Who: Dr. Doug Munro
Where: Whistler Public Library
When: Wednesday, Jan. 8, 7pm
Dr. Doug Munroe lives and breathes current events, teaching Global Perspectives at Quest University while drawing on his areas of expertise — political science, international security studies and military and strategic studies. But while he reads newspapers, he also gets a lot of his data from other sources that can paint a very different view of the world — namely that things we assume are getting worse are actually getting better, despite the sometimes gloomy stories in the media.
This Thursday (Jan. 8), Dr. Munroe is giving a presentation called “Positive News from World Politics” at the Whistler Public Library, kicking off the 2014 edition of the Quest Lecture Series. He’ll focus on some of the “good news” stories that don’t get covered as much by mainstream media and that present a completely different view of the state of the world.
“This talk came out of a challenge I got from one of my students because I teach world politics, and the student said ‘this class will be depressing,’” says Dr. Munroe. “There’s a phenomenal amount of good news out there and the big picture trends that make good news stories don’t get reported because there’s not a good hook for it.”
For one thing, Dr. Munro says that the global initiative to reduce poverty and improve child health has made huge strides. “It’s very likely that extreme hunger will cease to be a phenomena in our lifetime — and that’s not a story that shows up in the news because ‘Child is not hungry’ is a hard story to write.”
He also pointed to the climate change debate, and all the negative coverage around global climate change conferences and reports. However, he says that there is good news on that front as well — including the consensus that global climate is real (though there are still debates about causes and effects). That is an important first step, Dr. Munroe says, to actually addressing the problem.
He pointed to the issue of ozone depletion at the poles, which first came to light in the 1980s. “That was the first environmental catastrophe that I was old enough to pay attention to, and since then we’ve achieved a 98 per cent ban on ozone-depleting substances globally,” he says. “Think of the scale of that — there are billions of people on the planet, and we all stopped doing something we acknowledged was bad for the environment. That was a significant achievement, but the problem with headline news is that while the problem and the international treaty were news, the success since then has been less widely reported.”
There’s also good news on the war front, with fewer conflicts between countries and within countries, fewer casualties and more focus on resolving conflicts before they start. That’s another story that Dr. Munroe says is under-reported: wars and conflict are well covered by the media, but all the long and tedious work to head off and resolve those conflicts doesn’t get nearly as much attention.
Dr. Munroe says he understands why some stories get less coverage: “It’s easy to say, ‘bad news sells papers and good news doesn’t,’ but that’s not really what’s going on. The truth is that we’re used to getting our information from the world in an event-driven way and aren’t looking for the larger trends.
“We’re used to seeing the problems and challenges — which is actually a good thing because that’s how we make changes and progress, and how we learn about things and get informed,” he says. “But it’s a challenge to reframe these things a sense of the background trends.”
That’s not to say that the world is perfect, but Dr. Munroe says that we need to put the bad things in context — if for no other reason than it continues to motivate people and governments to continue to work on the world’s problems when they can see progress.
Dr. Munroe has presented at the Quest Lecture Series before, giving a presentation in September on the changes within Canada since the 9/11 terror attacks in the U.S. He said he’s looking forward to doing even more events in the future — that is, if there is any room on the schedule, with other Quest professors also jumping at the chance to present on a wide variety of topics.
“I really enjoyed the discussions, and the question and answer period probably went on as long as the presentation,” he said. “I think it’s a great forum, and I know my colleagues are also pretty excited about it.
“It’s exciting to get out of the classroom and speak to an audience. It’s funny, but it’s the closest thing I get to a lecture these days, because the format at Quest is so different — classes are very discussion driven and participatory, and it takes a lot of working and planning to think of how to get the information across to the students. This is more of a lecture on a more specialized topic, and it’s neat to have a discussion with the audience afterwards.”