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Letter: Climate change hyperbole may turn to reality without action

In 1964, I watched my father retrofit his 1962 Ford Fairlane with seatbelts, a feature then still considered an option on new cars. During the early 1960s, public service announcements began appearing on TV encouraging people to wear seatbelts. One of those old announcements relies on irony. An actor, portraying a middle-aged everyman, explains that he doesn’t wear a seatbelt because it is too confining. His smiling visage is followed by a rapid series of blurry images accompanied by frantic music. Then the screen goes black. In the next scene, the same actor is shown wearing a frown and a full body cast.

Today, imagine a public service announcement that begins with a satellite view of Gainesville in vibrant shades of green and blue. Now, zoom in to a proud and robust middle-aged everyman standing on a tree-lined street in front of his lush lawn and beautiful home explaining that he is opposed to aggressive climate change mitigation because it would stifle economic growth.

Now zoom back out to the same satellite image where you watch Gainesville’s verdure fade to shades of brown and gray, and Lake Lanier shrinks to a thin blue squiggle. Next, zoom back in to the same street now lined with dead leafless trees, bare dirt yards fronting abandoned ramshackle homes all lit by a setting sun against which an emaciated, ragged and dirty old man scavenges through the ruins.

Both my remembered and imagined public service announcements rely on hyperbole. No one has a window onto the future. The early public service announcements didn’t anticipate airbags or other advances in engineering that greatly decrease the danger of car travel. My wish is for a future that will soon provide us with technology capable of sucking carbon out of the air and sequestering it deep underground so that my apocalyptic vision will never come to pass.

But right now, carbon capture technology is just a gleam in an engineer’s eye, and we don’t have the option of retrofitting our atmosphere with celestial seatbelts. When a car slams into a concrete abutment at 70 mph, physics, not wishes, determines the outcome. When a species spews hundreds of billions of tons of CO2 into the air, the same physics determines the outcome. 

Counting on future inventions to offset today’s folly is like banking on lottery tickets for a pension plan. We currently have the means to address our man-made climate crisis. What we lack is political will. Right now there are seven bills in Congress designed to address climate change. Right now we have three Georgia politicians in Congress who need to know that you want them to stop dithering and start acting before hyperbole fades into reality. Right now, the view from my kitchen window is of a wilted dogwood and a brown lawn. What I see tomorrow depends upon what I do today.

Brian E. Moss