An editorial in the environment section of today's Guardian ponders why, despite the onslaught of hurricanes, drought, floods and wildfires, America's political leadership and its media opinion makers, simply cannot take up the issue of global warming.
In 2007, then New York Times environmental reporter Andrew Revkin pondered the possibility that thanks to the vast geographical expanse of the United States, "there is almost never a shared sense of meteorological misery." This, he noted cautiously, might help explain why global warming had not become a front-burner political issue, unlike geographically tighter places like Europe where elected leaders were tackling the problem with more vim.
But recent record-breaking "meteorological misery" from coast to coast is making it clear that severe weather may well be the new normal. Weather is getting more extreme and this, scientists tell us, has a lot to do with climate change. Meanwhile, inside the Beltway and among mainstream media, there's virtually no public debate about the likelihood we're already paying the high price of climate change.
...after the Copenhagen climate change conference in 2009, the amount of US media coverage of climate change has plunged to pre-Inconvenient Truth levels, consistently hovering below levels of coverage from other parts of the world. At the same time, Nielsen's recent Global Online Environment and Sustainability Survey found that concern in the US over climate change has dwindled considerably since 2007, dropping 14 percentage points. Less than half of those surveyed in the US (48%) consider climate change a source of concern.
...Elected officials have a built-in political incentive to ignore climate disruption. Viewing climate change as an issue facing future generations, if that – rather than already with us – allows politicians to do what they do best: focus on their short-term political interests while hemming and hawing over long-term, seemingly intractable problems. When you add election-year Republican dynamics and stir, you have yourself a full-throttle political thicket where frontrunner presidential candidate Governor Rick Perry of Texas can wave off global warming as an "unproven" theory even as extreme weather ravages his home state.
As for me, I'm coming to realize that we can achieve nothing if we try to tackle global warming driven climate change in isolation. It is but one of a host of scourges, some potentially existential, that must be addressed if our civilization is to survive. If you're a regular reader of TDL you'll know what's coming - desertification, deforestation, air/soil/water contamination, cyclical flooding and drought, species migration, disease and pest migration, species extinction (particularly global fisheries), resource depletion and exhaustion (especially freshwater), severe weather events of increasing frequency and intensity, overpopulation and a host of global security challenges including terrorism, nuclear proliferation, food insecurity, regional arms races (notably between China and India) and the realignment of global power spheres with the decline of the West and the ascendancy of the emerging economic superpowers, the BRIC nations.
These problems cannot be solved with the same mechanisms that created them, namely, 18th century economics, 19th century industrialism and 20th century geopolitics. We have a powerful, perhaps even insurmountable, dependence on these structures because they have served us so well - for a while. Yet it is gradually emerging that our economic, industrial and political models were suited to a civilization living safely within the very finite limits of our biosphere. These models become dsyfunctional with a human population much greater than three billion. Today we stand at seven billion, heading to at least nine and possibly as high as fifteen billion by the end of this century.
We have arrived at where we are in 2011 by some amazing sleight of hand. We are devouring our planet's resources at far beyond their replenishment rate. It's called "eating the seed corn." The evidence of this is manifest, tangible, irrefutable. It is visible to the naked eye from the International Space Station, particularly the scourges of deforestation, desertification, flooding, wildfires and severe storm events. It is patent in the spread of pests such as the pine beetle infestation in our western provinces. It is cruelly apparent in the collapse of global fisheries, the critical source of protein for the poorest peoples on earth. It is lethally obvious in the political upheavals sparked by food riots resulting from spreading and now permanent food insecurity. It is inescapable except to those who refuse to see. But our conjuring tricks will not work for much longer.
Unless and until we, as a species, opt for a different way of organizing ourselves, a truly new world order based on economic, industrial and political models tailored to today's realities, we must brace for a future in which tomorrow will always be a little bit worse than the day before.