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Our Three Bombs

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I have written that we're, like, in a car headed for a cliff. But we're on a smooth and straight superhighway, the car is air conditioned and comfortable, the way forward looks clear and uncluttered, but on the left side of the road, way ahead, there's this tiny speck we hardly notice. As we drive along, we see other drivers going along with us, also in comfortable cars with air conditioning, some with plush leather seats. Soon the tiny speck on the side of the road appears as a rather poorly dressed hippy-looking woman, holding up a sign that says, "Beware, cliff ahead."

We look at each other, and the drivers beside us, and the forward horizon. Not seeing anything out of the ordinary, we continue driving.

After a while, another speck appears up ahead. As we approach, this one turns into a well-dressed man in a business suit, also holding up a sign, this one saying, "Danger, cliff ahead."

This is one of the things wrong with our society--conservative republicans and liberal democrats alike. We're approaching what Thomas Friedman wrote in his 6 October 09 New York Times editorial, "Our Three Bombs." The three bombs are the threats of new and serious nuclear damage and contamination from rogue nations and terrorists, the growing and future-disabling financial debt we are generating, and the climate bomb. Our nation's current Presidential Science Advisor and environmental policy expert, John Holdren, put's the danger more starkly this way: "We're driving in a car with bad brakes in a fog and heading for a cliff. We know for sure that cliff is out there. We just don't know exactly where it is. Prudence would suggest that we should start putting on the brakes." But all our brake-putting-on these days is highly tentative and slight.

This metaphor is but one of several that can be used to counter resistance to our calls for drastic changes in the organization of our society. Whenever you encounter global warming denial, statements like, "the sun is doing it," or "it's not as bad as they say," just tell the above story and be armed with a few facts supporting the presence of the "cliff" ahead.

If it looks like the discussion is focusing more on the value of science, you can try pointing out the many ways we all act like we believe in science and the scientific method, putting our lives on the line every day because of our collective faiths in science.

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Some examples: We drive over bridges without a second thought, even though we know that sometimes they can collapse beneath us. We fly in airplanes because they are quicker and more convenient than trains. We live in buildings surrounded by dangerous electricity that can kill us, even holding in our hands dangerous devices with that killing electricity inside. In many other ways we vote in favor of science and technology, all day, every day, so don't tell me the science of global warming is completely incorrect.

You can read Friedman's OpEd at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/07/opinion/07friedman.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

You can read an interesting bio of Holdren, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and longtime friend and colleague of Paul Ehrlich on Wikipedia at


Ross McCluney

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B.A., M.S., Ph.D. degrees in pnysics. Formerly Research Scientist in optical oceanography at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. Principal Research Scientist, Florida Solar Energy Center, a research institute of the University of Central Florida, for (more...)

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Our Three Bombs