POINTS THAT DIDN’T QUITE MAKE THE MAIN COLUMN:
1. Rejecting the idea of Japan-as-number-one
My friend James Fallows’ 1989 book “More Like Us” was prescient in rejecting the idea of Japan-as-number-one. Jim wrote the book book while living in Japan. Some of the reaction to his book was critical scoffs — doesn’t he know Japan is invincible! The content of this book has done well on the test of time. Fallows’ thesis was that Americans would never wish they were like the Japanese, whereas the Japanese someday would wish they were “more like us.” So far, that’s happened.
Yet even this paean to the United States spirit had as its subtitle “Making America Great Again.” Today, commentators speak wistfully of the 1980s as the good old days when America was great, but at the time, publishers thought America was terrible. In 20 years, it will be common for politicians and pundits to refer, wistfully, to 2010 as the time when everything in America was fine.
2. Signs of global warming
Many commentators are asking whether 100-degree Fahrenheit temperatures in Moscow, record flooding in Pakistan and a series of intense thunderstorms knocking out power around Washington, D.C., are signs of global warming. This seems a strong possibility.
In my 1995 book about environmental policy,”A Moment on the Earth,” I speculated that changing rainfall patterns would be a more reliable indicator of climate change than temperature readings — and a greater worry, since changing rainfall patterns could imperil agriculture. When I wrote that, studies already showed that North America precipitation was tending to come more as occasional downpours than as frequent soft rains. And that’s been the pattern since.
Worth consulting is the 2004 novel “Forty Signs of Rain” by Kim Robinson. Okay, he’s a science fiction writer, the dialogue is plodding, and much of the plot inexplicably concerns a fictional nation called Khembalung. Couldn’t Robinson find anything he liked among the 192 actual nations?
But as I sat in my Bethesda, Maryland, home 10 miles from the White House, enduring the seventh full day without any electricity in 2010 owing to weather, I reflected on the book’s premise — that the world finally wakes up, too late, to climate change when a series of intense rains flood the city of Washington, D.C.