Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Climate Change

Recently I added an editorial to an Op-Ed piece written by my friend Tom Glendening. You can find his original piece, written for "The Panelist" website, here. Tom's piece on climate change, its effects, and the possible solutions, was followed by two comments, one shouting an "Amen" from the choir, and the other declaring that climate change is a "hoax" cooked up by greedy scientists to secure funding. My response for "The Panelist" follows:

The first two comments offered here display the typically polarized debate over the severity - or existence - of climate change. Unfortunately, much of the debate in the last two decades - the period in which climate change alarms were first sounded and heard beyond the scientific community - has been shaped by a triumvirate of ignorance: a monolithic corporate system in which profits trump responsibility; conservative politicians who are little more than sharecroppers in the corporate fields; and evangelical Christians who alternate between preaching a "why bother" attitude with the imminence of the Second Coming, and emphasizing God's gift to mankind of "dominion" over the earth. What "fundamentalist" Christians often ignore in their interpretation of scripture is its emphasis on "stewardship" within that theme of "dominion." (As an aside, it's important to note that an increasingly vocal splinter group of conservative Christians has abandoned their bloc's anti-environmental stance and begun sounding the environmental trumpet - albeit to the tune of "stewardship of God's resources." If it brings them to the table, I'm not going to argue with their motivation.)

Since Plato's idea of philosopher-kings seems an unlikely course for our hedonistic, reality show society, we'll have to find an alternative to address the global issue of climate change and its impact, because it IS, ultimately, a global issue that requires global solutions. The United States acting alone will not solve the problem. Perhaps we can foster development of a more enlightened triumvirate that a) unites scientifically aware governments populated by politicians possessing an intact ethical DNA, b) a global corporate system that recognizes the deleterious effects unallayed climate change can have on the bottom line, and c) grassroots mobilization/education to create a groundswell of public opinion that will influence positively the first two elements in this list. (Realize that this goal will no doubt prove tantamount to dragging some of Plato's cavedwellers into the light. They will prefer the alternate reality of shadows cast on the wall. Let's just hope they, including Ben Hanley, notice when the cave becomes unbearably hot and unlivable.)

Upon reflection, the most important element in this group may be the shapers of public opinion. Because if there are enough Al Gores and Tom Glendenings (the author of the op-ed piece), public opinion - and consumer behavior - can tilt the monoliths of government and business into action.

A footnote: as a historian and artist, I tend to take the long view on most issues, realizing that if one looks closely enough, there are potent lessons to be learned from the collected data of our cultural histories. Take for example, the works of Pieter Brueghel the Elder, a 16h century Flemish painter. Many of his beautifully rendered images depict a northern Europe that is cold, snow-covered, and ice-bound. This was Brueghel's reality, not merely an artist's fantasy world. Average yearly temperatures during that period were only a few degrees cooler than today - causing scholars to refer to this period (varyingly estimated from 1550 to 1850) as Europe's "Little Ice Age." I won't go into the science that explains this period . . . nor will I address the manifold consequences vis-a-vis economics, health, politics, etc. Just understand that this period was caused by a seemingly miniscule shift in average yearly temperatures. The current threat - with effects potentially magnified by anthropogenic variables - appears much more dire . . . and will likely not inspire a latter-day Brueghel to leave behind paintings of bucolic community life or winter wonderlands.

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