What to do while the world burns

December 4, 2009

A firefighter puts out a fire at a village near Bangkok March 31, 2008. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

This opinion piece by Mort Rosenblum originally appeared in GlobalPost. The views expressed are his own. For the full article, click here.

PARIS, France — Back when primal-scream therapy was the rage in California, a friend fell asleep in a tangle of limbs by a blazing hearth. At dawn, sparks ignited the shag rug.

Someone shrieked, “FIRREEE!” Others, stupefied from the previous day’s psycho-dramatics and smoke from other sources, sleepily mumbled stuff like, “Yeah, man, let it out.”

Copenhagen is now upon us, and I think about this scene. For 20 years, climate scientists have banged ever louder on alarms. Still, we open one eye and nod off again.

The truth, however inconvenient, is that we all face calamity beyond imagination. Rather than take comprehensive action, we find excuses to stall and quibble over details.

“We’re like people racing downhill in buses without brakes, arguing over what song to sing,” Arundhati Roy remarked not long ago in New Delhi.

I interviewed her for the “Out of Poverty” issue of Dispatches quarterly and kept the notes for the next, on climate collapse: “Endgame.” The subjects are the same.

“All of this has to stop,” she said, “and it won’t stop until people realize it is in their own enlightened self-interest for it to stop.”

How long will that take? Do we have to wait until Tucson, like Timbuktu, begins to vanish under encroaching sand dunes? If that sounds too apocalyptic, look at facts.

I started reporting on weather anomalies early in the 1980s when West Africans and then Ethiopians died in the millions from inexplicable drought and freak rain torrents.

Back then, a smart U.N. scientist showed me data on rising seas. You can’t track it in steady increments, he said. One year, there is nothing. The next, adios Samoa.

Later in the 1980s, climatologists woke up some world leaders. A new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change fit together the pieces and urged immediate global action.

Editors laughed off the few reporters who took notice. Ben Bradlee told me he’d put environment copy on the front page when the Washington Post newsroom was underwater.

Politicians thinking about re-election were hardly eager to make economic policy change, or ask for sacrifice, over some vague threat few voters bothered to understand.

Lobbyists blurred the picture with skewed science. Today’s profits and status-quo job security outweighed any fresh thinking to protect the generations to follow.

Twenty years later, we are out of time and out of excuses. A lot of damage is already irreversible. But much can still be avoided by comprehensive, urgent action.

China is now the worst offender, and projections show that its single-minded focus on growth will poison the planet to a harrowing degree. But it is a dictatorship.

America must take the lead, partly because it made the most mess but much more because it is a democracy and its citizens get to decide what they think is the right thing.

It was Congress — Americans’ elected representatives — that torpedoed the Kyoto agreement even though Al Gore presided over the Senate. We should be smarter now.

The European Union is prepared to do more but not if Copenhagen amounts to arm wrestling over how little the Americans and the Chinese each have to give up.

If Washington and Brussels can find common ground, both can pressure Beijing to do its part. Now, however, each is enabling the others to waffle.

Developing countries suffer the most and pollute the least. But that argument applies only up to a point. Each has a responsibility when everyone’s survival is at stake.

“Cap and trade,” a badly understood catchphrase, allows large companies to continue spewing contaminates in the air. They pay for the right with increased profits.

Pointless debates cost us vital time. Is this man’s fault or God’s? Who cares? It’s happening. For proof, we can go to the Maldives or Greenland or the Alps — or any supermarket to check food prices.

Individuals’ efforts help, but they are not nearly enough. We need laws. National governments, international organizations, and big business have to act now.

We also need substantial public funding to develop alternative energy and mass transportation along with curbs on oil companies that thwart greener competition.

We need education programs, massive and urgent, to explain in clear terms why this is so crucial. We should all understand what we are doing to our own children.

With so many ifs and musts, this smacks of a deluded idealist’s rant. But take it as despair from a reporter who for decades has watched the world dry up and blow away.

Of course, this is all difficult to achieve. But what is the option?

That smoldering shag rug has already ignited the redwood paneling, and someone better turn on the hose. If we continue to doze in a collective stupor, we are cooked.

More from GlobalPost:

Greener than Oz

The new ocean predator: Jellyfish?

U.S. company helps fuel Congo war, charges UN report

Opinion: Why it’s time for the honest use of pesticides


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This story shows signs of S.T.U.P.I.D syndrome.
[S]tories [T]otally [U]nproven  [P]ractically [I]rrational [D]rivel… With the recent revelations of ‘Climategate’ and Data Dumping these ‘opinions’ are laughable. In the 1970’s science was predicting a new ice-age.

With Antarctic Ice Melt at Lowest Levels in Satellite Era where are the headlines? The ice melt during the Antarctic summer (October-January) of 2008-2009 was the lowest ever recorded in the satellite history.

Such was the finding reported last week by Marco Tedesco and Andrew Monaghan in the journal Geophysical Research Letters:

“A 30-year minimum Antarctic snowmelt record occurred during austral summer 2008–2009 according to spaceborne microwave observations for 1980–2009. Strong positive phases of both the El-Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Southern Hemisphere Annular Mode (SAM) were recorded during the months leading up to and including the 2008–2009 melt season”

Finally there’s the story from 2007 about an amateur meteorologist from Canada who caught NASA trying to sell 1998 as the hottest in US history when it was in fact 1934. Seems global taxers are entrenched. They must GO!
http://newsbusters.org/blogs/noel-sheppa rd/2007/09/19/nasa-scientists-predicted- new-ice-age-1971

http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2007/ 08/17/tech-nasatemp070817.html?ref=rss

Posted by Folklight | Report as abusive

You got to be kidding me. You people wouldn’t shut up about global warming if we went into an ice age.

Absolutely unbelievable

Posted by Dalew46 | Report as abusive

The truth is that since the dawn of the planet, the climate has repeatedly fluctuated. Ice Age, Scorching heat blah blah blah. The climate however has been unusually stable for the last 18,000 years, and it is suggested that due to this stability the human race has been able to evolve into what it is today.

“Global Warming” being mans fault? Nonsense, show us the proof. Nature is purely taking its course as it always has done.

What can Nations do to prevent the unpreventable? Nothing. Enjoy the heat because in a hundred years or so eco-loonies will be raving on about global-cooling.

Posted by MrsCrudeTruth | Report as abusive


Posted by godot769 | Report as abusive

Let’s say, just for the purpose of discussion, that global warming was in fact an imminent threat ( instead of the
comprehensive fraud and power grab it has been revealed to be, time and again).

If no one is paying attention, whose fault is that?
The professional naysayers and Chicken Littles have been
predicting the end of the world all day, every day, for more than a century now. Nothing easier than whooping up an imminent disaster by straight line extrapolation from a few carefully chosen statistics.

OF COURSE people are tuning this out. It’s either that or go mad. As a white male American, I find every single misfortune, every last piece of bad news in the world, dumped on my doorstep daily and somehow it’s all my fault. I’m only waiting for the day some supercilious elitist or other figures out a way to make me complicit in the disappearance of water from Mars.

And always, always the solution is more laws and higher taxes. Graciously administered by the folks who will bear none of the burden but reap most of the benefits.

A bank robber is an honest man compared to them.

Posted by wombat1 | Report as abusive

Yes Mother Nature is taking her course. Right into another mass extinction. By the way MrsCrude Truth, the last mass extinction/global climate change left earth with out glaciers for better than twenty million years. Another 10 million years or so before the ice ages returned a couple of million years ago.In other words little or no freshwater to sustain large creatures in large numbers.

Revelation 11:18 “The time has come to destroy those who are destroying Your Earth”.

Posted by eddieblack | Report as abusive