The most depressing statistic I have read in recent years is embedded in a 2009 Gallup survey showing that 41% of Americans believe that climate change is exaggerated or a hoax, up from 38% two years ago. Worse, the number of Americans who agree that the scientists are correct about our climate declined from 66% to 57%.
When the floods and famine come, my heirs will be paying dearly for the colossal stupidity of others. Yes, stupidity. Sam Harris wrote The End of Faith; I’ll have to write The End of Reason. We are just a few votes shy of descending into another Dark Age in which ignorance and faith triumph completely over reason and fact. We have entered a time in which scientific illiteracy has reached that catastrophic point where science transmutes from a search for objective truth to just another opinion, carrying no more weight than the blathering of a talking head with an opposing view. The collective opinions of thousands of professional meteorologists have been equated to nothing more valid than the uneducated opinion of a radio host. Such false equivalency is a sure sign we are in deep trouble.
I being to wonder if the coordinated denial of climate change is a vast Christian conspiracy designed to hasten the End Times. Perhaps Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity and Bachmann are the four horses of the Apocalypse. I guess that would make Dick Cheney the anti-Christ. Playing that part so well, Cheney castigates President Obama for “dithering” on Afghanistan because the president does not rush into sending young men and women to their deaths for no reason. Yet to dither on climate change is divine. Let’s bring on the Rapture.
Denying the reality of climate change is tragic on many levels. We are condemning millions to an unfortunate future of coastal flooding, mass migrations, agricultural disruptions, exposure to the northward march of tropical diseases, and inevitable wars over shifting and scarce resources. When these tragic events unfold, an apology from the faithful will be inadequate. Sorry does not suffice in the face of millions of unnecessary deaths and the preventable disruption of hundreds of millions of lives.
But the tragedy of denial is also one of missed opportunity. The next economic superpower will be the country that masters, and then sells to the rest of the world, the next generation of green technologies. We can be sure now that the United States will not fill that role given the growing influence of anti-intellectualism and increasing disdain for science in this country. The scientific community has come to be seen by many conservatives as a liberal cabal to be dismissed outright. As a consequence, while the shift from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy is inevitable, we will be left in the dust as the rest of the world invests in green technology research. China is now the world’s leading exporter of photovoltaic panels. Germany now invests more than the United States in renewable energy. We’re losing it folks. We became a superpower because we harnessed and dominated the industrial revolution. We have lost our lead because we “dithered” while the rest of the world embraced the green revolution. Can we say “sorry” to our children as we bequeath to them a country in decline?
Sadly, climate change denial is just one example of this conspiracy of ignorance. Rush Limbaugh exhorts his listeners to eschew the H1N1 vaccine because the government approves it. With that Limbaugh has gone from bloated blowhard to something more sinister: a naysayer that might be responsible for thousands of preventable deaths.
Our educational system is in shambles, and our children lag far behind by every international standard. But we dither, focusing on “vouchers” instead of underlying problems. In the meantime 75% of our kids do not know that George Washington was our first president or that the east coast of our country borders the Atlantic Ocean. Our response to this problem is just as with climate change: denial. Rather than face the real issues, conservatives simply attack the Department of Education. We are dooming entire generations to second class status in the world. To be sorry seems so inadequate.
Our health care system is an embarrassment, but is defended through gross ignorance as “the best in the world.” We spend twice as much per capita as any other wealthy democracy but get a poor return on that investment. The United States is the only developed country in the world that does not offer universal health care. In the industrial world we are ranked 26th in infant mortality. We are 24th in healthy life expectancy. Overall our health care system is ranked 37th globally, behind third-world countries like Oman. Only the United States has the embarrassment of medical bankruptcies. Our response to these realities is analogous to our response to climate change: denial. So instead of solving the problem we simply define the problem away by blindly rejecting reality. Instead we embrace ignorance with false claims of superiority. “My bad” just does not work for these terrible mistakes.
We are at the precipice. Senators Inhofe and Baucus are leading us headlong over the edge as they reach across the aisle to oppose any climate change bill. We are proving ourselves to be arrogant fools. If we fail to act, we deserve everything coming our way. Apologies not accepted as temperatures rise and ignorance reigns.