By Molly Ivins
AUSTIN, Texas—On the premise that spring is too beautiful for a depressing topic like Iraq, I thought I’d take up a fun subject—global warming.
Time magazine urges us to “Be Worried. Be Very Worried.” On the other hand, my sister is on the global warming committee of the Unitarian Church in Albuquerque, N.M. They go around replacing old light bulbs with more energy-efficient models. My money’s on my sis.
It’s a good thing the phrase “the tipping point” became a cliche just in time to help us describe global warming. Just a few years ago, we were more or less cruising along on global warming, with maybe 50 years or so to Do Something about it. Suddenly, the only question is how soon to push the panic button, and 10 minutes ago appears to be the right answer.
People in journalism are the worst criers of “Wolf!” imaginable. We are always setting off alarms about Ebola, or avian flu, or the impending water shortage, or the Social Security crisis, or killer bees, or the pine bark beetle, or anorexia among teenagers (surpassed only by obesity among teenagers). Boy, if we can’t sell you a scare with a few headlines and some mashed facts, no one can.
Naturally, having seen the media set off endless alarms, the public is inclined to discount them, not to mention that global climate catastrophe is not an inviting topic. We’re somewhere between “Don’t panic yet” and “Panic now!”—edging toward “Now!”
What is happening is not just what climatologists told us would happen. Global warming turns out to reinforce itself by a number of feedback mechanisms. For example, when the polar icecaps start melting, there’s less blinding bright ice to reflect heat back into the atmosphere—over 90% of sunlight simply bounces off ice and back into space. Whereas the dark water left behind by melted ice does the opposite, pulling in more warmth and accelerating the process.
The political fight over global warming is over, except in the Bush administration, which has some weird problem with science in general. I’m still not sure what’s behind that: I recall Rush Limbaugh and the radio right taking great glee in pooh-poohing the Kyoto treaty and the whole idea of global warming. Maybe they associated global warming with Canadians or something equally awful.
You might think some premise like “The whole world is getting hotter, and disastrous consequences will ensue” would be more persuasive than “I don’t like Canadians, they’re wusses,” but I suspect part of the fun of being Rush Limbaugh is never having to say the word “responsible.”
The shame for journalism is that it has always been so easy to expose those few “scientific” voices claiming there is nothing to global warming. When the money for “scientific research” on such a subject comes from oil companies, skepticism is required.
Instead, many “journalists” let the bullies on the right cow us with the “liberal media” nonsense and reported there was “a debate” over global warming. There was no debate. The only question is how fast it’s happening. And the answer that keeps coming up is “faster than we thought. And still faster.”
Time magazine, in its warm and fuzzy way, proposes that capitalism can solve much of the problem of global warming—Henry Luce would be so proud. Can’t you see it now? Boy, I’ll bet those titans can hardly wait to cut into next quarter’s profits. The insurance industry, for obvious reasons of its own, has long taken global warming seriously. By simply refusing to insure housing or enterprises near low shores, insurance can make quite a difference.
It’s true the United States could make a good thing out of specializing in green energy and green technology—but we are still living with an administration that subsidizes the oil industry. The question is where the political leadership is going to come from before we reach the Panic Point, before Miami Beach sinks underwater, before Wall Street needs a seawall.
Al Gore is all we’ve got, and the right wing is still prepared to dismiss him with contempt and ridicule, not because he’s wrong but because they’d rather talk about the time he was supposedly advised to wear earth tones.
As the Earth drifts toward crisis, our president does not yet seem capable of grasping even the First Rule of Holes. We’re in one, and it is time to quit digging.
At the very least, it is time to replace those old light bulbs. Get busy, team.