Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Earth On Fire

Photo by George Kochaniec, Jr., Associated PressFlames and smoke from a backburn set to control the Mato Vega Fire near Fort Garland, Colo., tower over a firefighter.Posted by Picasa

You can't make a date with enlightenment.

---Shunryu Suzuki

Seeing misery in views and opinions, without adopting any, I found inner peace and freedom. One who is free does not hold to views or dispute opinions. For a sage there is no higher, lower, nor equal, no places in which the mind can stick. But those who grasp after views and opinions only wander about the world annoying people.

---The Sutta Nipata

Lark on the moon, singing---
sweet song
of non-attachment.


Was it Mark Twain who said, "Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it"? Fifty years ago that was funny. Now everybody's still talking about the weather, but we wonder if the stuff we do affects it or not. Nobody with a brain doubts global warming is happening, but is it merely a natural cycle, as the Right sings to us, or has our pollution screwed us up, as the Left maintains? Either way, is it going to kill us and what is one person supposed to do about it?

This weekend every news outlet in the world is carrying a study that shows the Warming causes more and worse forest and desert fires. Is CNN middle of the road enough? But that's not all this time. Scientific American is carrying it. So is Science News. And National Geographic. Satellite pictures the other day show Central Canada choking in flames and smoke.

The New York Times yesterday carried an editorial pointing out the Supreme Court has decided to handle a case on whether the Environmental Protection Agency has the legal authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The case, brought by a collection of state governments and environmental groups, grows out of the way Bush reads the Clean Air Act. And then there's the Al Gore movie.

The New Scientist wrote yesterday, "AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH is not only inconvenient - it's an outright anomaly. The movie's average per-screen box office earnings beat the recent romantic comedy blockbuster The Break-up starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn. Its companion book has reached number three on The New York Times bestseller list. And it stars 'the former next president of the United States', Al Gore, talking about global warming with the help of a slideshow." Yeah, but is it changing anybody's mind? The "choir" went to see it, but did anybody else? GoogleNewsSearch "An Inconvenient Truth" and you'll find rightwing bloggers still hacking Al Gore up with accusations of tinfoil hat insanity. How about a little movie that combines his urgency with The March Of The Penguins? George Bush is proud to say he won't be seeing it.

And it's not only the Right who have doubts about what the movie accomplishes. Liberals have a tendency to kick back in expectation that once their truth has been told, somebody will do something about it. Talk about creating your own reality! My good friend Annie Warmke at went so far as to write Gore an open letter in which she tosses down a challenge to him of her own. She asked me to distribute it for her but a trip to New England delayed me from doing so...but here it is now~~~

The Inconvenient Truth…about us humans – An open letter to Albert A. Gore

By Annie Warmke

Dear Mr. Gore,

You surely put on a good lecture in the film "The Inconvenient Truth". It was especially touching when you shared how, as a young college student you learned what was happening to the earth’s atmosphere…and after you were momentarily "America’s next president" it became clear to you that you needed to go back to "the slide show" (the information you shared in the film). It occurred to me that up until the election you have been on the wrong path.

But frankly, I don’t think any of our "handsomest politicians" care beyond a fleeting thought what happens to the earth. And I can see from past performance that the giant corporations of the world don’t either. Most of us Americans are too ignorant or lazy to care. So that leaves those who CAN see the forest for the trees pondering what to do next.

You say you are going to take the logic and scientific evidence of how the earth is changing to one city at a time, one person at a time, one family at a time. That’s an old political organizing strategy, but, again to be quite frank, it isn’t going to work.

Folks in America want more of everything, including electricity, and they don’t seem to be able to "connect the dots" between what is happening to weather patterns, and their tremendous need to consume everything in sight. In America we seem to believe that it is our God-given right to shop until we drop, and we want to drive to the shopping in the biggest car possible. I saw an ad in the paper yesterday for a machine, for home use, that made 33 lbs. of ice in 24 hours. There was another machine to warm a person’s hand lotion. With that kind of competition to your message of scientific logic I just don’t see how Americans are going to run out of the theater (if they even bothered to show up for the film) and begin to change how they live.

We seem to think that if we change we have to give up something…and we want everything – the bigger the better. The other problem we face is the fact that we don’t see the earth as an asset that shores up our very existence. We don’t seem to understand that without the Earth’s systems working properly we can’t survive. We’re like the bumper sticker that reads, "No more money? But I still have checks!"

We CAN make changes, but we won’t. You know it, and I know it. We’ll adapt as the earth heats up, but we won’t change how we use electricity or stop burning fossil fuels or promote population control because that takes work, and the big corporations are making plenty of money so that they can keep our "handsomest politicians" supporting their efforts.

In the beginning of your film you talk about living on a farm where the cool river water and the rustling of the tree leaves reminded you to take a deep breath and say to yourself, "I remember this". Mr. Gore, most of us don’t even know what being quiet or calm or still feels like so we can’t possibly "remember". Have you listened to the noise level of this country lately? Even if we wanted to we couldn’t hear ourselves think over TV’s blaring everywhere we go, music playing (in the background, of course) in shops, and all kinds of motors running to keep things like home made ice machines churning out ice.

It seems people are afraid of silence. If we heard the silence we might be forced to face the inconvenient truth that we’ve become something our grandparents wouldn’t like…childish bullies grabbing it all and killing off the source of life in the process.

So Mr. Gore, even though I’m grateful to see mainstream American theaters allowing you the freedom to show this film, I cannot embrace your blind faith that we will change our ways.

As the film credits rolled, and we listened to the moving song about making change tears welled up in my eyes as I watched the list of all of the amazing simple ways we could make earth saving changes. If only we could all magically make that list a part of our lives…but it can’t possibly happen to 300 million people all at once.

Just so you know…there are some of us who will continue to live simply, "plant lots of trees, eat locally and pray that people will change". None of that is going to alter anything except for us, and that’s the "inconvenient truth" about what our grandchildren and their children face, but thanks Mr. Gore for trying.


Annie's not alone in asking Al Gore to get tougher. An interview with him in the July 13-27 ROLLING STONE raises the same issue~~~

RS - At the end of the movie, you make it sound like it's not going to be that hard to stop global warming -- we'll just change our lifestyles and turn this thing around. But isn't that too optimistic? The scientist James Lovelock says that by the end of this century, most of the Earth will be uninhabitable -- the planet's population will plummet by eighty percent.
Gore - Lovelock is truly a visionary. But I disagree with his darker view. He's forgotten more about science than I'll ever learn -- but I think I know one thing about politics that he doesn't. Sometimes, the political system is like the climate system, in that it's nonlinear. It can seem to change at a snail's pace and then suddenly cross a tipping point beyond which it shifts into a shockingly fast gear. All of a sudden, change that everybody thought was impossible becomes matter of fact. In 1941, it was absurd to think the U.S. could build a thousand airplanes a month to fight the Second World War. By 1943 that was a real small number. Imagine where we would be today if Bush, after properly invading Afghanistan to hunt down Osama bin Laden, had not unwisely invaded a country that had no role in the attack on us. He could have pursued the terrorists and called upon the United States to become independent of oil.
RS - OK, say you're the guy making that call. What do you ask us to do -- trade in our cars and buy a hybrid?Gore - Here's the essence of our problem: Right now, the political environment in the country does not support the range of solutions that have to be introduced. The maximum you can imagine coming out of the current political environment still falls woefully short of the minimum that will really solve the crisis. But that's just another way of saying we have to expand the limits of the possible. And that's the main reason that I made this movie -- because the path to a solution lies through changing the minds of the American people. Not just on the facts -- they're almost there on the facts -- but in the sense of urgency that's appropriate and necessary. Once that happens, then things that seem impossible now politically are going to be imperative. I believe there is a hunger in the country to be part of a larger vision that changes the way we relate to the environment and the economy. Right now we are borrowing huge amounts of money from China to buy huge amounts of oil from the most unstable region of the world, and to bring it here and burn it in ways that destroy the habitability of the planet. That is nuts! We have to change every aspect of that.
RS - And that has to be done within ten years?
Gore - No, we don't have to do all of it in ten years -- that would be impossible. What the scientists are saying when they give this dark warning is that we may have as little as ten years before we cross a tipping point, beyond which there's an irretrievable process of degradation. They are saying that we have to make a large, good-faith start -- to first reduce the amount of global-warming pollution, and then eventually to flatten it and turn it down. It is very possible to start leveling it out within the next five years.
RS - How is that possible, given the current administration?
Gore - This is not a partisan issue. I talked to a CEO of one of the ten largest companies in the United States, who supported Bush and Cheney. He told me, "Al, let's be honest. Fifteen minutes after George Bush leaves the presidency, America is going to have a new global-warming policy, and it doesn't matter who's elected." And I think that the smartest CEOs, even in places like Exxon-Mobil, now understand that the clock is ticking, and the world is changing, and the United States is not going to be able to continue living in this little bubble of unreality.
RS - Do you think these people are taking that message to Bush and Cheney?
Gore - Some of them are. But Bush is insulated -- his staff smiles a lot and only gives him the news that he wants to hear. Unfortunately, they still have this delusion that they create their own reality. As George Orwell wrote, we human beings are capable of convincing ourselves of something that's not true long after the accumulated evidence would convince any reasonable person that it's wrong. And when leaders persist in that error, sooner or later they have a collision with reality, often on a battlefield. That, in essence, is exactly what happened in Iraq. But we have to keep that from happening with the climate crisis. Because by the time the worst consequences begin to unfold, it would be too late.
RS - What gets in the way of people hearing that message?
Gore - Part of it is evolution. Our brains are much better at perceiving danger in fangs and claws and spiders and fire. It's more difficult to trigger the alarm parts of the brain -- those connected to survival -- with grave dangers that can only be perceived through abstract models and complex data.Another part of it is the marketplace of ideas. A few loud voices have enough money to buy repetitive messages, like the Exxon-Mobil ads on the op-ed page of The New York Times. As the big money fueling political commercials does these little short slogans, it becomes even more difficult for a self-governing democracy to be honest with itself about an unprecedented danger that is woven into the fabric of our society.
RS - How do you fight that big money?
Gore - Tipper and I are giving 100 percent of all the profits we get from both the movie and the book to a new bipartisan alliance for climate protection. It will run ads about the nature of the crisis and the way we can solve it. But the profits from the film won't begin to approach the money that Exxon has. They will have a lot of money. I am not on the board of it, but I'm giving them a lot of money, and I'm raising them much, much more. There are some real heavyweights involved in this. We have former members of the Reagan and first Bush administrations. Steve Jobs is helping to design the ad campaign. At the end of September, I'm going to start training a thousand people to take my slide show all across the country, to high schools and civic clubs and anybody who will listen. We're going to get this message out there -- and when we do, the political system will shift gears, and you'll see a dramatic change. I will make a prediction that within two years, Bush and Cheney themselves will change their position.
RS - In two years they'll be gone!
Gore - Before they leave office. Unfortunately, they've got two and a half years left. Two and a half days is too much, in my opinion. I must confess I'm beginning to lose my objectivity with Bush and Cheney. I regret that, but I must be candid with you [laughs].
RS - What did you think during the 2000 campaign on the day that Bush announced he would limit CO2 emissions if he were elected? Did you think, "That's bullshit"?
Gore - I thought it was fraudulent. I actually did not anticipate that he would directly and brazenly break that pledge, and go 180 degrees in the opposite direction at full speed, but I thought that he would slow-walk it and make it meaningless. They were trying to drain the moral energy out of an issue that they felt could hurt them if the public perceived a clear contrast on the issue.
RS - Did it seem like a smart move, strategically, at that point?
Gore - Well, if you define the word "smart" in an antiseptic and clinical way that excludes any ethical dimension, then, yeah, I guess it was smart. Smart, if you're willing to say things that you know are not true. But that's what Karl Rove is known for. Bush's whole pose as a compassionate conservative was fraudulent. His budget was fraudulent. Even the idea that he would be staunchly opposed to nation building was fraudulent. I don't mean that he actually knew at the time of the campaign that he was going to invade Iraq -- because I don't think Cheney had told him yet [laughs]. But the statement on global warming, and the specific pledge to reduce CO2 emissions with the force of law, was part of a larger pattern. He was completely fraudulent from head to toe.
RS - Will changing their position be forced by external events, like another hurricane?
Gore - I see it being forced by a collision with reality. What part of their bubble feels the first impact of the collision? Is it the bumper or is it the windshield; is it the driver-side door? I don't know. I think Katrina was a tipping point for millions of Americans. A top insurance executive at Lloyd's of London said just the other week that if we don't act now to prevent this looming catastrophe, "we will face extinction." You know -- just a typical, long-haired hippie at Lloyd's of London.

©Copyright 2006 Rolling Stone and continuing

The website for An Inconvenient Truth is here and I must admit my computer is too tired right now to bring it up. There seems to be a Take Action link on there, so maybe there's something we can do today. I can't find Al Gore's email address, but if you find one send him Annie's letter.

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