TV Update:
Gardeners Joyous about Global Warming


by Susan

Have you seen this PBS show about science and technology?  It’s one of those fast-paced, Gen-X-friendly news magazines and its October 10 episode covered the effects of climate change on gardeners.  The narrator introduced us to two VERY pleased-looking
gardeners somewhere in Minnesota, who told us about "the joys of global warming" – all those southern plants they can now grow.  Is this attitude – "What, me worry?  As long as I can grow crape myrtles in Toronto I’m happy!" really typical?  I’d sure like to have heard from gardeners who see the bigger picture, like the vast majority of gardenbloggers.  (Note to MSM:  we’re easy to find and love being asked for our opinions.)

Then there was another gardening item in the very same episode, in a regular segment called "What’s Inside?"  The host
rattled off a long list of ingredients and asked readers to guess what the product was.  The ingredients were salt, boric acid, urine, rust remover, fire retardant,
and so on.  Can you guess?

Well, the punch line (and indeed it’s played like a big joke) is: Miracle Gro! The narrator
then chatted away about Miracle Gro having been invented in 1950 by a New York
adman and the (scary) fact that the product has now garnered 85 percent
of the home fertilizer market. Then what do you suppose viewers were
told about Miracle Gro?  Nothing.  No mention of the consequences of all that synthetic fertilization.  I call that a wasted opportunity.

Based on this and other recent episodes, I have to conclude that "Wired
Science" works so hard to make science news fun that it simply blows it.  It’s too jazzy to educate.  It may be the very nature of its short-short segments.  (Are we all presumed to have ADD?)  Their website asks for feedback and while there are plenty of fans, I agree with this comment: "Quit treating every segment as if it needs to fit on a morning
gab fest show.  More information."  Right.  And a chemist wrote to complain specifically about the "What’s Inside" segments.

Now if you’re lucky enough to have the Sundance
Channel on your TV, you’re probably already a fan of this new show.  I don’t get the channel myself, but I went to their DC launch
party and screening
and have watched the CDs they kindly sent me of
several episodes.  Their show about waste was SO edifying I
had to turn it off because I happened to be eating dinner while
watching it, which I strongly advise against doing.  Total ick! It’s called "Crapshoot: the Gamble with our Waste."  Another episode on Cities was very good, as was their segment about guerilla gardeners – thank you!  It’s no coincidence that "The Green" gives plenty of time to the subjects it covers.


  1. Yes, I’ve seen that Wired episode twice now, and my wife and I sit on the couch and sigh vehemently everytime those two farts from MN talk. I’m from MN. I am not proud. Overall, you hit the nail on the head–that show is fluff, rare for PBS.

  2. Interesting to note that in the otherwise astute Wikipedia article found by clicking “consequences of all that synthetic fertilization” (Susan, you got it right) in the above article, the writer makes the common mistake of veering all over the map in his/her use of words describing organic versus synthetic fertilizers.

    In various portions, synthetic fertilizers are called “synthetic” fertilizers, “artificial” fertilizers, and “chemical” fertilizers. This laziness in establishing true definition results in this incorrect statement in the article:

    “It is also possible to over-apply organic fertilizers; however, their nutrient content, their solubility, and their release rates are typically much lower than chemical fertilizers.”

    What the writer means to say is, over-apply organic chemical fertlizers, and their blah blah blah are typically much lower than synthetic chemical fertilizers. Correct. Point is, organic or synthetic, when it comes to fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, etc., you are always dealing with chemicals. The chemicals are the constant. How they are derived, and how that derivation causes them to act in nature, is the variable.

    It’s this mistaken notion of “organic vs. chemical” that leads some consumers to assume that organic garden products, such as organic pesticides, are harmless because they are not chemical. Then they breathe in a big snootfull of it when spraying, or don’t wear rubber gloves, and wind up in the hospital. Or spray it on plants in the fish pond, and kill the koi.

    I switched over to using only organic chemical fertilizers five years ago, because synthetic chemical fertilizers screw up your soil structure and lessen microbe activity. Miracle Gro is possibly the worst thing you can approvingly apply to soil.

    As far as Wired Science, never seen it, one of the great advantages to not watching television, I guess. And I’m from Minnesota, and have never encountered a single person up here voicing pleasure about global warming allowing us to grow Zone 5 or 6 plants.


  3. To heck with polar bears, Antarctic ice, the Sahel — I can grow crape myrtles now!

    Argh, it’s that kind of short-sighted tunnel vision that got us into this mess in the first place.

  4. on “Wired Science”: I think I watched a full three minutes before I walked away. Why? Because I just spent the last 9 years of my life working in life science research, and 3 years prior to that studying the stuff. I want in-depth coverage. I want DETAILS. I want science with all its complexity and all its terminology. I admit I even find specials on NOVA too “light”. All I do is yell questions at the TV and then turn to the internet to get answers. Real answers.

    on Climate Change: I’d LOVE it if winter lows never dropped below 20° F here. I could grow more cool plants. But those warmer winters would come at cost I definitely don’t want to pay: more ozone pollution in summer, when temperatures soar, and less rainfall. There’s little enough precipitation here in an average year (7 inches per year), and we haven’t even made “average” for several years now. It’s not like there’s a lot of water in this desert to begin with (Northern Nevada).

    on fertilizers: Even organic fertilizers can contribute to high nitrate and phosphate loads in runoff. Good thing we don’t get much rain to make runoff here, huh? I think that organic fertilizers are better for the soil than chemical fertilizers, but that’s like saying overconsumption of dark chocolate with raisins in it is better for you than overconsumption of plain milk chocolate. Runoff from manure (whether spread on soil or in big pits or just in a heavily grazed area) does produce a nitrogen-rich runoff, and that isn’t good for nearby bodies of water.

  5. Geez, I’ve been working on an article for our botanical garden association magazine about gardeners’ perspectives on a changing climate, and this just sounds like a weird and uninformed point of view to me! The more I learn about the prospects the more concerned I am — maybe because we’re suffering through a historic drought following a really hot summer here in the SE. But just the prospect of more extreme weather events ought to chill most gardeners. It’s not just about the warmth.

  6. Maybe Jerry Shannon and his wife (Joyous About Global Warming) aren’t as stupid and self centered as they sound. Their comments might have been made tongue in cheek. Let’s hope so. If not, they should join the thousands of other winter hating Minnesotans who migrate to warmer climates.

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