During my time at the Daily, I’ve attributed the causes of our problems to all sorts of people. Conservatives, anti-Semites, chicken hawks, racists, imperialists, capitalists and religious fanatics – these people are easily blamed on a world of issues. But there’s one issue for which the culprit can be found by simply looking in your own bathroom mirror.
Last weekend, I saw Al Gore’s Oscar-nominated documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” What I saw scared me. Pictures of receding glaciers coupled with models projecting the loss of places like New York City, the Netherlands, Shanghai and Calcutta to floods, made me feel like I was watching another Hollywood disaster flick. But it’s all a lot more disturbing when you realize that you’re actually watching the painful degradation of our planet.
There are some, even at this university, who continue to assert that global warming is nothing but a hoax. Last summer, if anyone happened to wander onto the Daily Opinion blog, The Podium, sentiments reflecting this trend would overwhelm that poor surfer. Echoing Rep. Jim Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) sentiment, which labeled global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” those commenting on the blog reflected a dangerous trend in American political discourse.
I am not going to rehash the scientific evidence presented in Gore’s movie and several other places since. It is one of the closest things in the scientific community to cold hard fact. My dilemma rests in understanding the motivations behind the so-called “controversy.” If overwhelming evidence suggests that human activity is causing an unnatural warming of the planet, why would anyone dispute it?
The fabricated controversy has arisen for several reasons. The most prevalent reason is economic. Because fixing the problems humans have created would require governmental regulation of pollution, many free-market advocates have decided that they would rather bury their heads in the sand than face reality. One unfortunate case in point is the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Founded in 1984 by Fred Smith, the CEI became famous last summer for producing advertisements in response to Gore’s movie. When I first saw the ads, I thought they were a joke. Their tagline, “They call it pollution, we call it life,” had me quite literally laughing out loud. In reference to carbon dioxide, the CEI believes that as long as we breathe out the gas and plants use it during photosynthesis, there is no such thing as too much. In one of the ads, the CEI refers to a paper written by a scientist who later spoke out against the ads once he discovered they misinterpreted his findings.
Are the CEI’s efforts brave words from concerned realists? Hardly. The list of donors and supporters of CEI’s war on the environment includes staples of Big Oil (Amoco and Texaco), Big Auto (Ford Motor Company), Ann Arbor’s recent deserters at Pfizer and the always smoking hot folks at tobacco-giant Phillip Morris. Although it has the appearance of a legitimate organization, the CEI is nothing more than a shill for the very corporations whose profits would be most in danger if our government took action to curb global warming.
But what is perhaps most startling is the allying of groups like the CEI with Christian fundamentalists. On an episode of CNN’s “Crossfire” from the early ’90s, CEI founder Fred Smith, after describing how global warming helps life on this planet, said “we’re basically to a world now that’s a lot closer to heaven than hell.”
What has today become a major theological position among the far-right Christian fundamentalists is that global warming is a hoax and that we needn’t worry about destroying the planet. Apparently, the lord gave man the power to do as he wishes, and there will always be enough resources for everyone. Anyone who has seen the movie “Jesus Camp” (which, incidentally, is one of An Inconvenient Truth’s challengers for the best documentary Academy Award), will recognize this ideology in action.
There is no uncertainty about global warming: It’s real, it’s now and it’s our fault. As much as the CEI and its co-conspirators have done to deserve the villain role in this story, the truth is we are all villains. We pollute the Earth with our gigantic SUVs, deforestation and chemicals. We allow corporations to put economic growth and profit over our own lives. When I look into that mirror, I see the culprit behind global warming, and you should all see it in there, too. If we can’t individually change our habits, how can we expect the government to care and work to bring change?
Jared Goldberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.