Sunday, January 15, 2006

Global Warning

Hometown street sheet Chico News & Review features an outstanding interview with sci-fi novelist Kim Stanley Robinson. (Strangely -- and sadly -- its sister papers in Sacto and Reno feature a Viagra story as their cover feature. Target marketing?)

But with abrupt climate change, just as in your novel, I would assume if we’re talking about that kind of potential, the politicians, the environmental groups would be raising the level of concern and debate and call for action at a much higher level than seems to be happening.

I have a hard time gauging that because I'm paying such close attention to it. But I do think it's not so much America as it is the Bush administration taking a very strong stance against discussing these issues. It's really quite shocking how much they're actually trying to oppose action against global warming rather than even being neutral about it. They're actually trying to oppose it and disable the rest of the world's efforts. So, it's pretty damned ugly right now in regard to the Bush administration's approach. I just think that any administration coming next, no matter who they are, will be better on this issue.

I also think people are getting very, very concerned. Global warming is happening a lot faster than people thought even five years ago.

As much as I'd like to put the majority of the blame on the Bushies and their minions, I think Robinson (and many others) overstate the Bushies' culpability at the expense of getting at the clod, hard truth of the matter. Americans are simply not yet willing to budge significantly on the lifestyle they've become accustomed to. After all, it was noted environmentalists Clinton and Gore who first circumvented the CAFE standards, paving the way for the SUV fiasco we're now just in the middle of.

(Yes, in the middle of. These beasts are now just hitting the secondary market, and as gas prices increase, their secondary market value will continue to decrease, putting them in the price range of folks who might ordinarily be driving around beat-up Pintos. Won't that be nice? Regardless, we're stuck with SUVs for quite some time, even if Americans are starting to take hybrids more seriously.)

To be fair, there were some valid reasons for slighting the CAFE standards, mostly revolving around the automakers' intransigence over re-engineering, and their sheer lack of reluctance to layoff tens of thousands to make sure shareholders get their dividend and upper management gets their bonuses. The fun times of commuting from the exurbs in one's Suburban are about to come to a halt; the only question (which isn't really much of a question) is who gets to bear the brunt of all that.

But what I’m noticing is that, for example, there was a recent statement on global warming where 134 scientific organizations around the world signed on to the same statement, saying we have to pay attention to this right now. I think what they’re trying to do is become a much more heavyweight advisory body in the body politic, saying, “Listen. You’ve got to listen to this stuff. We’re not fooling around here. We’re in consensus. Just because you can find a few crackpots to hire and give a lot of money to speak against global warming …”

This goes to this weird journalistic thing about fairness, where for every point of view you've got to find someone to give an opposite point of view in order to be journalistically fair. But if 99 percent of the scientists are saying global warming is a serious threat to human health, and somewhere you can find someone who will say, "No it isn't; it's just natural causes. You haven't proved a damn thing," and then you give those two views equal weight as if they were a 50-50 position, then the populace is being misled. So, journalism, by its standards of fairness, is beginning to actually mislead people about the real consensus that is forming in science.

I have been somewhat skeptical of certain aspects of global warming theory, but that is rapidly changing, as the enormous and unprecedented weather events of the past several years continue to accumulate in an undeniable pattern. At any rate, Robinson is spot-on in his analysis of journamalistas' problem with "evenhandedness" and "objectivity". Much as we look back on the era of Lincoln Steffens and Upton Sinclair as a watershed in truly afflicting the comfortable, we will look back on this era with utter contempt and disgust, as the irresponsibility of starfucking celebrojournos finally started eating its own tail.

Aside from the numerous worthy conferences on blogger ethics, mind you. If only my hands were as clean as Juuudy Miller's, or Timmeh Russert's. I can but dare to dream.

This is where part of the radicalism of your message comes through in your novels and in interviews you give and in your talk at the National Science Foundation--identifying capitalism as the problem behind the problem. That it’s not just a matter of fuel choices or technological choices, but rather those choices that have been put into place and are staying in place because of the structure of capitalism. How have scientists responded to that part of your message as to the power that needs to be confronted and addressed?

I think scientists are more open-minded than most. They know better than most that economics is not a true science, but is rather a kind of politics with numbers. There are tons of political decisions embedded in economic analyses that aren't being identified as such. Scientists are aware of how science really works, and they know that economics is not a science.

So, if you challenge the economic system under which we live, they're perfectly open to the idea that this is a political system, not an economic analysis. So, they're more open to that than most people. They're willing to admit more than most people that we live in an irrational and non-sustainable economic system that also has embedded in it a permanent massive unemployment at the bottom and also a permanent drain of the surplus value of the profits that are made up to a small group at the top. So, we're still in a pyramid system. This is so obvious. It's not as if I'm making any breakthrough analysis.

When I talk about this system, I am a political radical in the sense that I condemn this system as being unjust and damaging to the Earth and to people. But also, it's a state of mind. It's not that only 5 percent of the world are capitalists, because they're the ones who have gathered all the capital. It's a state of mind that we all live within, that we accept it, that we take our roles in it, that we agree that it's a sane way to live, that we don't vote for people who promise to change it, and that we go ahead and live a life of conspicuous consumption as Americans, where the standard middle-class Americans, though they are squeezed economically to make ends meet and not go into debt, nevertheless they're making tons of terrible consumer choices that are part of the capitalist system, where it's OK to buy SUVs, where it's OK to waste money on one thing or another even though there's a part of their mind that may be aware that this is bad for the environment or bad for their grandkids or whatever, that doesn't overwhelm the OK-ness of it. So, I'm saying that, too, has to change.

This is exactly right, and it's a point that Jim Kunstler makes pretty much every Monday. The question, where do you start, without collapsing a consumerist economy, without plundering savings that most Americans no longer have and can no longer afford? This is a country that lives on the margin, both collectively and as individuals, and only by the grace of the Chinese not calling in their promissory notes have we been able to continue down this dead end.

We need to find a way to wean ourselves from the petro-tit, sooner rather than later. We cannot foot the bill for a garrison state halfway around the world indefinitely, and we cannot afford any more Katrinas, not that we could afford the first one.

Anyway, read the whole interview, you won't be disappointed. Pretty damned good for "mainstream news", much less a small-town free paper.

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