Perhaps it sounds strange that I haven’t seen An Inconvenient Truth yet. My wife saw it the week it came out, but I didn’t. I watched it tonight on DVD, finally. I know a lot of what’s in the movie — several years of casual investigation, reading, thinking and action have caused me to come across what this movie presents in one form or another. But what I learned from the movie was not so much about the facts, but about how we respond to crises.
The first is that we (people) are very reluctant to change what appears to be a good thing. Indeed, we don’t just fail to act, we tend to act rather forcefully to deny the existence of the problem. Then, after a while, we conclude “it’s too late” or rationalize our lack of action in some way or other.
If we follow this course, the problem “solves itself”, usually in a way that provides the worst outcome for those who had the most to gain from solving it actively. I’m human and do these things on a daily basis in my life and work. It’s the way many, if not all of us are. Gore talks about his father’s decision to finally give up tobacco farming … only after his daughter, Gore’s sister, died of lung cancer. We’re all a little like this.
But change can happen.
In a political system like ours, change happens when it is clear that the will of the people is to take action to make change. It will not happen otherwise. In the same way smokers looked to the false and misleading information produced by interested parties, the tobacco companies, we are all, in some ways interested parties in this current issue. Gore presents a study show that while the great majority of peer-reviewed scientific studies agree on the fundamental issues around global warming (actually 100$ of the sample of more than 900 studies), more like half of articles in mainstream media present the issue as a debate whose conclusions are ambiguous. We want to believe that it’s not a problem, and, with the help of the interested parties, will continue to find ways to avoid meaningful action and rationalize our behaviors.
With smoking, it was a man on a mission, whose name we all still know, C. Everett Koop, in the somewhat absurd position of Surgeon General, who made real change happen by forcing the truth upon the public. Al Gore has a somewhat more prominent position than Koop did, and is rightfully getting a lot of attention. Could he be the one who finally brings the message home clearly, urgently and well enough that we start acting to solve the problem?
I am certainly willing to believe he’s the man. And he asks us to act. My family has taken actions to lead us to becoming less of a burden on the planet. Our small actions have cost us hardly anything, nether financially nor in our comfort (indeed, in both cases, we have had some benefits). In our own actions we are not carbon neutral — only through purchase of carbon offsets have we become effectively carbon neutral. These are the actions we can take as individuals. And they are part of the solution.
But the big part of the solution needs to be lead by … our leaders. Thomas Friedman had a recent NY Times editorial suggesting that if Bush wants to go down in history as being effective, he should distance himself from Iraq and instead become a real environmental President. Seems unlikely to me.
So now we have elected new leaders to “change things” and have changed the balance of power in both houses of congress. To make these leaders act, we must be clear and determined in sending the message that we want action. It’s easy: here’s a link to The US House of Representatives and The US Senate web sites where you can look up your rep and write a letter. I just wrote three. I might again next week.
And if you haven’t seen an Inconvenient Truth, rent it, buy it, steal it, whatever. See it. I did.
How about you?