I’m looking out my window here in southeastern Pennsylvania at a wild cherry tree that, on November 28, is still covered in green leaves. A butterfly bush nearer to the house is still blooming. We have yet to have a “killing” frost this year in this part of Pennsylvania, though just five years ago and earlier, such frosts were the rule by mid October, and sometimes even came at the end of September.
Out on the street, two lines of cars and trucks are completely halted in their tracks because of the shutdown of nearly 10 miles of the Pennsylvania Turnpike following a fatal accident involving a semi trailer-truck and three cars that has closed all lanes in both directions for the whole morning, throwing the morning commute entirely onto back roads, which themselves are the scene of countless accidents. Standing at the end of the driveway, I find that half the vehicles stranded on the road within my field of vision are gas-guzzling SUVs and vans, every one of them carrying one frustrated commuter—the driver—and spewing out volumes of exhaust for no purpose other than keeping the car and driver warm and the radio running. The autumn air reeks of car exhaust.
Both of these situations are reflections of a major crisis that is confronting all of us. The earth is rapidly getting hotter, in large part because of the unrestrained use of carbon-based fuel by mankind, and especially by us Americans, and it’s getting hotter much faster than even the most pessimistic environmental scientists were predicting even as recently as two years ago. We all know this. And yet like the cars stuck on the turnpike and outside my house, we as a polity and a society are seemingly incapable of doing anything about the mess we have made of our lives, our kids’ lives, our country and our planet.
Meanwhile there is an election campaign underway, in which the leading candidates of both parties are basically saying nothing of consequence about this crisis. Instead they are talking about taxes and terrorism and immigration (if they are Republican candidates), and about health care and drivers’ licenses for immigrants (if they are Democrats).
Excuse me, but I’m 58, and it looks like in my own lifetime, if I stay healthy, I am likely to witness the disappearance of the North Polar icecap! Do you hear that? It’s also looking like I may even witness the disappearance of the one-mile-thick Greenland ice sheet, in which case, with oceans rising 18-20 feet, I will also witness the disappearance of Brooklyn, Staten Island, what’s left of New Orleans, a good deal of Florida, and much of Philadelphia. I may even end up owning a piece of beachfront property, given that my house sits at about 20 feet above what is currently known as sea level.
How is it that our politics can have become so debased and trivialized that with the country and the very earth facing a cataclysm for which the closest parallel is, ominously, the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, our candidates for president can’t even discuss the issue? Oh, the Democrats might talk about mandating slightly higher gas mileage for vehicles, or if they’re really daring, about establishing cap-and-trade rules for power plants and factories, but of course that isn’t going to turn this crisis around. Nothing short of a new economy, based not upon growth and on massive energy use, but upon sustainability and an altered value system that doesn’t equate consumption with happiness and success, will save us.
Of course there are other huge issues facing the nation—the endless and pointless war in Iraq, which President Bush is currently hard at work turning into a permanent occupation, and which he is seeking to expand to Iran, the collapse of the dollar, the hollowing out of the economy, the rotting away of the educational system, and the ballooning of poverty spring readily to mind—and the so-called “leading” candidates have next to nothing of substance to say about any of this either.
But the big issue is global climate change, and here they are silent, or might as well be.
What would happen if a candidate were to stand up in one of these “debates” and say:
“Just shut up for a second Wolf! I have something real to say here.
“Additionally, there would be a tax on electricity, with every household allowed a certain basic amount tax-free at competitive rates, after which there would be a tax on higher usage, again on a sliding scale. Home heating oil, natural gas and propane would also be taxed at 100 percent, but with a federal tax credit, available to all taxpayers regardless of income, of $750 per individual or $1500 per family to cover basic heating needs.
“Older power plants that emit excessive amounts of greenhouse gasses, and that cannot be upgraded, will be ordered closed within one year.