The Solution to Global Warming Is Us

2006-12-21

Richard Moore

An interesting article that stops short of being useful. It is based on the 
false assumption that public opinion influences government policy. Yes, we are 
the solution, but we need to address elite rule before we can do anything real 
about global warming or anything else.

rkm

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Original source URL:
http://www.truthout.org/issues_06/121506EB.shtml
http://www.alternet.org/envirohealth/45381/

The Solution to Global Warming Is Us
By Julia Whitty, Mother Jones
Posted on December 15, 2006, Printed on December 21, 2006
http://www.alternet.org/story/45381/

This piece is adapted from a longer article in the current issue of Mother 
Jones.

What if 12 asteroids were on collision courses with earth? What if we could 
alter their trajectories and save our planet by the cumulative effect of our 
individual efforts? What if science and history proved that we were fully 
capable of such heroism? What would it take to get us started?

John Schellnhuber, distinguished science advisor at the Tyndall Centre for 
Climate Change Research in the United Kingdom, has identified 12 global warming 
tipping points, such as the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest or the 
melting of the west Antarctic ice sheet. Any of these, if triggered, will likely
initiate sudden changes across the planet, as cataclysmic as any asteroid 
strike. So what will it take to trigger what we might call the 13th tipping 
point, the shift from personal denial to personal responsibility? What will tip 
us toward addressing global warming with the urgency it deserves, as the mother 
of all threats to homeland security?

A 2005 study on Americans' perceptions of global warming found that most are 
moderately concerned, but 68 percent believe the greatest threats are to people 
far away or to nonhuman nature -- a dangerous and delusional misperception. Only
13 percent perceive risk to themselves, their families or their communities.

Many secretly perceive global warming to be an insoluble problem and respond by 
circling the family wagons and turning inward. Yet science shows that human 
beings are born with powerful tools for solving this quandary. We have the 
genetic smarts and the cultural smarts. We have the technological know-how. We 
even have the inclination.

The truth is we can change ourselves with breathtaking speed, sculpting even 
"immutable" human nature. Forty years ago many believed human nature mandated 
that blacks and whites live in segregation; 30 years ago human nature divided 
men and women into separate economies; 20 years ago human nature prevented us 
from defusing a global nuclear standoff, but in 1987 the U.S. and Soviet Union 
signed the INF agreement. Nowadays we blame human nature for the insolvable 
hazards of global warming.

Research out of the Max Planck Institute in Germany suggests how we might help 
ourselves evolve. We behave as better environmental citizens when educated about
the science of global warming, and when our individual actions are visible to 
those around us -- a phenomenon known as "social facilitation." Perhaps if we're
vigorously informed of how global warming endangers our neighborhoods, we'll 
individually forego the McMansions and the Hummers and make other sustainable 
choices. Anything less compromises our children's future.

Until then, our denial facilitates "social loafing": the tendency of individuals
to slack when work is shared and individual performance is not assessed. There's
no better example than the U.S. Congress, where members cloak their lethargy 
regarding global warming behind the stultifying inactivity of their fellows. And
why not? After all, who's watching?

Not the media, which habitually squelch new science stories on global warming by
rationalizing that we've heard that before , though they would never ignore 
another round of Middle East bloodletting. The growing body of scientific 
knowledge on climate change gains heft and power as it accumulates, but the 
public rarely hears about it, reinforcing our loafing.

Scientists don't help when they react to the terrifying dimensions of public 
ignorance by sheltering inside hallowed halls. At a recent meeting of the 
Society for Conservation Biology, 70 percent of members argued in favor of 
advocating real solutions to environmental problems directly to lethargic 
policymakers and the press. Yet most researchers remain sequestered at a time 
when we need their knowledge and expertise like never before.

The nature of tipping points is that they happen dizzyingly fast. The good news 
is that history proves we're capable of keeping up. Social scientists once 
believed it would take decades of government pressure and education for 
Americans to choose smaller families, since the desire to procreate is an 
absolute part of the human animal, or so they thought. Yet population growth 
radically declined over only three years in the 1970s -- one woman at a time -- 
without an ounce of government involvement.

Political leaders can help. But even without them we can help ourselves. Whether
or not Marie Antoinette actually said, "Let them eat cake," she inspired change 
that reverberated far beyond Europe. Likewise, when George W. Bush says we can't
act on global warming until we "fully understand the nature of the problem," we 
can use his callous disregard as a rallying cry.

The truth is, humans can change, and change fast. Our hallmark is adaptability. 
Long ago, we looked out from the trees and saw the savannas. Beyond the savannas
we glimpsed further frontiers. History proves that when we behold a better 
world, we move toward it -- one person at a time -- leaving behind what no 
longer works. We know what to do. We know how to do it. We know the timeline. We
are our own tipping point.

Julia Whitty is a contributing writer for Mother Jones and the author of the 
forthcoming book The Fragile Edge: Diving and Other Adventures in the South 
Pacific.

© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
-- 

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