Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What if you're wrong?

Faced with an overwhelming consensus in the scientific community that global warming is a very serious threat to our existence on this planet, the right wing, along with most of the corporate establishment, has responded by—attacking the messenger.

If I understand the arguments correctly, what these wise leaders are saying is that global warming is a fake, a plot by liberals to undermine the economy and our way of life. A recent Fox Lies program featured interviews with “skeptics” who turn out to have strong ties to the oil industry, and whose claims have already been debunked. Our friend Rush Limbaugh claims that global warming is a fraud that has been cooked up by the “wacko” UN, with the help of evil environmental activists. The Wall Street Journal has chimed in on its editorial page, claiming that the scientific case for global warming is “getting weaker all the time.”

I’m reminded of a remark by Robert F. Kennedy in his account of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The Joint Chiefs had argued that the U.S. needed to use nuclear weapons against Cuba, because if we didn’t, our enemies would eventually use them against us. RFK wrote, “I thought, as I listened, of the many times that I had heard the military take positions which, if wrong, had the advantage that no one would be around at the end to know.”

There’s the rub, you see. The question that I ask of the global warming deniers is, “What if you’re wrong?”

On most issues, being wrong has consequences which are survivable. But here, we’re talking about a threat to our very existence as a species. The catastrophic effect of climate change, caused by our petroleum addiction, involves the deaths of billions of people, an unspeakable level of extinction. And we only have about a decade to turn things around.

Now, even if one were skeptical, in the face of such a threat the issue should at least be faced with seriousness and an appropriate level of concern. I don’t hear that here. We’re supposed to believe that scientists have been fooled by some sort of left-wing cabal that is plotting to undermine our economy. We’re supposed to believe that the subject doesn’t deserve our attention, that it’s a hoax, and that someone like Rush Limbaugh knows more about such things than the many, many scientists who have been ringing the alarm for years and decades.

Self-interest is perhaps the most blinding and misleading tendency in human nature. Apparently if the news from the scientific community contradicts a desire to continue making money in the same way we’ve always made money, then the response is to hide one’s head in the sand and accuse the messenger of ulterior motives. But if these ostrich people are wrong, we all lose in a bigger way than can even be imagined.

I wonder if they think about the future at all. The whole Wall Street mentality is so wrapped up in short-term gains that it doesn’t seem to possess the capability of considering future generations at all. In the secret recesses of the right wing brain, perhaps the thought arises, “I’ll be dead then anyway. Might as well make my money now and not worry.” Who cares about the future of the planet? Who cares about my children, or my grandchildren, or what kind of conditions they will have to endure? That must be the mindset, even if it’s only unconscious. Nothing else can explain the complete disregard of, and indeed the contempt for, facts.

Never mind that it’s bad government, bad social policy, bad morality. It’s bad business. You don’t just throw away your future assets on a gamble. Even a filthy rich capitalist should have that much sense.

What if you’re wrong? Can you even conceive of the possibility that you could be wrong? Are you a human being, or some kind of god who never doubts yourself? The stakes are too high to treat this issue as if it were like any other, a political football or a hammer to hit your enemies with.

We need to wake up, or we’ll find ourselves in the boiling water with the proverbial frog, croaking idiotically while our world dissolves.


Stan said...

Hear hear Chris. The degree of mass denial w/r/t to the environment reveals how collective self-deception is yet another historical lesson we've managed, for the most part, not to learn from.

We wouldn't be the first species to pollute itself out of existence, but we'd be the first species to do so while knowing all about it.

George Bezerra said...

Chris, the lesson we learn is that people are always concerned about their own interests only. They will do everything to take advantages. Nothing wrong with that, it's just the way things work. Even our science is subjected to these interests. Don't believe a scientist, behind him there is a political reason. There is an interest to publish a paper or to get funds.