CNN is now broadcasting a special investigation called “Planet in Peril“–the first installment aired tonight. It stars certain charismatic megafauna–Sanjay Gupta, Anderson Cooper, and Jeff Corwin–and features a new REM song, so the project boasts a high bling-factor.
What I’ve seen of it so far makes me think that I would show it to students, were it available on DVD, but I would also be careful to point out its strengths and defects beforehand. The first part was very good at explaining basic ecological ideas, such as “keystone species,” “ecosystem,” and even the fairly technical “trophic cascade,” or food chain reaction. In fact, its analysis of Yellowstone after the reintroduction of wolves is the best explanation of the systemic nature of ecological issues that I’ve seen on television. Also, the show’s ability to link Madagascar, Greenland, Thailand, China, and the United States in a global system of environmental crisis and remediation is one of it greatest advantages as an instructional tool.
I will certainly caution my students, however, that the special appears to have a politically imbalanced approach to the global crisis. I’m no apologist for the disaster China is creating for itself and others, but I was disturbed by the images of swarming Chinese urbanites voraciously consuming everything in their path. It’s all too Yellow-Peril-ish to me, especially given how little is said about consumption in the United States, the EU, India, and even Russia. Why do we get a pass and the Chinese get the heat?
If others are watching this, I would love to read your reactions.