This op-ed was originally published in Progreso Weekly on 2/3/10.
“The decade ending in 2009 was the warmest on record, new surface temperature figures released Thursday by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration show…2009 was the second warmest year since 1880, when modern temperature measurement began.The warmest year was 2005. The other hottest recorded years have all occurred since 1998, NASA said.”
Global temperatures varied because of changes in ocean heating and cooling cycles. “When we average temperature over 5 or 10 years to minimize that variability,” said Dr. James E. Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, one of the world’s leading climatologists, ‘we find global warming is continuing unabated.’”
— John M. Broder, The New York Times, Jan. 21
In the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore – remember him? – warned that greenhouse gasses and other sources of hydrocarbons would increase and threaten future planetary life. After issuing this filmic challenge, Gore advised citizens to recycle and buy gas-efficient cars.
Inconvenient? How about shutting down most of the factories belching smoke around the world, which contribute little to global health? Or abandoning the high rise office buildings that require heating and cooling 24/7?
Traffic jams have become ever more inconvenient. How about doing away with them by closing auto and truck plants in China, Brazil, India as well as those in the West and Japan? How about thinking of exhaust pipes as shotguns loaded with deadly vapors and aimed at the common atmosphere?
Convenient American suburbia with individual family dwellings, involves daily commuting, two car or more garages and fireplaces! How comfy! What would Hollywood, TV and advertisers do without these “happy” people to use as models to sell entertainment products, all of which require pollution as part of their production process? Think how inconvenient life would become if we had no more McDonald‘s, Burger King, Carl’s Jr. or any fast food chains! Instead, think of no more farting (methane) cows bunched together like four-legged sardines in open air pens. Oops, I’m getting nauseated.
The foundations and routines of modern industrial life – the context for the fabled American dream – assume perpetual consumption; more and technologically improved commodities as symbols of prosperity and even identity. The United States has exported this “dream” throughout much of the world in its films and TV programs. But these “entertainment” products don’t contain warning signs, similar to those on cigarette packages: this product will cause serious environmental damage; future generations will suffer from an unsustainable environment.
Most political leaders face a challenge they refuse to acknowledge: To gain control of runaway climate change – alongside of melting ice sheets releasing more hydro carbon gasses. To accomplish this Herculean task, they must abandon convenience, the unchallenged assumptions that place the corporation as means and ends of policies.
When the now-retired Fidel Castro reflected on this situation or Bolivia’s President Evo Morales spoke about it, the New York Times and equivalents in the major capitals give scant or no coverage. Not convenient material? Castro said (author’s interview) last September that the greatest crime of the right wing exiles “was the theft of the 2000 election because it set back the environmental movement by 10 years.” He referred to votes cast by non U.S. citizens in Miami and to intimidation by goon squads who threatened vote counters in certain south Florida precincts.
After recovering from his failed presidential bid, Gore, using his access to mass media, delivered a first alarm message. Last December, German Chancellor Angela Merkel flayed doubters of global warming. She said: In our knowledge, however, there has never been so rapid an increase in temperatures as predicted by science today. Previously, she noted, “plants and animals had the opportunity to adapt to changes over thousands of years.” Not anymore.
She expressed concern over people in coastal areas who “are most vulnerable to global warming with rapidly rising sea levels.” She pleaded for “a sensible use of valuable and limited resources such as natural gas and oil.” She reminded the public that “in 2050, nine billion people will live on the earth. It won’t work without conservative use of resources.” December 16, 2009 Bild am Sonntag
President Obama’s State of the Union speech to Congress avoided truly inconvenient truths. Their voters (consumers not citizens) might not want to curtail production and consumption, the twin life bloods of the world’s economies. Instead, Obama boasted of how he and Congress bailed out the job-and pollution-producing auto industries. It’s convenient to piously refer to “green technology,” but the least gas guzzling vehicles still emit polluting compounds.
In 2009, the powerful convened in Copenhagen to demonstrate pathetic if not criminal timidity. Only the demonstrators showed they understood the stakes; few of their concerns reached front pages or lead TV stories. Rather, headlines emphasized violence and chaos – appeal to consumers’ base tastes. Who wants to face the “inconvenient” challenge humans face about their future on the planet?