Every now and then, something completely unremarkable jumps up and grabs your attention. This happened to me the other day when I was watching the tail end of a local TV newscast. The anchor was reporting a fairly important piece of news about something called global warming, and the latest WMO report which concluded that the greenhouse gases responsible for it reached record levels in 2010.
Despite the gravity of this grim news, the reporter didn’t bat an eye, reporting on it in the same manner as he might have reported on a local Christmas tree lighting. It certainly wasn’t the focus of the newscast or the item mentioned before commercial breaks to entice viewers to stick around. It was just an obligatory stat stuffed in at the end right before kicking it to, you guessed it, sports.
It’s Zen moments like this that continue to reinforce in my mind that if we fail to act on global warming, and the planet does in fact lose its ability to support life in the not too distant future, it will be because of this kind of rote apathy. It’s not that we’re lazy, we’re just locked in our routines – unwittingly serving the economic machine with the same tunnel vision as an ant serving its colony, too busy with more important matters, like sports. We’ve heard about global warming. It sounds important. But the air feels clean enough to us, and until it starts affecting our day-to-day, we’ll stick to football.
I’ve always been dumbfounded hearing the arguments of “economists” in regards to global warming. Most acknowledge its reality and the need to transition to renewable energy, but maintain that “we need to do it in a way that doesn’t harm the economy.” Unfortunately, this is a tough task, given that it’s the fossil fuel-driven economy itself that is the central cause of global warming. As Naomi Klein pointed out in a panel discussion earlier this month:
If you listen to the climate change deniers, they believe this because they’ve looked at the level of emissions cuts that science demands, and have said, “You can’t do that within our current economic model. This is a socialist plot.” Their entire ideology, which is laissez-faire government, attacks on the public sphere, privatization, cuts to social spending, all of that – none of it can survive actually reckoning with the climate science, because once your reckon with the climate science, you obviously have to do something. You have to intervene strongly in the economy.
As much as we would love to believe we can just pump as much carbon into the atmosphere as we want with no consequences, or that rapacious growth and expansion can carry on indefinitely on a planet with finite resources, or that greed and wealth consolidation can be pursued unabated with no effect on the surrounding population, our desires hold no sway over reality. These views are convenient to have for the people holding them, and allows those still bothering to claim some pretense of a conscience to sleep at night. But as time goes by, evidence mounts, and these fixed views are clung to ever tighter, willful ignorance becomes indiscernible from conscious indifference.
Because it’s not just the specifics of global warming that are getting harder and harder to sweep under the rug. It’s the increasing awareness of the fundamental flaw in an economic premise which has profit, not people, as its sole focus. People are realizing – in the midst of widening wealth inequality, rising tuitions, lost pensions, foreclosures, bailouts and the like – that it’s more than just a clean planet that’s bad for the economy. The absence of war, crime and disease would also pose a great threat, as would the possibility that someone may actually be content with themselves despite not having the latest trinket. Sustainability, efficiency, and abundant, local, renewable energy? The prospect that someone could slap a solar panel on their car and never need to visit a gas station again? We might as well start calling those ideas un-American for the damage they would do to our GDP and the lost jobs they would cause.
But that won’t be a problem. Not as long as our global warming news is the lead-in to sports.