Naked Politics Blogger
Since April 2016, Native Americans and protesters of the Dakota Access pipeline have been gathering at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota. The planned pipeline stretching 1172 miles, has been scrutinised for its disregard of sacred Native American burial sites and the negative impact on water quality, farming soil, and natural wildlife. Despite these environmental and social threats to Native Americans and other North Dakota locals, mainstream media lacked continuous coverage to place pressure on the government and corporations involved. Not only this, but now President Trump’s executive order sets a dangerous precedent for his approach to environmental issues for the next four years.
Mainstream media coverage from sources like FOX News and NBC was severely limited to say the least. These outlets instead focused on protest violence, rather than the actual environmental and Native American issues at hand. In fact, CNN’s ‘Buried Lead’ segment which discusses under-covered stories for an hour, shows a lack of dedication in covering the Standing Rock protests. But, despite the disappointing failure of mass media support, social media demonstrated just how effective a tool it can be in political movements.
Throughout the summer and autumn period, huge social media support came for Native Americans. Celebrities like Mark Ruffalo and Shailene Woodley were huge online advocates. There were online petitions and people ‘checking in’ on Facebook to Standing Rock to show support. Soon after, thousands of supporters began travelling to the protestor camps to protest the pipeline that impacts the Missouri River and the 18 million people rely on it for water. Even during the media blackout in November, protestors were able to expose violent anti-protest methods of rubber bullets and tear gas through Facebook and Twitter. The protests have even been filmed as a documentary named ‘Rise’, and recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this January.
As good as social media is in the role of increasing awareness of social movements, it hides from the disturbing failure of mainstream media. Today, the ideal ‘fourth pillar’ of American democracy, to act as a watchdog against government and corporate America appears to be merely a hopeful dream, rather than a reality. This is particularly the case with environmental issues, like climate change and unsustainable human growth. Despite the fact that 97% of scientific evidence supports theories suggesting human activity impacts climate change, there is a lack of urgency or pressure from the media to shape and influence government policy. The Standing Rock protests were a perfect opportunity for the media to increase public and government awareness of the dangerous environmental and humanitarian threat the Dakota pipelines poses.
Apparent success came when the Obama administration ruled that an extensive environmental-impact review needed to be performed before the implementation of the pipeline was completed. However, on January 24th President Trump used an executive order on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to push forward with their approval of the Dakota Access pipeline, allowing plans to advance. Not only is this disappointing for the Native Americans, it sets a dangerous precedent for the Trump administration’s environmental policy, or rather lack of. Trump’s aim of providing jobs and industry for American citizens, whilst admirable, comes at the cost of violating sacred Native American land, and damaging water supplies and natural animal habitats. In particular, the clean-up of a potential oil-spill would be disastrous and have long-term disadvantages from the project. Enbridge, who co-own the Dakota Access pipeline, had an oil-spill in Texas at the end of January, which doesn’t inspire much confidence. Yet President Trump and his administration still pushes forward with the pipeline, with a disregard for proper scientific and environmental analysis.
Based on recent tweets and statements, it seems unlikely now that mainstream media would have much influence in preventing Trump’s harmful environmental policy. One might wonder that earlier pressure on the Obama administration from the media would perhaps have offered a different outcome. Nonetheless, Trump’s claims that climate change is a Chinese myth to “make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” puts the American participation in the Paris Agreement, which aims to reduce the effects of global warming at risk. It’s clear that future environmental policy is one where unsustainable economic growth takes priority over the future of the planet.
Trump’s advancement of the Dakota Access pipeline sets a worrying precedent for the environment over the next for years. Unfortunately, the mainstream media is doing little to change this.