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Our Political Wasteland

Our Political Wasteland

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The Republican and Democratic conventions have been a desert on the most important political issue of our time: human-caused climate change and what to do about it. That was painfully underlined in Bill Clinton’s hour-long speech last night nominating Barack Obama for President. Clinton is very smart, very informed, and has created a foundation doing good works around the world, but his myopic focus last night was persuading voters that Democrats would generate more jobs, more stuff for the “middle class.” There was nothing in his artful speech that even hinted that continuing efforts to “grow” the American economy were trashing Earth’s natural systems. President Obama’s acceptance speech tonight will likely be a long call for “more,” for more material comforts, for a higher standard of living, for more investment in education to help people acquire “more” of everything for their families.

The utter poverty of current politics, its unwillingness to deal with the light at the end of the tunnel, the freight train of climate change, is a tribute to the effectiveness of propaganda efforts financed by oil and gas corporations and others since the 1960s. Just as the tobacco industry worked diligently to undercut federal efforts to limit smoking, much of corporate America has responded to evidence of global warming and climate change by massive efforts to poke holes in what objective scientists tell us. We have experience; the tobacco industry shills continued to attack science linking cigarettes to cancer and other health problems even as its paid-for-experts were buried under a flood of evidence that cigarette smoking kills.

Admittedly climate change is much tougher than tobacco. Cutting greenhouse gases means that people consume less “stuff,” and that’s not the American way as so eloquently sketched by Bill Clinton last night. Most of us want to shut out a message that “we consume too much” and proceed with the serious business of getting “more now” for us and for our families, and much of corporate America has done what it can to reinforce our natural aversion to “less.” Michael E. Mann, a climate scientist, just published “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars” in which he describes the ongoing corporate assault on climate science in America. He gives this summary of business standards for evaluating science:

“The true metric applied by industry special interests is, of course, not the actual quality of the underlying science, but simply this: Are the scientific findings in some way inconvenient to their clients (the health insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the chemical industry, the fast food industry, or, of course, the fossil fuel industry)?”

H. L. Mencken once said that “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people,” and the climate-change deniers seem to relish that maxim. A U.S. Senator built an igloo outside the U. S. Capitol after a freak Washington snow storm as his derisive rebuttal to Al Gore’s claims that burning massive amounts of hydrocarbons was warming world climate. News media, in their continued, crippling efforts to cover “both sides” of any controversy, give bullhorns to deniers who push a gospel that a “liberal conspiracy” is behind climate change science.

Part of the problem is that Americans who challenge high consumption of hydrocarbons and other human-caused deterioration of natural systems lack the focus, resources, and commitment that corporate and political defenders of the status quo lavish on the public. Yesterday’s post gave one exception: You Tube’s “Weathergirl goes rogue” short video. The tv-weather-report young lady, after being introduced by a very straight news anchor, talked and emoted more and more passionately about global warming as the show’s producer tried to cut her off. When the tv camera went back to the news anchor talking about real news, some celebrity hookup, the offstage weathergirl called him a “a moron” and ended the show by shoving him off camera.

Image by Ensio SiilasvuoPaaskynen at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons


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