Ignoring Global Warming and Our Kids:
Are We All Just Mad?
by Dave Lindorff
Published January 15, 2007
Most of us who are parents will live to see our children
reach adulthood, and will even live to be grandparents,
and yet we all spend thousands of dollars paying for life
insurance, just in case we were to die before our kids
get through college.
Most of us will never suffer a house fire, but over the
years we spend tens of thousands of dollars insuring our
houses against that disaster (we also spend huge sums
of tax dollars paying for fire stations and equipment).
Most of us will never have a serious accident, and yet
we all spend even more money insuring our cars, just in
case we do.
As a nation, we are extremely unlikely to suffer a germ-warfare
attack, and yet at a cost of billions of dollars we have
stockpiled smallpox and anthrax vaccines. We also spend
countless billions of dollars on research to find cures
to diseases like AIDS and bird flu which most of us will
never contract. (For that matter, we are spending hundreds
of billions of dollars fighting an alleged "terror"
threat which at its worst might threaten a few hundred
or thousand people, and that also might never occur.)
We spend our hard-earned cash to insure against all of
these things not because they are likely to happen to
us but because in the unlikely case that such things did
come to pass, it would be such a personal, or a national
calamity, that we need to be prepared.
So why are we, as individuals and as a nation, doing
nothing or next to nothing about global warming--a disaster
which is potentially worse than anything else imaginable,
including nuclear war?
Even if the darker scenarios being drawn--which range
from global draught, lost coastlines and a northward march
of deadly tropical diseases to the collapse of civilization
and the virtual extinction of the human race--are unlikely,
the reality that they actually could happen should be
leading us to take out some kind of insurance policy,
and should be driving us to start taking steps to prepare,
just in case.
In fact, however, we are ignoring or denying the problem--and
in fact are actively increasing the risks. Even though
we know that the polar ice caps are melting at an accelerating
rate, and that the vast regions of permafrost north of
the Arctic Circle are melting, we are not even requiring
that automobiles meet strict fuel efficiency standards.
As a nation, we continue to promote a society based upon
the personal automobile, and as citizens we continue to
buy earth-killing SUVs and muscle cars. As a nation we
keep heating our homes at 70 degrees in winter and air
conditioning them at 65 degrees in summer, adding ever
more generating capacity that keeps pumping more and more
carbon into the atmosphere.
As a nation, we refuse even to contemplate a policy that
would actually significantly cut emissions of carbon dioxide
into the atmosphere. As individuals, we refuse to alter
our lifestyles to reduce our carbon footprint.
Are we nuts?
What would we call parents who refused to buy life insurance,
or who refused to carry health insurance when they could
afford it? What do we call people who drive their cars
without having insurance? We call them selfish and stupid,
and in the latter case, even criminal.
So what should we call a society that is risking the
future of civilization, of humanity, for the selfish reason
that its people just don't want to be discomfited in the
I would say it is madness. Someone who refuses to recognize
reality, who refuses to see disaster ahead, who refuses
to act on the basis of self-preservation, but instead
does things that are likely to cause self-inflicted injuries
or death, is certifiable.
That's us--certifiable, both as individuals and collectively
as a nation.
In a sense, we're lucky--our house hasn't burned down
yet. We can still act. Maybe the better analogy is the
person who didn't buy life insurance. If we'd bought it
when we were young, it would be cheap to pay the premiums,
but because we're nearly at retirement age now, it will
be a lot more expensive to buy--if we can get it at all.
That's how it is with climate change. The die has been
cast. The polar caps are melting, setting in motion a
raft of irreversible changes. The permafrost melt, for
example, is creating vast swamps with unimaginable amounts
of organic material which, under water, will rot anaerobically,
releasing not carbon dioxide, but methane, a gas that
has 24 times the global warming effect of CO2. The loss
of the north polar cap, and of the vast snowfalls in the
arctic north, is reducing the reflectivity of a large
portion of the earth's surface, increasing the sun's heating
effect. Forests in temperate and tropical zones are dying
or shrinking because of decreasing rainfall, and falling
Like an insurance policy purchased at an advanced age,
the available remedies to climate change are getting more
and more costly.
Just cutting car and power plant emissions to 1990 levels
will not be enough anymore. Even if we cut emissions by
80-90 percent, we will still likely see catastrophic sea
level rises this century, and massive global crop failures,
and starvation on an unimaginable scale. But that grim
prognosis is no reason not to act. If we don't take action--serious
action--the catastrophes will be even worse.
Living in China in the early 1990s, I marvelled at how
the government there was trashing the country's environment
in the name of development and industrialization. It is
clear that for the ruling Communist Party, the short-term
interest of staying in power by keeping people happy with
jobs and rising incomes trumps longer-term concerns like
gallopping desertification, life-threatening pollution
and global warming. But how different is our capitalist
society and government, really? In the name of ever-rising
profits over the short-term, we too are putting survival
the nation and of the human race in jeopardy. In fact,
since Americans, 5% of the world's population, produce
25% of the world's greenhouse gasses, we are actually
worse than China, by far.
We must, as human beings, as a society, and as individuals,
snap out of it, and take dramatic action.
If we don't, we're all just plain crazy.