I don’t think about global warming nearly as often as I should. It’s sort of like death — a giant black hole constantly nipping at my heels. I know it’s out there, but my daily grind passes much more cheerfully when I try not to think about it too much.
Most Americans are this way, I think, which may help to explain why global warming, almost certainly the gravest threat humanity has ever faced (with the possible exception of nuclear war), has had such a hard time gaining more than a tiny slice of the public’s political attention. It’s just so freaking big, so unimaginably catastrophic; it’s hard to get your mind around it.
Terrorism, which truthfully is a fairly minor concern by comparison, is another matter. Some fanatical asshole straps explosives onto his back and blows up the bus you’re riding on. There’s no trouble in understanding that at the gut level!
But a human generated catastrophic increase in the planet’s temperature, leading to coastal flooding, migration of tropical diseases, extinctions of animal and plant species on a massive scale, widespread planetary famine and on and on . . . No, that’s a little bit much to try to take in; it sounds so, well, science fictiony.
But it keeps getting more and more real, doesn’t it? This from today’s Washington Post,
Greenland’s glaciers are melting into the sea twice as fast as previously believed, the result of a warming trend that renders obsolete predictions of how quickly Earth’s oceans will rise over the next century, scientists said yesterday.
The new data come from satellite imagery and give fresh urgency to worries about the role of human activity in global warming. The Greenland data are mirrored by findings from Bolivia to the Himalayas, scientists said, noting that rising sea levels threaten widespread flooding and severe storm damage in low-lying areas worldwide.
So, what can be done to increase public awareness on this topic to, let’s say, a healthy level of panic?
A little presidential leadership would be nice, of course. But, instead, we get this: Here’s George W. Bush explaining his rejection of the Kyoto Protocol,
I will explain as clearly as I can, today and every other chance I get, that we will not do anything that harms our economy . . . That’s my priority. I’m worried about the economy.
One has to wonder whether, in the entire history of planet earth, there has ever been a more selfish statement made. Our children and grandchildren face an environmental apocalypse due, in large measure, to our own remediable conduct, and the leader of our country can’t be bothered. “Be damned,” he tells them. “All I care about is our economic comfort today.”
What makes this nonsense worse, of course, is the fact it’s far from clear that cleaning up our act on global warming would actually harm the economy. It might, as Al Gore has often pointed out, actually create millions of new jobs. But such arguments seem almost too trivial to entertain. You don’t stay at home debating the cost of the motel when your house is on fire.
Of course, eventually people will have no choice but to focus on the apocalypse in the room. But with mounting evidence that the planet may be approaching a tipping point — a point of no return, after which there will be nothing humanity can do to prevent a catastrophic cooking of our world, this change of attitude had better come soon.