Column, 495 words

Climate Change is Here to Stay

In 50 years we'll know what we should have done today.

William A. Collins

Find that oil
To run my yacht;
And fuel my A/C
When it’s hot.

It wasn’t long ago that climate change was all the rage. Newspaper headlines were touting the Kyoto Protocol. Scientists and citizens alike were discussing Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Individuals were offering personal pledges of reform. Folks were downright scared.

No more. The danger remains, but the fear has vanished. Climate talks in Cancun, far from securing any meaningful international agreement to reduce carbon emissions, ended in December a whimper. The New York Times put that story on page 16. Perhaps that’s because failure was long predicted even before the meeting began. The general public and the media just don’t seem to care that much anymore.

That’s ironic. Last year was the hottest year ever recorded, aside from 2005–which was just as hot as 2010.

However, big polluters have poured a fortune into junk science and junk scientists to downgrade the whole concept of climate change. Still more cash has gone to junk politicians. Climate denial proved to be the main qualification for a Republican Senate nomination last year.

Out-of-state oil moguls spent $8.2 million on a California referendum to overturn that state’s emission-control legislation. In the Northeast, several state governments have looted the funds generated by that region’s experimental “cap and-trade” program. Even the House-approved national cap-and-trade bill was so polluted by lobbyists that its failure in the Senate wasn’t worth a bucket of warm spit.

One reason the energy industry is able to successfully downgrade this truly alarming issue is that people now realize that reform requires sacrifice. Less air conditioning? Less heat? Higher gas prices? Smaller cars? More taxes? No thanks! Sure, I’ll install those curly light bulbs and fix the storm door. But nothing that will be costly or inconvenient.

In America, it’s especially easy to say “no” to the energy crusade since most of our country isn’t on the global firing line. The press long ago stopped pondering whether major weather events might be connected to climate change. Why should the media risk needless grief from investors, advertisers, politicians, pundits, and letter-writers?

So if the Southwest fries, Norfolk sinks, or California runs out of water, it’s just God’s will. We’ve always had hurricanes, droughts, heat waves, and deep freezes. So what if more parts of Africa become deserts, lowland Asia becomes a lake, or the Seychelles sink like Atlantis? That’s not really our problem. In the United States, we’ll have a longer growing season so we can help feed the world.

So what did you expect, altruism? Americans are like people everywhere. Our job is to look out for No. 1. We’ll send aid to suffering nations. But we’re not about to inconvenience ourselves over some half-baked fad that says we’re damaging the world’s atmosphere.

In 50 years, we’ll know what we should have done today. But you and I will be dead by then and we’ll have fully enjoyed our lives. The kids can move to tropical Fairbanks.

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. http://otherwords.org