NPR is not exactly gung-ho on covering Climate Change but it presented a thoughtful (for NPR) segment on climate change and the fact that Americans are less likely to “believe” in climate change today than a few years ago despite the fact that scientists are more convinced of the reality of human caused climate change than ever; and b) most Americans believe, or claim to, in science and scientific findings. NPR also pointed out that the most significant trend in climate-change denying is in the GOP and its stalwarts; however, NPR did not, as I guessed it would not, go into why this is so because it would have put its own funding at risk.
So I will say why it is so and I’m not going to blame the politicians. First though I want to emphasize how important the issue is. This issue strikes at the heart of what it means to be a responsible human being and even at civilization itself. We are choosing to live a lifestyle that is clearly and unambiguously destructive to the environment and, in my view, destructive to human society and individual morality even more. By persisting in destructive behavior despite the clear facts–and even if there was some doubt that applying any normal risk-analysis system to the problem would come out, overwhelmingly, to taking action. It is, in short, pragmatic to act on the climate change issue. What I’m interested is why we don’t act on it and what that tells us about us.
Now, who to blame for this?
- All of us are to blame, by that I mean that (I’m limiting this to the U.S. but it applies elsewhere to a lesser degree) we citizen are directly to blame first and foremost. Yes, there are excuses, the media hasn’t really covered it very well and the energy companies have bamboozled the ignorant but that doesn’t cut it for me. The American people are the recipients of a flawed but universal educational system that teaches science and the scientific method. No one, other than those who are mentally retarded, has the right to plead ignorance of science. Nearly everyone knows that science exists and what the basic method is even if they don’t know the term “empirical.” Its also frequently referred to on TV shows in various guises (usually crime-dramas). I can only assume that the fact half the American public does not accept Darwinian evolution means that these people reject science–there are legitimate arguments on controversial issues within the structure of evolution theory but not the fundamental approach. Nearly a third of Ameridans believe the Bible is true word-for-word which means that they are living in a fantasy land without benefit of logic, let alone science. Thus a significant number of Americans choose to live in a fantasy world that can have no relationship at all to the real world as established by science. About 70% of the American people believe in a literal Hell where people who are “bad” go forever. This idea is spectacularly cruel and ambiguously described in the Bible but it says a lot about the psyche of Americans who believe in this Hell. How a God who is described as compassionate can tolerate an endless Hell is beyond me and means that there are serious problems with logic in this culture. But, at any rate, if being alive for a limited time risks eternal suffering then I guess I’ d be a) very scared; and b) not that interested in the fate of the earth itself because fear narrows your view considerably. Thus Americans crave comfort and perpetual catharsis which explains the love of violent fantasies and obsession with retribution/revenge. That the politicians and MSM cater to this should be no surprise.
- Though the MSM is only catering to a, largely, militantly ignorant (of science and logic) public, still in its own mythological framework it should have, as a legitimate profession, have done much better. Mainstream journalists and editors are graduates from some of the best universities in the world and yet, act and talk as if they had barely graduated from high school. Most of them act as if they’d never studied history beyond a kind of hagiographical description of the U.S. that one might have received in the 1950’s and none of them seem to understand that there are patterns in data and backgrounds to crises and issues. The MSM, after a brief flurry a few years ago, pretty much stopped reporting on climate-change even when there were obvious weather-events that were clearly traceable and were predicted as far back as the 1980’s, i.e., increasing tornadoes and destructive storms and earthquakes. The American MSM can favor an imperial foreign policy and that bothers me, but it is understandable since it is conceivable that there are theoretical benefits to the people or to someone. But the fact they do ont insist that climate-change is a central issue of our lives is a clear case of malpractice.
- The scientific community may be in accord about climate-change but it has been remarkably quiet about it. If what they say is true then this should be the major issue before them as a community. They ought to be demonstrating and resigning from corporations that are militantly against taking measures to ease climate-change but they too just note it and move on to their personal pursuits. I think this is another form of malpractice and scientists as a profession should be called to account.
- The so-called “progressive” community has been alone in putting pressure on politicians to enact climate-change legislation and a change in our economy yet it has been very mild in recent years and concentrated on other matters when climate-change should be the master-issue upon which all others are secondary, assuming you are rational. At the very least we can make a connection between climate change and imperial wars aka GWOT.
- Politicians often have to take the blame for everything but we need to kind of give them a break. They are power brokers and can only deal with power as they find it. If Americans were concerned about climate-change politicians would say something about it even if it was just a bunch of BS but they ignore it because there is no public counter to the money they receive to ignore the issue. It’s not their job to lead — they are followers.
Climate-change should be the organizing principle of progressive politics, not jobs and not the usual cultural issues. We ought to be supporting a move towards a new economy based on renewable energy and be willing to suffer personally for it. That willingness to suffer for the well-being of our children, grand-children and future generation is an essential part of good character. If we lack even that then we should just give-up because the central flaw of this culture is what I, and others, call the retreat from virtue. Everything in this society is about narcissism. It is a narcissism based on a denial of the truth and a denial of reality. We are programmed to do that by advertising. Indulge in pleasures that our ancestors would have thought would lead to eternal damnation, we are urged — so how does it work that they can get even literal believers in the Bible to sin? They get them to simply not see it–to simply ignore the fact they are sinning and thus limit the tension somewhat. It seems to work. Of all people on earth Americans are the most hypocritical and schitzophrenic. Many studies have shown the disparity between how we perceive ourselves and how we are. We are, of course, all above normal. Norman Mailer once commented that Americans all believe, whether they are criminals, law-enforcement, ordinary citizens, politicians of different stripes, or even writers that they are all doing “the right thing.” This is in contrast to people I met in other countries who knew they were doing something bad when they were doing it and didn’t pretend to themselves that they were virtuous.
I say here that we are not in the least bit virtuous. We are living, despite our religiousity (which I believe is largely fake), lives I can only describe as sadly misguided and morally indefensible. Is there a way out? Yes, by seeing the connection between our own grasping for money, security, or fame, and the environmental crisis. We measure ourselves against that crisis–it is the issue of our age, nothing even comes close to it. Interestingly it could be a real benefit to us all. It provides us with a needed conceptual framework in a world of confusing moral and intellectual claims. It is unambigous and a framework we can organize around that would solve many issues. For example, what I see most missing in people’s lives is affiliation and connection with something larger like a committed community. This is why Americans settle for churches because churches appear and often to meet that requirement for all human beings. There is no such thing as independence for humans, we are a social species and the fact that so much of our American mythos involves “individualism” it shows how divorced we are from facts and science. We are not individuals and if we are we are very sad and lonely. We pretend that media and artificial entertainment are fulfilling but most of us, if we are at all self-aware know that’s not where it’s at.
We share this earth and as such have an automatic community to be connected to and be nurtured by. We are not all in competition — this causes destruction and inefficiency. Constant distrust has a huge overhead. I know this from working in government where security has become an almost unbearable cost of doing business. I was struck by reports of people in Islamic countries helping each other out. In the case of Tunisia and Turkey, for example, the generosity and self-sacrifice displayed by people is very apparent. Americans demonize Islam but it is a religion that, unlike Christianity, carries on the ancient world’s, particularly the Greeks, emphasis on hospitality that anyone who has peacefully encountered people from that region can attest. They have a lot to teach us about connecting to others in one’s daily life.
Facing the facts of climate change also helps us face the facts of our addictions and our denials not just as a collective but as individuals. We are doing very bad things and we have to face it. It is important to be to see the evil within us and forgive it. Only from that point can we begin to be compassionate towards others. The courage to face the truth is one chief fault we have in this culture which, despite what I’m saying, I deeply love anyway–I belong here and I share all the faults I just listed.