Love or hate Al Gore (Run, Al, Run!!!), you have to give him credit for his tireless, decades-long efforts to bring this issue to the forefront of the American mind. But why is it only now, when people can actually see the effects of global warming for themselves – stronger hurricanes, more extreme weather like flooding, early snowfall and tornadoes, hotter average temperatures – that we are finally willing to do something about it?
I’m a little bitter on this subject, because I remember Jimmy Carter’s presidency very well. I was in eighth grade, and my teacher was explaining why the President was putting solar panels on the White House, why there were suddenly lines at the gas station, why we had to turn our thermostats down and use less paper in our homes. This was 1978. 1978! Almost 30 years ago, around the same time Al Gore was beginning his long crusade, Jimmy Carter was trying to lead our country away from endless wars over oil, and towards a more responsible energy policy.
Did Americans listen? No, we did not. We fell for the con game of one of the worst Presidents in history, Ronald Reagan, who told us “Hey, everybody, I know it looks bad now, but if you all just go shopping with these shiny credit cards – like I’ll do! – everything will be fine! You can still have the American dream, and you won’t have to sacrifice a darn thing!” And don’t we just love to think the impossible is true in this country? Don’t we just love to pretend everything is fine and dandy, as Frank Rich wrote so memorably yesterday?
So here we are, after almost 30 years of environmental ostriching, and waddaya know? Jimmy Carter was right! And of course, there’s this guy named Al Gore who just won’t go away, and so sorry, but they don’t usually give out the Nobel Peace Prize to cranks and crackpots (okay, Kissinger was an exception).
As much as the general short-sightedness and laziness of Murkins makes me crazy, we are no different from the rest of the human race. We are simply not built for long-range planning. Most of us feel we shouldn’t act until a crisis is upon us, at which point we go into a flurry of panicked activity. Said activity can be effective – we did, after all, stop using aerosols and DDT – but not nearly as effective as prevention.
We humans have the same tendencies in every area of our lives. One example is our health. We don’t fix our diet and exercise habits until we have heart attacks or strokes; even then, we’d rather be on 14 different prescription medications than change our way of life.
If we are to advance out of our current childlike state, I believe the human race needs to create a new Enlightenment. We need to start looking ahead 30, 50, 200 years and planning for a future we will never see. We need to make peace and global responsibility our new mantras and leave bumper stickers and flag pins behind. We need to give up our selfish short-sightedness and start becoming true stewards of this beautiful Earth we have inherited. Otherwise, we may not survive into the 22nd century – and really, would it be such a great loss?