I just read a study that the Kardashian sisters have received 40 times more media coverage than ocean acidification in the past year and a half. I’m not sure how surprised I should be, given that I’ve heard quite a lot about the Kardashians (and yes, even watched a couple of episodes of their reality television show) and very little about ocean acidification. One look at the tabloid rack at my local grocery store is all the verification I need that the media is focusing far more on the lives of these celebrities than on very real issues plaguing our planet. If you had asked me to estimate how much more coverage they get than ocean acidification, I would have asked, “what’s ocean acidification?” before recalling the first rule I learned in multiplication: anything multiplied by zero is still zero. I wish tabloids followed that rule.
I’m shocked to learn just how serious an environmental problem we’re ignoring in favor of relationship dramas and shopping scandals. In addition to remaining in the atmosphere as a “greenhouse gas” that prevents heat from the sun from leaving our planet, the carbon dioxide that our factories, vehicles, and factory farms produce also gets absorbed by our oceans. That absorption has raised the acidity of oceans by 30% since the Industrial Revolution and is estimated to raise acidity levels on the surface of the ocean by 150% by the year 2100. If you’ve ever taken a Tums to calm an upset stomach, you’ve experienced the chemical reaction by which calcium carbonate reacts to neutralize acid. Organisms like shellfish and coral build their shells out of this mineral, and a more acidic ocean will eat away at their shells like stomach acid dissolving a Tums, disrupting ocean ecosystems. 1.5 billion people depend on fish for food, who depend on coral for a place to live, which means that ocean acidification poses a very real threat to human life (including the Kardashians).
I’m really not sure whom we can blame for this lack of media coverage. If there’s anything I learned growing up as the child of two economics professors, it’s to consider the law of supply and demand sacred. As long as we continue to consume media that focuses on the lives of celebrities rather than on serious issues, television stations and magazines will continue to provide us with the information we’re demanding. Who can blame them? They have to make a profit somehow, and all they’re doing is giving us what we want. Of course, watching the debate on PolicyMic has made me certain that my generation is capable, and interested, in engaging with serious issues. Meanwhile, most of the people I know spend much more time reading the New York Times than they do Us Weekly. One of the points made by this study is that even serious newspapers are ignoring the issue of ocean acidification. At that point, maybe it’s time to stop blaming ourselves. Who doesn’t love blaming the media?
And hey, what better way to distract ourselves from any impending environmental catastrophes than by Keeping Up With The Kardashians?