Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Global Warming and Other Sorrows

I watched two documentaries on PBS last night (Tuesday, Oct. 23), and I was apoplectic after each one. The first, a doc about the Cuban Missile Crisis, was an eye opener concerning the extent of the danger the world faced. I knew the basics—Russian missiles placed on Cuba awaiting Russian ships steaming to arm them with nuclear weapons, and an American blockade committed to stopping the nuclear-loaded ships—but what I didn’t recall was that an American U-2 flight over Cuba trying to get more precise photos was actually shot down by a Russian missile. This could have been the ball game right there, because the American military (especially the rabid Gen. Curtis LeMay) was frothing at the mouth, even before the loss of an American pilot, to go in and wipe Cuba off the map. With this American death, a hotheaded President could have been steamrolled into ordering an immediate retaliatory strike. Fortunately, John F. Kennedy was doing everything he could to keep things from getting out of hand, so no strike was ordered. Nor were the American people told, much less rallied to “remember the Alamo.”
            Then JFK, with the help of Russian Premier Khrushchev—also definitely frightened of Armageddon after the U-2 shootdown—managed to forge a face-saving agreement. The details were new to me. That is, Khrushchev had already demanded a quid pro quo for removing his missiles: the United States would have to remove its missiles placed in Turkey on Russia’s border. ‘If the U.S. can’t stand having missiles 90 miles from its shores in Cuba, then Russia can’t tolerate U.S. missiles in Turkey either,’ was the point. Of course Kennedy couldn’t agree to what everyone was calling “blackmail.” ‘Just bomb the bastards’ was the prevailing opinion, both in the military and among most of Kennedy’s advisers. But Kennedy, like any rational person, saw the logic of Russia’s demand. Not only that, he knew that the missiles in Turkey were old and outdated, and essentially useless. Should the world be plunged into nuclear holocaust over useless missiles? That was the question he asked, and he eventually answered “No.” He sent a secret message to Khrushchev saying that the U.S. would promise to remove the missiles in Turkey in exchange for the Russian removal of the missiles in Cuba—only the deal had to be kept secret. Russia could not crow publicly about having outmaneuvered the United States. Khrushchev agreed, the ships turned back, and Russia began to dismantle its Cuban missiles, not mentioning Turkey. Crisis averted.
            But just imagine if another president had been in the Oval Office. Imagine if it had been Johnson, or George Bush, or Romney. Would one of them have been willing to deal with the Russkies? Or would Curtis LeMay have prevailed, with nukes flying both east and west? It’s a terrifying thought, but one we should all be thinking about right now. 
            The other documentary was even more disturbing because it referred to a crisis that’s current. This one was a Frontline documentary, Climate of Doubt, by wheelchair journalist John Hockenberry, about the anti-global warming machine that has, since 2008, turned the entire debate around. When Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth came out, it seemed to convince large majorities of the American people that Global Warming was indeed a threat that had to be dealt with. Right now, though, less than 50% of the American people are convinced of the threat, and the numbers are getting worse by the day. And it’s all due to a money-is-no-object campaign by conservative think tanks to cast doubt on the science. These people are not only relentless, not only callous in pursuit of more money, they are, in my view, murderers. Because the result of their campaign will eventually be weather-related catastrophes that will kill people in numbers beyond our imagining.
            Hockenberry interviewed them on all sides. There are the heads of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who say flat out that man-made global warming science is a myth and a hoax. It’s not man made and it’s not harmful. After all, carbon is a valuable element, necessary for trees and plants. So putting more in the atmosphere is a good thing! Myron Ebell, head of the Competitive Enterprise Institute is typical: he calls it a David and Goliath debate, with the conservative doubters being David and the government-sponsored scientists warning about global warming as Goliath. Thus, what the conservatives do (and they’ve done it in conflict after conflict) is turn the entire argument on its head, adopting the stance of 60s radicals, and portraying themselves as the little guys putting themselves on the line against the powers-that-be. Of course, the fact that these so-called “think tanks” are funded by some of the wealthiest corporations and individuals in America—like the infamous Koch Brothers—doesn’t seem to enter the equation. They insist that they have won the battle for the hearts and minds of Americans in the “heartland” (there’s a “think tank” named the Heartland Institute), and they are proud and cocky and filled with the flush of victory.
            To gauge whether they’ve won or not (I won’t even dignify the arguments of their so-called scientists who cast doubt on global warming science), all you have to do is look at what has happened in Congress and the presidential race. Have you heard anything about carbon trading or global warming at all in this year’s debate? No. All you hear, from both Obama and Romney is bragging about which one can move faster to give coal companies more rights to blow off the tops of mountains, or coal fired plants more license to burn dirtier coal, or states more rights to drill, baby, drill off the coast. To give Obama credit, he actually did try to get the carbon trading bill through Congress in 2009. He was roundly defeated then, and the notion has been quietly but firmly laid to rest ever since. Hockenberry tried, as he made his documentary, to interview most Republican members of Congress to ask them if they believed global warming was real, if it was mainly caused by humans, and if they believed anything should be done about it. To a man (or woman), they simply refused to talk to him or answer any of his questions. The debate over global warming, in short, has become a non-issue, with no one feeling compelled to even address it any more.
            To be sure, there are further reasons why the global warming debate and measures to remediate it, have disappeared since 2008—mainly the collapse of the economy. People who fear losing their jobs (if they still have them) are easy prey for think-tank pseudo-science; passing legislation that will make it harder to get energy or make companies more responsible for putting carbon into the atmosphere is easily translated into fewer jobs. But it’s even more disturbing than that: scientists (98% of whom support the conclusions of global warming science) are increasingly portrayed as government-supported elitists who are probably socialists interested in expanding government power over the regular guy. One interviewee said “Green is the new Red.” To be an advocate for the environment is to be a freeloading commie and probably queer to boot. And to hear the legislator from North Carolina who introduced a bill to outlaw global warming in North Carolina (a state with a highly vulnerable coastline that scientists have been urging should be shored up against a predicted sea rise and massive destruction from hurricanes), is to listen to a man who thinks science should make “sense” to him. If it doesn’t, if he can’t comprehend it via his senses (I suppose he doesn’t believe in relativity or quantum theory since he can’t see electrons with his naked eye), then it’s simply not real.
            So this is the situation we now have, folks, in huge swaths of this nation. Global warming is a hoax promoted by a bunch of chicken littles. We need to produce energy any way we can. And if the planet doesn’t like it, tough shit for the planet. God is, after all, on our side. And he wouldn’t allow anything bad to happen to our divinely-chosen exceptional nation, would he???? (Reminds me of this latest Republican Yahoo, Richard Mourdock, running for Senate in Indiana, who said that when a woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape “it is something that God intended”—so who are we humans to interfere?)

Lawrence DiStasi

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