I had a hard time watching Al Gore’s stirring addendum to An Inconvenient Truth without still feeling anger over the 2000 election. What an unconscionable waste the last 8 years have been for this country: Wasted time in taking action against the insidious threat of the climate crisis; wasted global goodwill after the tragedy of 9/11; wasted lives lost and billions spent in the shameful debacle of the Iraq war; wasted moral authority in the flouting of American values from programs of warrantless spying, sanctioned torture, and suspension of habeas corpus.
Recalling the wasteland of the past 8 years, which has left us in the midst of creeping economic recession, I find it difficult to muster optimism when confronted by the evidence for rapid climate change and the disconcerting uncertainty such change entails. Nevertheless, Gore’s message is a hopeful call to action that should be watched & shared.
The silver lining of the dramatic reduction of the north polar ice cap, the “logo” of Gore’s presentation, is just that it is dramatic. We have been, in our “culture of distraction”, unconcerned with global warming because, even at its massively accelerated rate compared with historic epochs, it’s been too slow for our dim human responses to pick up as a threat. Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert makes this point well in his provocative and telling LA Times article, “If Only Gay Sex Caused Global Warming.” We have been like the proverbial frog in the heating water, prepared to boil to death instead of leaping out because the change in temperature from one degree to the next has not been sudden enough.
Let us hope the rapid dissolution of the polar ice cap will be the trigger to finally shock the U.S. public into leaping–leaping into action to impel Congress to put a price on greenhouse gas pollution. (Preferably, in this economic climate, a revenue-neutral one, as Gore advocates in his presentation.) If we can muster the will to do that one thing, then we don’t have to count on the selfless heroism of this generation. We simply need to count on people and corporations to do what is in their own economic self-interest, a far more reliable outcome than widespread voluntary self-sacrifice. As noble and stirring as Gore’s call to environmental heroism is, my optimism lies with our capacity to solve this problem when environmental costs show up in the prices we pay so that people understand not just abstractly, but in practical, monetary terms the impact that their actions have on the global commons.