Thursday, January 3, 2008

Knut, We Need You!

Knut is no longer the cute cub that had drawn so many visitors to the Berlin Zoo; but he is still a "media commodity." According to an end-of-year dispatch at SPIEGEL ONLINE, the "cute Knut" that we all remember so fondly "is to star in an animated Hollywood movie by the maker of the Garfield films in a deal that could net Berlin Zoo €3.5 million." Now I certainly agree that the Berlin Zoo could do with €3.5 million in their budget; but, given that those Garfield films have been more than a little lame at the box office, one would think that Knut deserves better than this.

So I have modest proposal "inspired" by the latest environmental news report on Grist:

The U.S. Interior Department's Minerals Management Service plans to offer offshore oil and gas drilling rights to 29.7 million acres of Alaska's Chukchi Sea. The area is home to one of two U.S. polar bear populations; interestingly enough, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -- also a part of the Interior Department -- is within days of deciding whether to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. "The polar bear is in need of intensive care, but with this lease sale the Bush administration is proposing to burn down the hospital," says clever analogizer Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity. Environmentalists and some congressfolk had asked the MMS to delay the lease sale plan for at least three years; its failure to do so, says Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), is "the height of irresponsibility and short-sightedness."

I figure that, if the likes of Al Gore and John Kerry cannot get the word out about what our government is doing to the environment, then the environmental movement needs a spokesperson who will be harder for the opposition to trash than Democratic politicians who seem to have little at their disposal other than a keen skill for reasoned discourse. It is one thing to make fun of Gore, but who would dare do that to Knut? If our hearts melted at the sight of a homeless Will Smith standing in a line with his son to get a bed for the night at Glide Memorial Church, how would they react to the sight of Knut standing in that line? As I see it, the biggest obstacle is that the environmental movement probably has too many other things to do with €3.5 million. On the other hand Germans seem, as a whole, to be more sensitive to endangering the environment; so the Berlin Zoo may be in a position to let Knut do this gig pro bono.

Environmentalists have to recognize that they are not fighting a war of ideas, no matter how good someone like Gore can be in helping them wage such battles. The real war is a propaganda war of conflicting ideologies. Knut may be the perfect weapon for winning such a war.

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