As per the promise (threat?) last time, here’s another entry in relatively quick succession. Two stories caught my eye this week that prompt me to write. The first is the G-8 agreement on a reduction by one half of carbon emissions by 2050. The other was a small piece in the scene section of the Sacramento Bee reporting a study that showed what I’ve been suspecting now for quite a while: public attention to, and even tolerance for, additional discussion of climate change is running thin. Even environmentalists seem to be getting tired of hearing about it.
At first, you might think these two stories would indicate opposite trends, but I think that misses the truth altogether. At least the one about burnout, though, is deja vu all over again. Most aren’t old enough to even know about it, but I remember very vividly the first time the topic of global warming was hot news. It was in the early Sixties and the reference phrase then was “runaway greenhouse effect.” Alarm arose almost as soon as monitoring the atmosphere showed how much CO2 was increasing year to year. It didn’t take an atmospheric expert, even then, to see where that would lead. The final phase leaves Earth very much like Venus is today: dead.
Interestingly enough, now that even the dummies who dozed at the back of math class are willing to accept the truth of the phenomenon, the severity of the consequences are simply no longer kosher to discuss.
After a year or two of fairly bleak warnings, the topic disappeared. It resurfaced,in a rather different form in the late Sixties, which really means the Seventies, with the general environmental movement and the first Whole Earth Day. Alas, the age of Aquarius didn’t last much more, in strength anyway, than a decade.
I don’t know, maybe it was Al Gore’s Earth In The Balance, in 1992, that really drove the nail into that particular coffin by resurrecting the distasteful subject of the greenhouse gas phenomenon once again. No one wants to talk about where this is really going. In fact, that’s one of the biggest barriers I have to getting my book published. Everyone wants a happy ending. At least a lot happier than mine. Everyone wants “happy talk.”
That’s probably why Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, which revisited Earth in the Balance in another medium, was actually very disappointing. While it brought the subject back to the forefront some fourteen years later by regurgitating basically the same information regarding the direness of our situation, it completely soft-pedaled the actions that would be needed to atone for the damage we’ve already done. In The Balance he speaks long and eloquently to the need for a “Marshall Plan” for the environment. In Truth, over a decade later, with virtually nothing achieved in the interim, recycling plastic bags is about as far as he goes. Of course, Truth got the better press and a Nobel prize, for no one wants to hear about the level of sacrifice we’ll have to go through to correct these problems. Where’s the happy talk in that?
But the reason this keeps coming back is simple: ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. Quite the contrary.
The G-8 thing, though, that’s kind of different. It’s being touted in the capitalist press as being the first time the industrial nations have made movements toward a commitment to respond to global warming. And, worse, they’re making it sound like Bush made it happen.
First of all, none of that’s true. Only the U.S. and emerging third world nations have been dragging their asses on this issue. All the other industrial nations have been trying for years to get us on this boat. Every other one of them is already working on trying to respond. And secondly, Bush isn’t encouraging it, he’s allowing it–if the time frame is 2050 instead of 2020 or less–and if the commitment is totally nebulous, with no definitions and no specifics. Even the “by half” provision describing carbon reductions doesn’t say by half of what. That’s not even “allowing,” it’s paying homage to the aphorism, “delay is the deadliest form of denial.”
Bush isn’t leading. He’s thumbing his nose at the scientific community, and getting by with it because so many of the mainstream, with the help of Rupert Murdoch’s press, are now confusing the environmental community and the scientific community as one and the same. True, on this issue, those groups are in total agreement. But they are not, and never have been, except for some coincidental overlap, the same.
As someone solidly raised in the scientific community, I can attest to our constant surprise at how reliably so many totally unscientific types come to the best positions regarding many, many important and complex issues–often better positions by far than the scientists themselves can reach consensus on. Prior to the environmental movement, the anti-nuclear weapons stance of the “new age” people stands out as an example where logic should have lead the scientific community to a consensus in agreement with the “hippy types” long before it did.
What appears to me to be happening in this case, the G-8 fiasco, is that Bush is placing himself squarely in opposition to our leading atmospheric scientist, NASA’s Dr. James Hansen. Hansen is saying we’ve got to get CO2 atmospheric content down to 350 ppm from its current 370-380ppm as soon as possible, lest global warming enters an unstoppable runaway status (the 1960’s fear). George W. is saying, “there’s plenty of time, and we don’t really have to do more than slow down how fast we’re adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.”
What’s Hansen’s justification? Studies, observations, and scientific computer models. The tools of science. What’s Bush’s? God talks to him. The one and only tool of faith.
And that’s pretty much what this has come down to. Bush vs Hansen. Faith vs. Science. Capitalism vs environmentalism. Like it or not, folks, Bush, Faith, and Capitalism are winning. We’re not going to make it. That’s the only logical conclusion you can come to. Anything else is faith–or maybe just vain hope.
Does anyone have an option, if we don’t make it, to getting off? Oh, and don’t even talk to me as if “we” means humans. I’m talking about the “we” that is the Lifeforce on this planet. Runaway greenhouse kills it all, not just humanity, so those of you hoping Earth will do better without us can just think about it a bit more. We’re killing it all, not just ourselves. How typically selfish is that?