Dear EarthTalk: Are all the commercial messages kids are bombarded with today having any noticeable negative effects? And if so what can a concerned parent like me do to limit my own kids’ exposure to so much advertising and marketing? -- Jason Baldino, Somerset, NJ
No doubt, marketers are hard at work targeting our children with their messages and creating young demand for their products. Companies in the U.S. today spend some $17 billion yearly advertising to children, a 150-fold increase from just a few decades ago. Some cash-strapped school districts have even started selling ads on and sometimes in their school buses as a way to bolster sagging education budgets. To be an American kid today is to be bombarded with marketing messages and sales pitches. It’s no wonder that, given the amount of advertising and marketing they endure, young people in our society are experiencing record levels of obesity and problems with credit card debt.
|One study found that the average American kid is exposed to more
than 25,000 television ads spanning some 10,700 minutes over the
course of just one year.Credit: iStockPhoto
According to the non-profit Center for a New American Dream (CNAD), a leading proponent for more ecologically sustainable and community-oriented lifestyles in the United States, this incessant marketing is turning our children “into little consumers, alienating them from nature, getting them used to unhealthy diets filled with junk foods, and making them want ever more stuff.” The group points to several disturbing studies, such as one that showed how U.S. children could recognize more Pokemon characters than common wildlife species, while another found that the average American kid is exposed to more than 25,000 television ads spanning some 10,700 minutes over the course of just one year.
The result of all this aggressive marketing to kids is not just excessive materialism and obesity, but also a host of other problems including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, eating disorders, increased violence, and family stress. “Economically, societally and ecologically,” CNAD reports, “this is unsustainable and not the best path for children.”
Against this backdrop of media and marketing saturation, what can be done to help steer our kids in a more healthy direction? Given that shielding American kids from these messages would be nearly impossible, the next best thing is teaching them how to parse through the different come-ons and solicitations they are exposed to these days at nearly every turn. CNAD’s free, downloadable 32-page booklet “Tips for Parenting in a Commercial Culture” offers loads of useful information on how to limit kids’ exposure to commercial influences that come via the television, computer or mail slot, and replacing those lost hours with new opportunities for more beneficial activities. Examples abound: playing board or card games, going on a walk or hike, riding bikes, and much more. The booklet also elaborates on how to limit or rid commercial influences in schools and other places where kids spend time away from home.
Another great resource for parents and teachers looking to reduce commercial influences on kids is the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a coalition of more than two dozen other groups started by consumer advocate and author Susan Linn. The coalition advocates for the adoption of government policies that limit corporate marketers’ access to kids and works to mobilize parents, educators and health care providers to stop the commercial exploitation of children. Teachers love the coalition’s free downloadable Guide to Commercial-Free Book Fairs while concerned parents can download the Guide to Commercial-Free Holidays in order to help themselves and their kids resist the hype.
Dear EarthTalk: I understand that mining was just banned in the Grand Canyon and environs. Why is that an important victory for the environment? -- Michael McAllister, Reno, NV
|By prohibiting further mining in the Grand Canyon, the U.S.
government is effectively protecting more than 1,300 acres from
surface disturbance and preventing the diversion and potential
pollution of over 300 million gallons of precious fresh water from
the region’s aquifers.Credit: iStockPhoto
Yes, in January 2012 Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the federal government was prohibiting new mining claims for the next two decades across more than a million acres of public lands surrounding Grand Canyon National Park.
In the face of increased uranium mining in the area, environmental advocates have been pushing for the prohibition to stave off the industrialization of the iconic wild lands flanking the park, fearing that new roads, mines, exploratory drilling, power lines and truck traffic would compromise the natural experience most visitors seek, let alone directly pollute and alter the region’s fragile ecology. Pre-existing claims can continue to operate in the parcels in question, but they will have only about a tenth of the surface impacts and a third of the water usage of what mining in the area would cause without the ban on new claims.
“The Grand Canyon’s watershed is a complex groundwater flow system that extends miles north and south of the National Park’s boundary,” reports the non-profit Wilderness Society. “If contaminated by uranium mining, those aquifers would be impossible to clean up—a point acknowledged by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.” The group adds that the aquifers in question feed the Grand Canyon’s springs and creeks, which provide habitat for up to 500 times more species than adjacent uplands, including threatened, endangered and even endemic species found only in the national park.
“By industrializing the Grand Canyon region and risking permanent pollution of its soil and water resources, uranium mining would also threaten the Southwest’s robust tourism economy—for which Grand Canyon National Park is the primary economic engine,” says the Wilderness Society, adding that the outdoor recreation business in Arizona each year supports 82,000 jobs, generates some $350 million in state tax revenue, and stimulates about $5 billion in retail sales and services.
As far as environmentalists are concerned, the Interior Department’s decision couldn’t have come any sooner, with mining companies champing at the bit to open up over 700 new uranium mining sites and exploration projects on the disputed lands. By halting this development, the U.S. government is effectively protecting more than 1,300 acres from surface disturbance and preventing the diversion and potential pollution of over 300 million gallons of precious fresh water from the region’s aquifers.
“The Interior Department’s decision on this ban reinforces the role the agency should play in managing our public lands by evaluating the various uses in the region and safeguarding fragile lands from permanent damage,” concludes the Wilderness Society.
Of course, the mining and uranium industries in the U.S. are not lying down so easily. In February the National Mining Association, a trade group representing the interests of the U.S. mining industry, filed suit in federal court to try to overturn the prohibition. While the challenge works its way through the legal system, environmentalists can breathe easy as the ban remains in effect. But only time will tell how long they can keep resource extractors at bay in and around our national parks, especially in light of the lucrative revenues that can be made from uranium mining, logging and other destructive practices.