslides. So it should be no surprise that houses slide down hills, too. Malibu (its oceanfront homes) is sitting directly at the bottom of this natural process, on top of a thousands-of-years-long story of “fire and mudslides.” The homes don’t know this, but the home owners might, or could.
  • Barrier beaches – here on Cape Cod, and all down the East Coast – are one of nature’s most fragile and temporary landscapes. And people build homes on them. So when those barrier beaches are rearranged by storms, which is what barrier beaches do, it is really no surprise that the homes get “rearranged” too, right along with them.
  • Floodplains of rivers are attractive places to build homes. The soil is rich and the land is flat. But guess what? A floodplain got there because the river … guess what, floods. So when floods destroy homes, again, no surprise.

The very last paragraph of another article on the Kilauea volcanic eruptions relayed a conversation between a reporter and a local homeowner whose home had been destroyed. It seemed (to me) the reporter was trying to get her hyped up on the drama of her loss. Her response carried the perspective I’m writing about here. “We have a different view in this community. We don’t believe we own the land our homes sit on. Pélé does. She allows us to use the land – until she wants it back.”  (To Hawaiians, Pélé is the goddess of volcanoes, the creator of land.) Reality.

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