Friday, December 28, 2007

Looking back, Part III

Perhaps the most frightening thing to emerge in 2007 is the stunning lack of public understanding of and concern over global warming.

Sure, it's been in the news a lot. Gore got a Nobel, diligent news readers could see the word Bali now and again, pontificators pontificated, hands were duly wrung--and so what?

What, in fact, have we really done? What does anyone care? A recent survey (very recent) showed that on the list of issues voters have in the upcoming elections, global warming is not even in the top ten (#12 for Democrats, #15 for Republicans).

Truly, the public Just Doesn't Get It. Very obviously, they are writing this off as just the latest delivery from the fad-of-the-month club, yeah, sure, I'll look at it when I get the time, why did we ever sign up anyway?

(A recent and relevant article is "Remember This: 350 Parts per Million" in the Washington Post.)

Look, folks, we're really and literally talking about The End of Civilization As We Know It here--and that's the problem. The fact that one can write that phrase with initial caps shows clearly how terribly trivialized "disaster scenarios" have become, from the Y2K nonsense to an endless stream of apocalyptic movies dealing with silliness from monster floods to earthquakes (all in places where they're virtually impossible).

The "boy who cried wolf" problem never loomed larger. To the average American, "global warming" is almost meaningless--at most, a basis for another tawdry movie. The depth of extant ignorance is made manifest in imbecilic dismissive remarks everywhere from neighborhood bars to newspaper columns (and the United States Senate).

To those who can read without moving their lips, global warming is manifestly the crucial issue facing this nation and the world right now; nothing else is really even close. If we want to apportion blame, we could look at the current administration, whose approach to the problem is to deny it because admitting it might cost some of its dear, dear friends in big business a little money; but that's cheating. That administration was elected (well, maybe), and in any event, where's the public uproar for immediate fixes? A public that could arouse itself to a raging fever pitch for months over whether one man had private consensual sexual activity outside marriage just couldn't care less about a possible-moving-quickly-to-probable global disaster.

I suppose we could look even farther back, and try to decide who is responsible for the gutting of our so-called educational system, so that the same kids who are no longer taught any English grammar whatever, and show it, are also taught little or no real science, and show that, too.

Indeed, one can easily get side-tracked into an endless blame game. For one thing, it's a lot easier to work on throwing blame around--which requires nothing but a keyboard--than on actually solving the warming problem, which requires expensive action rather than cheap talk. It's a classic symptom of seriously bad management skills: ask about how we got into this instead of how we get out of this.

Right now, the most important thing any one of us not in some special position of power can do is try to see that those who do occupy positions of special power understand the stupendous importance of the problem and of working hard on solutions. Clearly that means the Democratic candidate for president (Republicans appear allergic to science-based matters); which candidate no longer matters except to the 2½% of the population, those in Iowa and New Hampshire, who will actually determine which candidate runs in the general election.

Fortunately (and as is so often the case, especially over the past seven years), many state governments--and even some cities--are running well ahead of the federal government in trying to do meaningful things. So it behooves each of us to also pay careful attention to candidates for major statewide or, in large cities, municipal candidates as to their attitudes, experience, and commitment to resolving the global-warming problem.

We need to address this issue now.

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