Our Global-Warming Problem

I'm writing mostly to encourage folks to read the New York Times Magazine article, "Losing Earth," by Nathaniel Rich with photographs by George Steinmetz (August 5, 2018), and think about how we best respond politically and personally.

Overall, it's an excellent (and sobering) piece of journalism. However, in his Prologue, Rich likes to rely on the collective pronoun "we" — as if it's a given that we all share the same mindset:

"...in the decade that ran from 1979 to 1989, we had an excellent opportunity to solve the climate crises.... The obstacles we blame for our current inaction had yet to emerge. Almost nothing stood in our way — nothing except ourselves."

"Why didn't we act?"

"We understood what failure would mean for global temperatures, coastlines, agricultural yield, immigration patterns, the world economy. But we have not allowed ourselves to comprehend what failure might mean for us." 

I get that we are all in this leaking American boat together, but I don't think there ever was or currently is a solid "we." From the early 1980s on, literally hundreds of writers have argued for reducing our carbon footprint — and have done their best to describe what failure to act would mean. Thousands have protested political indecision as well as political decisions favoring the fossil-fuel industry over the health and welfare of citizens and the planet. There are dozens of hard-working, pro-environment nonprofit groups lobbying hard for sensible policy every day. We've even had numerous Green Party candidates seeking office to make environmental protection one of our government's top priorities. These people are all part of Rich's "we." But they did not drop the ball. They have tried do make a difference — to say what needs to be said, to fight for sensible policies, to educate the public, and so on. The problem is that the majority "we" have been overpowered by a very small minority of highly manipulative corporations and their political pawns — with the goal of serving short-term interests over the will and need of the citizenry. 

At least, that's how I see it.

After all the meetings and scientific reports, the efforts in the late 1980s to curb global warming basically came down to the question of whether President George H. W. Bush and his Chief of Staff John Sununu were going to do what was right for the world — do what the scientific community made clear had to happen to prevent environmental and human disaster to come. But these men chose to do nothing, because doing nothing was to their political and personal advantage — and they had enough power to ensure that nothing would happen. 

Here's the really horrifying part of the article:



I've heard people counter these concerns with talk about machines that can take carbon out of the atmosphere. While it's good that people are working on the tech front, such machines, I'm told, are only a small part of the solution at best. They're kind of like adding a few groves of trees, which we could use more of, too. The main step "we" need to take, however is to reduce the rate at which we put carbon into the atmosphere. And that requires change on many fronts — especially political and personal fronts.

What can "we" do from here on out? Get the facts. Talk with family and friends. Talk with neighbors. Engage people in our communities. Ask every politician we see about their environmental views and what they will do if elected. Write to our representatives in Congress over and over. Join an environmental organization. Take part in rallies and marches and events. Change our own carbon-fueled habits. Make it clear to everyone that we can't walk away from this problem. There is only one Earth.