Years ago, just out of college, a friend got a job as a reporter in Iowa. As proof of how slow things were there, he told us of an editorial meeting that decided the top ten stories of 1991. One editor suggested that the list include "the weather." All of us laughed at this, proof of how unbelievably dull the hinterlands must be. After all, didn't the weather happen every year?
Fifteen years later, it doesn't seem so funny.
Like provincial townspeople who hear the distant rumble of approaching tanks, we seem to be collectively waking up to the enormity of what we are up against. Climate change is finally being seen for the threat it is, and while we may not be in the throes of the cataclysm, we can recognize what is coming and we can evaluate the steps we need to take now.
Hope is still an option. We have the technology and we have the infrastructure, all we have to do is marshal the willpower.
The scary part is that, yes, it probably involves inconvenience, like for instance taxes. Measuring the actual cost of what we do and offsetting that with reasonable counteractive measures makes the most sense. If someone is emitting carbon into the atmosphere, they should pay the costs to restore the balance. Just the thought of that will set the lobbying machine of the great carbon producers into furious action. The amount of money they spent defeating alternative energy's Proposition 87 in California is stunning, almost one hundred million dollars, with Chevron alone contributing thirty million dollars.
Obviously, that money is counterproductive to our greater prosperity, after all a hundred million dollars would have bought a lot of solar panels. Investing in solutions now is better than paying the much larger costs down the road, costs that - according to a study released the British government - will equal the cost of World War II and The Great Depression combined.
As it has been pointed out, there is no one answer. But few problems come with silver bullet answers. While The New York Times did recently point out that wind energy is not the only solution because, well, the wind doesn't always blow, that does not discount it as being part of the solution. And while solar is still expensive and, for instance, the large installation at the Google headquarters will only supply 30% of their electrical needs, that's still 30% of their electrical needs. Hybrid cars only help so much, flexible fuel only helps so much, and energy conservation only helps so much. But they all do add up. Even feeding cows grain that makes them pass less gas less helps a lot, more than you probably want to imagine.
We can point to other places, like China, where the rapid growth of coal-generated power is adding to the crisis. But the United States is still currently responsible for a disproportionately large share of the problem. The actions we take here will make a difference and we can be world leaders again instead of being something much worse.
We have a long journey ahead of us. I am still shocked at how little is recycled - an act that reduces greenhouse emissions - I am still amazed at how the press still gives kooks like Inhofe airtime debunking solid scientific facts. I am still completely thrown by people who write things like "There's nothing we can do about it, so why try?"
We can do so much. It is about individual responsibility, but to a greater degree it's about working together. As we enter the New Year, let's put our disbelief and our cynicism aside, let's above all be hopeful. Let's talk with our friends about what we can do, let's join groups and make phone calls and back candidates and make change happen. We have come together at times in our history and accomplished great things, defeating fascism, overthrowing tyranny, wiping out slavery. We can do this. To think otherwise is to ignore the successes of our great collective actions; to fail to act is to walk away from what it means to be a part of humanity.
This coming year promises to be one of great opportunity, when we can change the course of history. In the end, we will emerge stronger for it. With greater energy independence for our nation, with new businesses promoting new technologies that supply a sustainable future, and with a greater sense of ourselves as a nation that can face and overcome enormous challenges.
As we finish up 2006, things look bad. The big headline on USA Today last week was "Extreme Weather Caps Off the Year: Rain, Snow, Drought, 'Incredible' Warmth." But I believe change is coming and I have every hope that at the end of 2007, when the editors of that little paper in Iowa get together again, they will put our fight against climate change at the top of their list.