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"it worries me that these kids are going to be toting cutlasses to the gunfight that will be their global employment future. i feel sorry that we as a nation gave them such a crappy row to hoe."

I was flying back from dallas a couple weeks ago, following the mississippi river up to memphis as its flood surge made its way to new orleans.
i guess it was still technically a river, anyway. what i saw from the window of the plane didn’t so much look like a river as it did an extension of the gulf of mexico that had crept up and severed the east of the country from the west. no matter how wide i opened my eyes, i couldn’t get my brain to formulate an accurate explanation of the images being sent to it. pretty drastic stuff.
and sitting there on my delta flight, i began to wonder if i was witnessing something that i would reflect upon later and say (maybe to my grandchildren), “and that was the first time i saw anthrogenic climate change with my own eyes.”
it seems like every spring in recent memory, the news cycle has been full of biblical flooding, images of riverside towns choked to the rooftops, heartwarming features on how the residents pulled together in the face of adversity and took care of one another...
could this be an effect of global climate change? or is this an effect of speed-of-light media coverage and nothing more?
i got back to louisville, where it had been raining for three weeks before i left, to find that it was still raining. the ohio river had subsided but was still over flood stage.
i fired up the internet and within a half hour my suspicions were confirmed. any scientist worth his/her salt said, ‘yep, the floods are a direct result of climate change caused by human activity.’
i was trained as a scientist myself, and i am to this day a fairly critical reader. the science was unanimous, though: river cities are going to continue to get hammered by floods every spring until well after we have ceased to heat up the atmosphere a little more every year.
this isn’t partisan political posturing. it’s science.
the National Academy of Sciences provided the most equivocal, wishy-washy and conservative statement of what i was seeing when they stated, “climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily (my italics. just wanted to highlight how they avoid making it sound like an absolute certitude) by the emission of greenhouse gases from human activities, and poses significant risks for a range of human and natural systems.”
katharine hayhoe, from texas tech university, has done models that show how in our country the dry places are getting drier and the wet places are getting wetter. from this data, it’s fairly alarming to see what the trends hold for the future.
it’s what scientists like Kevin Trenberth at the National Center for Atmospheric Research have been describing for years. as we heat up the
atmosphere, more moisture gets trapped in the clouds. convection stacks up the clouds and we get these massive wet storm systems. the storm systems soak us below and the process begins again-- winter, spring summer and fall...
rinse and repeat.
hey nawlins, you listening?
memphis, dubuque, st louis, louisville: you got your ears on?
so, what are we doing about it, aside from banding together to stack sandbags every spring or finding new spillways to open?
unlike the rest of the world, we are doing nothing.
back in 1992 at the United Nations, the world got together and decided to start talking about creating a framework within which they could devise strategies and solutions to the growing problem of global climate change. it came to be known as the Kyoto Protocols.
by 1997 the protocols had been hammered and forged into an agreement that industrialized nations would follow measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels.
seeing as how we in the states create about 1/4 of the emissions on the planet, president clinton did the right thing and signed the agreement, along with almost the rest of the world.
(some of the nuttier fringe paranoids claimed that vice president al gore was so actively involved in the process because he stood to make lots of money off the protocols. i’m not sure how that was supposed to happen. when questioned, i recall one brainiac telling me that he had seen a picture of al gore in front of his condo on the coast. this was meant to prove that al gore himself did not really believe in global warming. “do you think he’d buy a house that was gonna get washed away??” when i asked how that had anything to do with al gore making money off the ratification of the Kyoto Protocols, the sage hit me with another question, “see, where’d he get the money to buy that house??” i could not respond.)
as a treaty, the Kyoto Protocols had to be approved by the us senate. trent lott whipped his republican majority into a frenzy and the protocols died in the water.
one of the first things george w bush, eminent scientist and ardent foe of the oil industry, did when he became president was to pull the united
states out of discussions of the Kyoto Protocols. he wouldn’t even allow the country to participate in talks. the whole idea was "an unrealistic and ever-tightening straitjacket” on the us economy, he said. besides, the emissions targets those eggheads came up with “were arbitrary and not based on science.”
not HIS science, perhaps.
the rest of the world, acting on the advice of the world’s actual scientists, continued pursuing its ratification, however. by 2005, countries responsible for 55% of greenhouse gas emissions had gotten on board, and the protocols took effect, without the world’s largest transgressor involved.
so that’s the history, with just a little bit of partisan political posturing.
now, i’m going to show my hand.
first take a look at umberto eco’s tidy little essay “Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt.” The Modern World
in a nutshell, eco (who is no slouch in the scholar department and an italian with real experience with fascism to boot) says there are 14 salient features to a fascist state. not all are present in every case, but as he says, “it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.”
when i read this, i tried to be fair, to give the right wing the benefit of the doubt. but, by my count, the american right shares 5 of the characteristics of “Ur-Fascism”.
1. eco describes Fox “News” pretty accurately when he talks about the “Newspeak” syntax of fascism. 2. paul ryan’s budget definitely counts as the “contempt for the weak” that eco identifies. 3. nationalist, anti- immigrant tendencies: check. 4. appeals to a frustrated middle class and pandering to their fear of the groups below them: check.
but the one that made me think about the rivers spilling out of their beds and our reluctance to acknowledge that we are to blame, was his third point: “Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action's sake.” what eco describes, and what hannah arendt also identified in her seminal book “The Origins of Totalitarianism” is the fascist distrust of intellectualism. action is more heroic, more worthwhile, to the fascist than is thought. deliberation and discussion are signs of weakness.
cooperation is useless when you’re right, and you know you’re right because you are interpreting the will of the fictional People, even if the entire world’s scientific community tells you that you are wrong.
this is the trend that worries me.
the tightlipped cowboy persona W employed; the plain-speaking “hockey-mom” schtick that palin gets so much mileage out of; the tea party’s insistence that a “a cabal of liberal intellectuals” has hijacked our government... underneath all the theatrics, i sense an unmistakable disdain for intellectual engagement. it’s all very cute.
until it ruins the planet and sends the united states sliding into the third world.
it’s not in a fascist’s best interest to allow the People to become too smart. and according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the fascists don’t have to worry too much about the People of the united states. the OECD tests about 250,000 15 year-old kids from 41 countries every couple of years to see how they compare with their peers. in 2003 the US was ranked 25th in science. by 2006, we had dropped to 29th. we are getting our ass handed to us by kids in belarus and 27
other countries, for crying out loud.
sure, it hurts my national pride to hear statistics like that. it worries me that these kids are going to be toting cutlasses to the gunfight that will be their global employment future. i feel sorry that we as a nation gave them such a crappy row to hoe.
but the one consequence of the tilt toward fascism’s anti-intellectualism that really scares me is that these kids, without the skills to understand science or to approach problems with the critical reasoning tools that science gives them, will be voting in the presidential election of 2012.
they will have a choice between one or the other of the jingoist republican hopefuls who want the blessing of the tea party and a sitting president who wiped his ass with the Kyoto Protocols in an attempt to appease jingoist republicans who want the blessing of the tea party and who weren’t going to do anything he asked them to anyway--appeasement or no appeasement.
coincidentally, 2012 is also the year that the Kyoto Protocols expire and are likely to be put to a vote again. it is widely believed that if the US doesn’t come to the table this time, the entire process will run off the rails once and for all.
the tilt toward fascism has dragged us all into the morass of ignorance.
the good news is, practically no one here will understand the science behind what the world lost.
the bad news is, they won’t understand why it is the “100 year floods” keep happening every year.
which is just as well, i suppose. we wouldn’t want any pesky intellectual pot-stirrers slowing down the sand bag relay, would we?

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