Last year’s burrito
Speaking in March at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco, Klaus Scharioth, the German ambassador to the United States, recalled a public engagement when he was asked something like, “The U.N. report on climate change says there is a 90 percent certainty that climate change is real, it’s manmade, and it will come within the next 10 years. … That’s only 90 percent; it’s not proven.” To which Scharioth replied, “If you go from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and you know that your plane will crash with a 90 percent probability, would you take the plane?”
It’s a chilling observation. Auntie Ruth could insert the usual wiseass retort here—the usual comeuppance to the usual climate-change denial—but why bother?
The ambassador’s comment is something you say to a child. You crouch, you look the child in the eye. You want to connect, this is important. But you are older and you know the answer.
On her worst days, that’s how the climate-change debate makes Auntie Ruth feel—like we are a world flush with children waiting for recess. Waiting for someone to feed us, to announce it is night, to tuck us in, tomorrow’s another day. Really, it will all be OK. Nighty-night.
This ain’t no finger wag, nor righteous claim to the mantle of adulthood. Maybe none of us can so claim, maybe that’s the problem. Tim Flannery’s new book Here on Earth suggests that we are still a young species, only recently aware of what we have wrought in the growing environmental crises. Flannery states, “Infancy is the most dangerous period of life”; Andrew Revkin’s review of Here on Earth in The New York Times notes, “It’s not easy being the first life-form to become both a planet-scale force and—ever so slowly and uncomfortably—aware of that fact.”
And yet we grow older, count the rings around my eyes. Al Gore’s “Climate of Denial” in June’s Rolling Stone was not so much an assault on Obama’s environmental record as a critique of media’s role in looking the other way when climate deniers lie, misreport and do the things that make earnest civic discourse look like last year’s burrito. And his 24 Hours of Reality—www.climaterealityproject.org—on September 14 looks quite promising.
How young are you?