Thursday, August 26, 2010

When the Apocalypse arrives...will anyone notice?

Science fiction films like '2012' and 'Day After Tomorrow' and science fiction stories like my novelette 'Meeting' depict apocalyptic futures involving mass flooding due to global climate change. In the real world today, science fiction is fast becoming science fact. Devastating floods continue in Pakistan and China, record breaking heat waves have triggered massive forest fires in California and Russia, as well as lethal droughts in Africa and Australia. An ice berg the size of Manhattan Island has broken off the polar ice cap and is drifting out to sea. Unprecedented events, these, and almost biblical in their devastating effect. But, not unexpected. Climatologists predicted decades ago that such things would happen, and they are right on schedule.

What is being done about this? Not much. The only meaningful legislation intended to fight climate change to pass through the U.S. Congress, after a long, bitter political fight has gone down in flames, essentially killing any hope of legislating reasonable emissions standards to slow global warming in the near future. The reason? Petty political bickering and entrenched special interests (namely, big oil) and politicians who value their own careers more than they do the world their children and grandchildren will inherit. So, as present trends continue, what can we expect to see in our daily lives? According to EPA studies: "longer heat waves that harm the sick, poor, and elderly; extreme weather events that can lead to death and injuries; and increases in ground-level ozone linked to respiratory illnesses like asthma."

So, the obvious question: Why does the public, even in the face of overwhelming and obvious evidence, remain skeptical that this world is rapidly running out of time? The obvious answer: They simply don't want to believe it. It's too difficult, and too inconvenient for the people to rise up and force the corporations to clean up their act and stop polluting our atmosphere with
CO2 and other dangerous greenhouse gases. After might lead to more people getting laid off. As long as one can at least try to believe that the end is still a way's off...that "I'll be safely in my grave by the time the apocalypse comes" ...we can continue to live our lives comfortably watching reality TV, driving our gas-guzzling autos and blaming the Obama administration for everything.

So, what could we do, if we had the collective will? Plenty. According to leading scientists, the energy used to power, heat, and cool our homes, businesses, and industries and the fuel we use for transportation are responsible for more than 80 percent of global warming emissions in the United States. The major renewable energy alternatives (wind, solar, geothermal, bioenergy, and hydropower) combined could generate many times the amount of electricity the nation now needs. Several renewable energy technologies are available today, and others are projected to become commercially ready in the next twenty years. Wind power has the greatest near-term potential.

In short: It's not easy to convert our destructive civilization to a more ecologically benign one, but it can be done, and without destroying our economy. All it requires is the will of the people to speak out and motivate our legislators to do the right thing and stand up to the big-money corporate interests. The potential is there. But, time's running out.

I hope the epitaph of our civilization won't be: "We had other things on our mind."

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