Trapped. Cornered. Stuck. While the vast majority of existing intelligence points to the inevitability of global warming, with a list of catastrophic predictions that would seem almost biblical if they weren't based in hard science, there's still no political will to do anything about it. Nothing. Nobody is lifting a finger. I think that's because of three things: politics, language, and storytelling.
Politics: It's just the nature of the dialogue. If Democrats says that something exists, Republicans -urged on by things like this completely creepy C.E.I. ad- are compelled to say that it doesn't exist. It's like we're stuck in one of Conan O'Brien and Andy Richter's staring contests. While in the background the planet continues to heat up, glaciers continue to melt, and we continue our march toward suffering at an unimaginable scale.
Language: Articulating the issues surrounding global warming can be done in clear and articulate ways, as Al Gore and Bill McKibben have proved and as Chad Harbach shows in this excellent N+1 piece. The problem is that the language only invites more conversation. People start talking about the terms of the debate, dissecting paragraphs, commenting on the difference between heat waves and global warming, then someone mentions Teddy Kennedy's drinking and all reasonable debate catches the next bus to Pittsburgh. The other problem with language is that hearing phrases like "record temperatures" in an air-conditioned room or "mass extinction" when my cat Babaganoosh appears to be just fine makes all those phrases cerebral things, as unconnected to the real world as we are.
And finally, story telling. We understand villains. Stalin, Hitler and Saddam are easily comprehensible bad guys. But the whole planet? How can the very thing that nurtures and cares for us become the greatest force of opposition we've ever faced? We can't fathom that. In a separate debate, Richard Dawkins has pointed out that human imagination can't embrace the length of time necessary for evolution to transpire. It's the same with the changing global ecology, we can't wrap our heads around a narrative this vast, one that manages to be both slow and fast, visible and invisible, one that doesn't offer any easy answers. And we can't believe that our own seemingly innocent decisions can contribute to our ultimate destruction. It doesn't marry with the Grimm's Fairy Tales we were raised to believe in. So we shut it all out.
My question is this, how do we make the conversation more dynamic? What will be the catalyst for action? Is it going to be a Republican like McCain breaking the mold? Is it going to be another disaster the scale of Katrina? Is it going to be vigorous carbon footprint movement that emerges at both a grassroots and an international level? It's hard to say. But until it happens, here we are, trapped. Cornered. Stuck.