Water scarcity

BLANK PAGE SYNDROME

When the cover page has been chosen for this Campaign issue*, I questioned myself about fears people could have towards sustainability issues. I started to think that today our fear of missing the last trend topics because of insufficient battery on our smartphones seemed bigger than our concern for the effects caused by energy supply making our smartphones work; neither – it seems – do we care much about the consequences of smartphones’ production and their disposal. But then, the Universal Exhibition taking place in Milan over a six-month period came to my mind. Starting in May, the Expo Milano 2015’s theme is “Feeding the planet, Energy for life”. Over 20 million visitors are expected to come; a great opportunity for such event to raise awareness about sustainable development issues and presenting potential solutions to face resource scarcity, better consumption and population growth. I was then wondering if fear makes us act and feeds innovation. 

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Only 7% of the global e-waste mountain is made up of phones, computers and printers – Source: GETTY IMAGES / BBC

From fear to innovation
Today our fear is fed by the information we gather from the multiple media sources we have access to: web news, TV news, blogs etc. Moreover, focus made on “better consumption” has been higher and higher over the years. You can measure the keen interest of people to better consume, just with the increasing number of celebrities making themselves writers and sharing their secrets of health – apparently not just money and Photoshop – in books or blogs. Besides the lobbies, documentaries and media have influenced people’s consumption. Brands are continuously innovating, creating products addressing these concerns, using communication tools, such as “paraben free” or “sulfates free” labels over cosmetics, to reassure consumers.

Fear from wrong focus
However, news is broadcasted on TV according to its potential impact on the audience; the best combo being tragedy/rarity/danger. This is probably why, in France on 12 April, we heard more about an accidental shark attack of a 13 year-old boy surfing in a forbidden area in Réunion Island, rather than Siabatou Sanneha, a Gambian woman participating to the Paris marathon carrying a jerrycan of water on her head to raise awareness about access to clean water in Africa. Because, more than 840.000 people die each year from water related disease and only 750 million people around the world lack access to safe water according to WHO and UNICEF JMP, it does not worth a TV news coverage compared to a shark attack in Réunion. Shark attacks are rare – there have been 16 in Réunion area in 4 years, with seven of them fatal according to RFI – and thus, when one occurs, it is more interesting to talk about it in the news, rather than an ordinary fact: water scarcity. Why TV news should care about an African woman, sent by the NGO Water for Africa, warning about water access conditions in Africa and asking for help? Can you imagine, based on the International Shark Attack File, there have been 2.777 confirmed unprovoked shark attacks between 1580-2014, i.e. about 6 attacks per year? So, of course we should fear sharks! Besides, so many films picturing sharks as the “bad guy” since Jaws (1975) have been made!

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Siabatou Sanneha, during the Paris marathon on 12 April 2015. Source: RTL

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Translation of Siabatou Sanneha’s boards: “In Africa, women cover each day this distance for drinking water”; “Help us reduce the distance” – Ironical photo right? Source: RTL

Feeding wrong fears
More seriously, except contributing to feed people’s fear of shark and making most of them think this animal is obsessed with human flesh – which is not – some context should be given when reading the news. Scientists estimate almost 100 million sharks are being killed each year (!) While some organizations protecting sharks – especially to stop shark finning – are increasing; in the same manner, the number of movies putting sharks as dangerous creatures willing to kill humans continue to soar. Let’s face it; making a movie about the things that kill more people than sharks every year – like obesity, lightening or texting – is less breathtaking and more difficult to change it into a blockbuster than a film with flying sharks.

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On the left, the Top 3 of the 20 Things That Kill More People Than Sharks Every Year / Source: BuzzFeed – On the right Sharknado TV films (2013 – 2014 – to be released in 2015) / Source: IMBD

Spoiler alert
Unfortunately movies have greater impact on consumers, as means given to produce impressive effects are huge. My fear now may be that we would need to have a Fast and Furious 8 – or Furious and Fast 8 – to get awareness about sustainability issues be broadly raised. After all, they made cars fly; they could go on under water like Bond did in The Spy Who Loved Me. Between two accelerations Vin Diesel could tell the new villains “Stop shark finning, and get me a Corona”. Who knows?

*Campaign Türkiye May 2015 issue cover page is Fear Marketing