. . . but a whimper

T. S. Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men (1925) ends with the following stanza:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

We collectively seem to be striving toward Eliot’s end as we fail time after time to change our momentum toward heat death. Although weather is not the same as climate, are we warm enough these day? Naysayers about climate change, who crowed about its fraudulent predictions last winter, are strangely silent this summer. Even in coastal California where, until the past few days, the summer was day after day of fog and gloom, temperatures below normal. Now it’s in the upper 90s (mid-30s Celsius). But last winter and this summer are just the vagaries of the weather, right? The same goes for the floods in Pakistan, China and Tennessee and the drought and fires in Russia. Just a series of flukes.

Well, maybe, but don’t count on it. Climate is basically average annual weather in a region and as the averages go up, as they have for the past decade or so, we have warming; global warming if the average temperature is taken over the entire earth. The science is there, the facts support it; the politics are not even close.

Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, has a short essay in the September 2010 issue of the Scientific American titled “The Deepening Crisis”. One key paragraph in the article is:

. . . the world’s inability to face up to the reality of the growing environmental crisis has become even more palpable. Every major goal that international bodies have established for global environmental policy as of 2010 has been postponed, ignored or defeated. Sadly, this year will quite possibly become the warmest on record, yet another testimony to human-induced environmental catastrophes running out of control.

Our political bodies, at least in the U.S., have taken the typical alternative: ignore the problem until after the election—and the election after that, and the election after that . . . Again from Sachs:

. . . . Third, although the problems are global, politics is notoriously local, which impairs timely, coordinated international action. Fourth, the problems are unfolding over decades, whereas politicians’ attention spans reach only to the next election and much of the public’s to the next meal or paycheck. Fifth, vested corporate interests have mastered the dark arts of propaganda, and they can use their deep pockets to purchase a sea of deliberate misinformation to deceive the public.

In other words, it’s business as usual. It’s like we’re on an accelerating railroad train running due north from Williams, Arizona, while we passengers are all arguing about exactly how fast the train is going. The conductor is playing cards and the engineer is asleep at the throttle. What’s straight ahead is the Grand Canyon.

Oh, yes. The rules are that you can’t get off the train.

Wait, that’s the bang ending. Let’s change the script to get the whimper version. It’s the frog in the pot scenario. You know, the one where a frog is put in a pot at room temperature. The pot is slowly heated, unnoticed by the gaily croaking frog, until the water is so hot that the frog is cooked. We’re the frog, our emanations are heating the pot.

I’d like to say that all teleworkers have special passes that allow them to depart the scene, jump off the train, jump out of the pot but, sadly, that’s not the case. We’re all in this together. While telework has its role in reducing the rate of acceleration of the train, or the heating of the pot, many other changes have to be made. In the near term these include moving to hybrid cars; then electric cars that are “fueled” by sustainable power sources; improved design and insulation of buildings; growth in the implementation of solar energy and other carbon-neutral energy sources, and so on. All of these options can be made job-positive while we wean ourselves from coal and oil as fuels.

But we’re way past the starting gun. Which future do you choose?

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