While senators and representatives diddle over the beginnings of authentic climate change legislation, it is depressingly clear that even our best intentioned leaders don't really get it.
This is not about the tired mantra of "energy independence." It is not about "freeing the U.S." from its dependence on unreliable oil suppliers in the Middle East. It is not about "protecting the U.S." while the rest of the world is inundated by recurring floods, drought-driven crop failures, or increasingly dire drinking water shortages.
In the short-term, climate change action is about the preservation of any semblance of democracy. In the longer term, it is about the future of a coherent civilization.
The risk to democracy is embedded in the rains that have displaced 200 million people in China, in the flash floods that drove hundreds of thousands from their communities in Indonesia, and in the relentless storms that drove 800,000 people from their homes in Pakistan -- all in the last two months.
When governments are confronted by such chaos, they are inevitably forced to resort to dictatorial measures to try to maintain order -- whether or not they are inclined toward totalitarianism. They have no choice but to declare states of emergency and impose military rule. Democracy may well turn out to be the greatest casualty of global warming -- an assessment with which the Pentagon concurs. Taking the longer view, coherent international order will begin to fail as island and coastal homelands are engulfed by rising seas, as crops are destroyed by drought and deluge, and as borders are overrun by environmental refugees.
To treat global warming as a national problem is to ignore the fact that, like it or not, we are living in a world that has become permanently interlinked. What happens to nations around the world economically and environmentally irrevocably impacts us.
Economically, for example, it is clear that many multi-national corporations have saturated markets in the U.S., Europe, Japan and Australia. They see all of their future growth coming in developing countries. But since developing countries are most vulnerable to the impacts of an unstable climate, these corporations are already seeing foreign markets shrink and purchasing power contract as climate impacts exact larger and larger economic tolls on developing economies. We must recognize that uncurbed climate change will likely bankrupt entire nation states.
In the last two years, many people feel -- far too smugly -- that the U.S. is finally coming to grips with global warming. In the wake of both Katrina and Al Gore's film, the subject is finding its way into news coverage more frequently. It is even surfacing as a second-tier campaign issue among Democratic and some Republican candidates.
But this belated recognition amounts to little more than stage-two denial.
Cutting emissions by, say, 30 percent at this late date means little -- especially if those cuts are confined to industrial countries. Even the larger goal of carbon cuts of 80 percent by 2050 among industrial nations is meaningless -- since those cuts will be overwhelmed by the coming pulse of carbon from India, China, Mexico, Nigeria and all the developing countries who are trying to keep a step ahead of poverty.
What we need is a rapid global program to rewire the world with clean energy -- and we need it yesterday. This requires redirecting some $200 billion in industrial world oil and coal subsidies to clean energy. It involves the creation of a fund of about $300 billion a year for a decade, to provide clean energy to poor countries. And it involves a cooperative but mandatory regulatory mechanism that would harmonize the transition.
It is also time to think beyond solutions and look reality in the eye. The truth is that, in the coming years, changes in the climate will bring with them immense losses. We are already seeing the accelerating extinction of species, insect infestation and destruction of forests, the cruelty of a prolonged drought that has forced herders and farmers into a nightmarish conflict over a shrinking patch of arable land in Darfur.
The coming losses will test our spirits in ways I don't think they have been tested before.
But these same changes in the physical world will also give us an amazing opportunity for a huge growth spurt in our social evolution. As nature washes away part of our history, it will also create a new space in which we can begin to restructure ourselves in ways that are enduringly sustainable, intrinsically global and, above all, fundamentally and unalterably equitable.
In other words, nature will be exacting a terrible price in exchange for giving us one more opportunity to try, one more time, to finally get it right.
Ross Gelbspan was a longtime reporter and editor at the Philadelphia Bulletin, Washington Post, and Boston Globe (where his work won a Pulitzer Prize). He has most recently authored two books on global warming, The Heat is On and Boiling Point. He maintains the Web site: Heat Is On Line.
I'm a woman, a Witch, a mother, a grandmother, an eco-feminist, a gardener, a reader, a writer, and a priestess of the Great Mother Earth. Hecate appears in the
Homeric Ode to Demeter, which tells of Hades who caught Persophone
"up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. . . . But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave . . . ."