At the end of last month, just before the UN’s report on Global Climate Change was released, The Guardian wrote about the Bush administration’s attempts to hijack, or at least deflect, the certain message from the UN: that emissions would have to be reduced, and that international agreements like the Kyoto protocol were the only way to go to begin moving towards change. Apart from leaning heavily on the UN team to change some of their wording, the Bushies also suggested that “research into techniques such as giant mirrors in space or reflective dust pumped into the atmosphere would be “important insurance” against rising emissions.” That’s right — smoke and mirrors are the Administration’s answer to global warming. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
As much as I would like to believe there is some kind of miracle blanket solution to global warming, one that doesn’t require every last one of us to drastically modify our behavior to save this planet and thousands of species (including our own) from near-certain extinction, I think the time has come for us to be realistic. For hundreds of years we’ve been looking to technology to save us from any and all predicaments we get ourselves into. But we’re not getting any smarter: every technological “solution” has produced its own problems, to be solved by even more technology, which in turn begets a fresh set of problems. And now, if you believe the UN report, or the Union of Concerned Scientists, or Al (Mr. Conscientious Objector) Gore, we’ve reached the endgame.
Now, everyone is talking about climate change, but I keep being reminded of that grade-school factoid, that to stop a giant ocean liner the captain needs to start braking (or reversing the engines, or whatever it’s called) miles and miles before the pier. Time is running out, and while our national government can spend billions on the war in Iraq they couldn’t be persuaded to adhere to the Kyoto protocol, for fear of the damage it might cause our economy.
The Iraq war has cost us, by one conservative estimate, a TRILLION dollars. Nobel Prize-winning economist (and former World Bank economist) Joseph Stiglitz puts the cost at two trillion, but to err on the side of caution let’s say it’s only one trillion. It is difficult to even imagine what those trillion bucks could have produced if they’d been spent differently. For starters, one trillion divided by the population of this country comes in at roughly $3,000 per person: imagine if every household of four was given $12,000 to spend on installing solar panels, or a windmill. One trillion could easily build us a new high-efficiency train system, one that could get every diesel-spewing transport truck off the road. The money we’ve spent, combined with the manpower of our army and marines, (minus the fatalities and life-altering injuries) could have been used to fight a war for the environment, for sustainability, for better food, water, education and health for everyone.
Enough already. It’s time to see the situation for what it is, and not let the administration’s smoke get in our eyes. We DO need to be fighting a war, but the war is here, in our streets and on our farms, and in our day-to-day lives, not in Iraq, Afghanistan or Iran. My godmother recently described to me the way folks banded together during World War II; every American did something, from recycling to conserving energy to growing their own vegetables and fruit. Nothing was wasted, not time, energy or materials.
I think the moment has come to revive that kind of thinking, that all-for-one behavior, in service of the greater good. It’s time to start acting like our every decision mattered, as if we’re all in the same fight together, because we are, and no amount of smoke and mirrors can hide it.