Haiti: Geologic Time vs. The News Cycle

Monday, July 12, 2010 - 08:32 AM

Geological events mark their evidence in rock and the position of the earth’s crust. The earthquake becomes a part of the geological identity of a place. Geology is its own narrative and it unfolds very slowly… literally in geological time for the estimated million people still waiting for help. We have a built-in sense that people bounce back from disasters. But perhaps to even look at Haiti six months after as though it is a long time is absurd. It says more about our attention span than it says about Haiti itself. Just as the presence of President Obama on the beaches of Alabama is more likely to produce a headline than the presence of oil that same beach would, it’s our attention span that is the story.

The “headline-breaking-news all-urgency-all-the-time” model of news coverage makes it very difficult to establish the narrative line to give a complex story like Haiti’s aftermath the day-to-day focus it needs. Each tree ring tells a story in the long-term record of life on earth.

On this morning's show New York Times reporter Deborah Sontag said that Haiti has no working government and, as a result, there is no continuity to the aid effort. Sontag’s suggestion that people need a government in place to distribute aid reminds us that the time horizon for gauging recovery might exceed the time it takes to write a check. If we are going to understand our impact on the planet and the planet’s impact on us we need a new clock.

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