Monday, September 24, 2012

The Great Disconnect

I often wonder what future generations will think of life in 2012 when they look back upon us 100 years from now. (That is, assuming there are any human beings still around to engage in such historical reflection.)
What will they think, for instance, of our voracious consumerist lifestyles? Why, they will wonder, did people of the early 21st century continue to deny the destructive, likely irreversible impacts of global warming, when the clear evidence of the phenomenon—in the form of interminable droughts, record-breaking heat-waves, melting polar icecaps and increasingly ferocious hurricanes, tsunamis and tropical storms--was unraveling right in front of them?
We are like Nero, fiddling obliviously while the planet literally burns around us. Indeed, our hypothetical future observers will see that, rather than addressing the climate crisis head on by investing in renewable energy sources and curbing our consumerist habits, we stood, like zombies, in line for hours to be the first to purchase the just-released iPhone 5.
Yet our so-called “smartphones,” and other such distracting devices may have been ironically (if not, prophetically) named. Their increase in popularity has not, alas, lead to any measurable correlation in collective human intelligence. I fear we have experienced quite the reverse, actually.
Case in point is Maine Secretary of State and U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Summers.
During a campaign debate last week with opponents Angus King and Cynthia Dill, Summers was the only candidate to express disbelief in the science of global warming. “Do you accept the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and is primarily caused by human activity?” the debate moderator asked. “No,” Summers replied. “I don’t.”
Portland Press Herald conservative columnist, M.D. Harmon cheered his buddy Charlie on in a recent editorial (“When is a gaffe not a gaffe? When a candidate is right,” 9/21/2012), further perpetuating the same ignorant nonsense that global warming does not exist.
The juvenile Harmon mocks Dill’s astute assertion that climate change represents the “biggest threat to civilized society,” writing, “The chance that temperatures might rise on average a couple of degrees over the next one hundred years is a bigger threat to civilization than the chance that Islamic jihadists might get nuclear bombs?” Given the credible doubt surrounding Iran’s alleged nuclear program (which, I assume is what Harmon is referring to by “Islamic jihadists,”), the answer to that rhetorical question would be “yes.” Climate change is a far bigger threat than Iran’s imaginary nukes.
Harmon goes on to make such absurdly idiotic statements like, “If CO2 increases, so will food crops and trees, and that’s not a bad thing,” and “[G]overnments all over the world are declining to adopt programs to limit CO2.” Yes, governments of the United States and China certainly are. But those of most industrialized European and many Central American countries are taking significant measures to lower CO2 emissions.
(Incidentally, I did check out Harmon’s proposed websites containing the “studies confirming [the nonexistence of global warming].” None of them are credible websites. In fact, the first site,, is not even an actual functioning website. Apparently Mr. Harmon did not learn how to accurately evaluate a website’s factual credibility during his time in the military.)
Not that it is news that Harmon is a hack journalist whose columns are routinely devoid of facts, substance or any iota of verifiable truth. But anti-intellectual Op-Eds like his are increasingly becoming the norm, not just in the Press Herald, but in most mainstream newspapers throughout the country. So much, it seems, for the watchdog journalism of Woodward and Bernstein’s era.
Then again, if Harmon is merely preaching to the anti-environmental choir, that choir has grown disturbingly large if recent surveys are to be believed.
Polls in the last few years have indicated a growing majority of Americans either do not believe in global warming, or doubt that human beings are causing it.
Back in July, the Associated Press reported that a majority of Americans born between 1961-1981 (the age group referred to as, “Generation X”) do not believe in the reality of global warming. The poll is surprising, the article observed, given this generation’s abundance of scientific literacy and education. Contrast these unnerving statistics with the more than half of American adults that believe in ghosts, one-third that believe in astrology, three quarters that believe in angels and four fifths that believe in miracles (Susan Jacoby, The Age of American Unreason).
As Jacoby writes in regard to Americans’ abject ignorance of the most rudimentary scientific matters:

One should not have to be an intellectual or, for that matter, a college graduate to understand that the sun does not revolve around the earth or that DNA contains the biological instructions that make each of us a unique member of the human species. This level of scientific illiteracy provides fertile soil for political appeals based on sheer ignorance.

And our collective lack of knowledge is not limited to the sciences. A 2006 Geographic Literacy Study found an astonishing 88 percent of college students cannot locate Afghanistan on a map. Likewise, a similar majority erroneously believe that stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction were discovered in Iraq, thus justifying the 2003 U.S. invasion. How can we ever hope to adequately address the climate crisis when this is the type of uninformed thinking our education system is producing?
“The mind of this country,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “taught to aim at low objects, feeds upon itself.” A fitting epitaph, it would seem, for a nation whose collective ignorance and inability to accept reality, may well bring about its destruction.        


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