I passed these reports on to my subscribers, managers of businesses of various sizes, who were just then beginning to come to terms with new restrictions on their right to pollute. Government had recently started regulating the management of hazardous materials, and new air and water pollution limits were gradually kicking in.
To the business managers’ immense relief, the pace of regulation was cut back drastically by the laissez-faire governments of the 1980’s and 1990’s, and pollution was resumed apace. As a result, my readers didn’t worry much about climate change, though I continued to report on it periodically, and neither did the general public.
The new millennium marked the belated discovery by the commercial media that the predictions of climate change were coming true. Although the prospect of catastrophic warming wasn’t news to informed citizens, who, like me, had been following the story for the better part of twenty years, it was news to the commercial press. Even as recently as 2005, the embedded mass media managed to get through Hurricane Katrina without, in the continuous coverage I watched, a single mention of the possible role of warming in that year’s devastating storm season.
Suppose the press had picked up the story back in the early 1980’s. Suppose the press had demanded that the Reagan-Bush-Clinton administrations answer for progress in preventing catastrophe. Suppose the press had explored alternatives.
Suppose in response we’d subsidized appropriate technologies back then. We might have developed our country’s vast geothermal resources, using the heat of our planet’s molten subterranean core to generate power, as Iceland does. We might have erected a system of rapid ground transportation, reducing the need for much automotive traffic, as Japan has done. We might have put turbines where the wind always blows, as Holland has done. We might have photovoltaics on every roof, maybe even a domestic industry to make the hardware for it. We could be scrubbing our emissions instead of our workers.
We did none of these things. Nothing in our public discussion suggested that any such steps were even desirable, much less necessary. The press didn’t simply censor the issue out of the news. Rather, the press reported, without scientific support, that the risks were exaggerated and the projections, flawed. News-mongers suggested that those demanding regulatory action were hysterical. The press, in its commercial wisdom, invented terms like “doomsayer” and “environmental extremist” to mock people who expressed concern for the future of humanity and to chill serious public discussion of their concerns.
Even this week, Reuters reporters at the Bali conference on climate change referred in their lead to people predicting the inundation of Indonesia as “doomsters,” a word that trivializes the entire discussion. Ironically, Reuters’ report from Bali was so bleak that the reporters themselves might justifiably be mistaken for doomsters.
And so we have eschewed discussion, and we now find ourselves relying on the very 20th Century technologies that threaten to destroy our kids’ future. As things turned out, it was not public knowledge and informed choice, but corporate profit and market pressures that determined our policies and sealed our grandchildren’s fate.
And ours. Because we have no choices now but to stop polluting. One way or the other. Despite the entreaties of our thuggish leaders and their rich patrons, we will halt productive activity when that becomes necessary. It won’t be long before our children and grandchildren demand this, and we can’t refuse them. They might decide not to fund our pensions or even adopt new laws on euthanasia. Not that we don’t deserve that and worse.
Everybody that turned away for 25 years from the inconvenient truth about our activities and our way of life will certainly be brought to account, along with the rest of us. The people who chuckled when they heard that half of Greenland would fall into the sea within their grandkids’ lifetime will be gasping a different tune when those same grandkids shut down their respirators and turn us all out of our squalid quarters in slippers and johnnies.