Facts be damned. According to social critic Thomas Mann (1875-1955), everything is politics.
If he’s right, I despair for the future of the race. The earth is heating up. The ice caps are melting. Arid zones are spreading.
Floods, fire and crop failure threaten millions. Even the most skeptical can no longer deny the obvious, but a number of them still don’t accept man’s roll in this global threat.
Why? Because it is in the political interest of a few to tell the public it isn’t happening, and because denial is the easiest way out for the fearful.
The image of a horse in a burning barn comes to mind. The horse sees the fire but clings to the security of his stall. In the case of the horse, someone must blindfold him and lead him out. In the case of the public, the opposite is true. The blindfold must come off.
Fact: CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Atmospheric CO2 traps radiant heat from the sun and prevents it from escaping back into space. Without it we freeze. Too much of it, and we cook.
Fact: Gasoline is a hydrocarbon. Every molecule of gas burned in an internal combustion engine puts approximately 8 molecules of CO2 into the atmosphere. (Formulas and math available on request)
Fact: The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere started rising about the time of the industrial revolution and is now increasing each year.
Today it stands at 390.18 parts per million, well above the 350 ppm level science tells us is safe for the planet.
Still not convinced that mankind is a major factor in climate change?
Look around you. Look at all those lovely green lawns surrounding our office buildings, public spaces and private homes, each blade of which is cut at regular intervals by polluting power lawn mowers. Look at the traffic on our highways: millions of cars spewing CO2 from their tailpipes. Look at the ever-increasing number of high-rises and mega-homes, all heated in the winter and cooled in the summer by electricity produced at polluting power plants.
Now tell me humanity is not a major factor in the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere, and that human activity is not contributing to global warming.
Politics: Reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere threatens vested political and economic interests. This is why politicians like U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Georgia, fight bills to control or limit CO2 emissions. Broun is neither stupid nor uneducated. He may even believe his own rhetoric, but that’s because he is first and foremost a political animal concerned with pleasing his backers and discrediting his opponents.
Politics: Who funds Congress? Big business and the powerful men and woman who have prospered under the status quo. Individually they may understand the problem we face, but in the boardroom and at upper echelon staff meetings they fight any legislation that might undermine their bottom line.
Solutions: Once again the solution depends on the public. We have elected a president who appears to understand the level of threat, but without public support his actions are limited. Don’t be lulled by the Waxman-Markey climate change bill. It is only a small first step, and as of this writing, it still has to pass the Senate.
I’m not sure confronting the deniers or those who say we can’t afford to limit CO2 emissions will do any good. Their mind is made up. What the public can and must do is focus on the facts. We can’t afford not to reduce CO2 emissions.
If we allow politics to get in the way, if we get mired in debate, if we weaken and compromise bills like Waxman-Markey with amendments and vague language, we may lose any chance we have of avoiding a radical change in the planet’s environment, one that is already jeopardizing our forests, our oceans and an untold number of species, one of which may be us.
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com.