January 2, 2012

Presenting the good news as bad news, New York Times-style

Filed under: Africa, Environment, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:17

Walter Russell Mead has a textbook example of finding the cloud to every silver lining in the pages of the New York Times:

A worthless desert in South Africa, largely inhabited by drought-stricken sheep and a handful of marginal farmers, turns out to contain rich natural gas reserves that could bring a new wave of economic growth to South Africa and provide huge numbers of well paying jobs for poorly educated workers.

The New York Times, of course, is wringing its elegantly manicured hands. And why not? The soil of the Karoo desert is “fragile,” and the extraction of the natural gas will involve fracking. What will happen to the sheep?

The Times finds a local farmer who is worried about exactly that.

    “If our government lets these companies touch even a drop of our water,” [the farmer] said, “we’re ruined.”

Ruined! By wicked natural gas companies feeding the world’s hydrocarbon addiction. The farmer in question has a herd of 1400 sheep. (It was 2000 last year before a drought forced the slaughter of 600.) One somehow suspects that the farmer will find some other way to make money when the district becomes a major gas producing center. And, worst case, roughnecks eat a lot of meat.

That the Times chooses the lonesome shepherd to lead off one of the best good news stories around these days speaks volumes about the gloomy Gus mindset at the Paper of Record. Why can’t this be a good news story? Will a gas boom save South African democracy, for example? Will new economic opportunities transform the lives of tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of poor black South Africans? Will the huge increase in South Africa’s natural gas supply reduce the country’s carbon footprint? Is there anything in the geology to suggest that other poverty stricken parts of Africa might also be similarly blessed? How are local leaders planning the spend the windfall: better schools? better hospitals?

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