Joe Klein's book POLITICS LOST is subtitled: How American Democracy Was
Trivialized By People Who Think You're Stupid. But the American Public is not
stupid. We often think the media are stupid, for their avoidance of certain
issues and narrow reportage on others, or else that they are bought out by the
giant corporations who won't let them report the truth. I suspect that
the real truth is a combination of denial that the most serious issues facing
us are really that bad and a lack of understanding how most of them are
We also think we are very close to having lost our democracy, suspecting that our politicians either:
Don't know the truth,
Are so afraid of losing elections they won't level with us,
Are bought by and controlled by the major contributors who won't let them tell us the truth,
Have no courage, so fail to provide real leadership,
Are increasingly involved in scandals, mainly over greed and poor ethics, making them ineffectual at leading us,
Have become followers rather than leaders,
Or all of the above.
So it is not surprising that we are not hearing much useful stuff from the politicians.
Here's what most of us know:
Important ice sheets are melting, ice caps shrinking.
Glaciers are calving to the sea in greater volumes.
Polar bears, dependent on sea ice, are threatened with extinction.
There are fresh water shortages all over the globe.
Food crop failures are reported with increasing frequency.
The oceans are nearly fished out.
Air and water pollution are on the rise, with serious long term health consequences.
Famine and epidemic disease are more widespread than ever, and are growing.
Sea level is already starting to rise, with noticeable effects.
Species extinction has reached epidemic proportions, rising to 20 per day, well above the natural background rate of a few per year.
Hurricanes are more severe.
The weather and climate are changing more quickly than any of us remember.
We're not sure these are human induced, but the huge levels of extra CO2 injected into the atmosphere by industrial societies don't help the situation any, and we see the charts showing that the global average temperature is increasing faster than before humans existed on the planet. We read that scientists now claim nearly unanimously that humanity is the major contributor to the global warming now conclusively considered to be real, and accelerating faster than the atmospheric scientists formerly predicted.
We also know that the planet is getting seriously overpopulated, but, again, we don't know what the long range consequences might be. We also don't think there's anything much we can do about it. We suspect that the basic problem is that we have allowed our numbers to grow past the point where Earth can sustain us indefinitely at our current levels of affluence, but we really don't know much about how the Earth system works, nor what are nature's normal corrective mechanisms.
We hear reports that the air over America is cleaner than it used to be, but we also hear conflicting reports that air pollution is still a serious problem, especially with large countries developing rapidly and which are as addicted to oil as we are, if not more so.
We know or assume that Earth has provided us with copious bounties in the forms of energy, mineral, and soil resources, plus more than adequate fresh water and clean air to breathe. But we are starting to realize that we've reached and are in the process of exceeding natural limits.
We see that the adverse consequences are already being felt in a few locations, with people suffering from rising sea level, increased air pollution, declining fresh water, loss of cooking fuel, and increasing diseases, starvation, and resource wars.
We suspect, but haven't put it all together yet, that the global warming thing is part of a larger picture, part of a larger environmental crisis, not to be solved by just a new oil field in Alaska or by switching to ethanol or some other technological fix that might come along. Plus we worry that the carbon dioxide emissions from burning ethanol will simply add to our global warming problem.
We finally hear now that rising gasolene prices are symptoms of larger issues, but the larger issues blamed for this are our strong dependence on foreign oil, that we've become addicted to oil, that the greenies won't let us drill in Alaska, that China and India are rapidly increasing their demand for oil (and are out-competing us on world oil markets""driving up prices), that we haven't built any new oil refineries in years, and that these problems have only recently come to light.
We don't hear that the peak of global oil production is either here or coming soon, that after the peak, as demand continues to rise, prices will soar to new heights and that the economic repercussions of this are very serious and will affect nearly everyone in America, nor that this peaking of global oil was predicted and ignored by most leaders several decades ago.
We certainly haven't been told that our serious problems with overpopulation, resource losses, pollution, soil depletion, loss of fresh water, and global warming are parts of one large and serious long-term global trend, the industrial world's (inadvertent) assault on the biosphere.
We aren't told that the problem dwarfs current difficulties with terrorism""and related factional disputes between cultures, economic systems, religious beliefs, and regional variations in resource availability. These are modest in comparison with the huge losses of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness we'll all suffer as population grows, fossil energy resources decline, and we scramble, too late, to conserve resources and switch to renewable sources.