Oh, That Crisis

by Lindy Davies

To hear left-leaning folks at places like Common Dreams tell it, we should’ve done something serious about global warming twenty years ago: the glaciers are melting, seas rising, hurricanes intensifying and the polar bears are doomed. Al Gore is the hero of the day, and sentient beings everywhere are all pretty much screwed. I don’t understand why this news is presented with a kind of unnerving, told-ya-so glee, but it is.

Lately I’ve been doing some reading about global warming. I haven’t been able to come to a strong conclusion. Some, whose intellect and knowledge I admire, think “global warming” is bunk. The skeptics are in the minority, to be sure — but I am not a trained climatologist, and some of their citations seem persuasive.

Other people who I love and respect believe that we’re running out of oil, and every nice thing that fossil-fuel technology has provided to us is about to fizzle. This one I am less inclined to believe — but, I’m not a trained geologist, either. Be that as it may: if the prophets of global warming are rather, shall we say, enthusiastic, the peak-oil pundits are downright maniacal. Their views range from creepy misanthropy (Jay Hanson) to snotty self-superiority (James Howard Kunstler), but they all agree on one thing: we are screwed in a big way, and we richly deserve it.

I find it odd that today’s two most popular groups of gloom-and-doomers are diametrically opposed about the cause: the Global Warmers say things are about to get very bad because we have too much oil to burn — while the Peak Oilers say things are going to get very, very bad because we don’t have enough.

Remember the millennium bug? Many people stridently believed that most of the world’s computer systems were doomed by a small mistake. (In the power and memory constraints faced by early programmers, two extra digits in every date seemed like a luxury.) Everything from power stations to burglar alarms (not to mention all manner of financial records at every level) would imediately, catastrophically fail, on New Year’s Day.

It took some work, but people got that fixed in time — which really doesn’t prove anything about those other Big Problems, but it’s worth noting.

Foreign policy crises loom. Some predict that terrible things will get much worse if the United States continues to pursue its current war policy in Iraq. Others are convinced that unthinkably awful things will happen if the US withdraws.

There is an imminent fresh-water crisis. An economic calamity greater than the Great Depression, brought on by massive debt, is about to engulf the Western World. For many years, Russia has lacked the wherewithal to properly maintain its aging nuclear arsenal; that’s certainly a major woops just waiting to happen. Not only that, it’s surprisingly probable that an asteroid the size of the one that killed the dinosaurs will up and wang into our planet before we’ll even know what hit us.

Am I being overly glib about all these terrible things that might, like prosperity, be just around the corner? No. With all due respect, Dear Readers, I don’t think so. I think you’ll see why when we consider a local analogy.

Let’s say that my children — Eli is 10 now, in 4th grade, fascinated with science and a dedicated fantasy storyteller; Francie is 6, in 1st grade, a delightful dancer and budding violinist — to appropriately personalize and illustrate this, let’s say that Eli and Francie are very deeply ill and require immediate medical attention. This is not a potential crisis. It’s not something that might happen: they are suffering, wasting and dying before my eyes. But I proceed to fret about the roof that may soon start to leak… about the propane tank that needs to get filled… about the car’s brakes being a little shaky… about the asbestos in the school building…

Would my behavior not be mad? Would it not be beneath contempt?

Hundreds of thousands of children — all of whom have names, ages, parents, interests, buddies, just as mine do — are dying every day of diseases that are 100% preventable: cholera, dysentery, malaria… These diseases are symptoms of poverty. Sheer malnutrition causes at least six million childhood deaths each year. One baby of every ten born in Nigeria, today, dies in infancy.

This fact provides us with an insight, I think, into that oddness we were discussing before, about how prospects like Global Warming, Peak Oil or Financial Collapse tend to be discussed in the media. There is a kind of relief, there, a sense of something eerily reassuring. The poor polar bears clinging to shrinking floes. Hey! You’re gonna get whacked with a hockey stick, folks — don’t say we didn’t warn you! Jim Kunstler gets downright gleeful, describing how our tacky suburbs will crumble and rot. Serious problems, demanding solutions. We can feel righteous about them — yet they aren’t… actually… happening to us… yet.

Perhaps we need that kind of reassurance. The things that actually are happening are horrific. And we cannot take refuge, tempting as it might be to try, in the notion that these poor people are somehow different from “us” — another race, culture, religion, not quite “civilized”, not “our sort”… People have tried to do that for centuries and it’s never worked; it amounts to self-mutilation; it makes people rip out their own souls and become either monsters, or zombies. No: the children who are dying of pitiful, painful, preventable diseases are children just like Eli and Francie.

There might be some excuse, if we just didn’t know what to do about the problem of poverty. But we do. The outline of a comprehensive solution is clear. It’s available, fully explained in plain language. It doesn’t even require anyone to sacrifice personal freedom; in fact, it enables the fullest expression of human liberty. There is a solution to the problem of poverty. We have to stop fretting about how the sky might fall, and face that fact.

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