21 June 2006

Where Are We Going, And Why Are We in This Handbasket?

So, every day I have this ritual of going through my little list of blogs, and today I noticed that QueerJoe referenced a comment I had left on his regarding Al Gore's movie. I was kind of struck that my thinking on the global warming issue sort of got characterized as "fuck 'em". I don't think that was necessarily Joe's intent, but I felt like it needed some clarification and a comments board just wasn't the right space to do it.

What I said in my comment was that I've long held the view that we, the human species, will be the architects of our own demise. I called it pessimistic, which I think is the general perception, but I really think of it as a more realistic outlook. I'd like to think otherwise, but I just don't know that we will really solve the problems we are creating with our environment in time to reverse course. My training background is in biology, and any biologist will tell you what happens when a population outgrows its resources. Eventually it crashes hard, sometimes to the point that recovery is not possible.

Over the years that I've been working with animals, one of the things that has really struck me is how much our behaviors are like theirs. We act largely out of instinct - no matter how good we may be at rationalizing and convincing ourselves otherwise - and as a result, our tendency is to have a very short-term outlook in our day-to-day lives. This is what I think will be our downfall. Even though many of us do realize the long-term dangers of what we're doing to the world, as individuals we continue primarily to make decisions that provide short-term gains to our own selves but that will be ultimately detrimental to us collectively in the long run.

The difficult part for most anyone who will be reading this is the realization that we in the developed world are the biggest offenders. I drive a hybrid car, recycle, don't eat meat, and so on, but I still consume far more resources than a poor farmer in Africa or India who is deforesting his area just to be able to cook starvation rations for the family. The real burden to change course is on the First World nations, and I just don't see it as likely to happen in time as the short-term costs - which will be enormous, make no doubt - will be deemed not feasible, or "bad for business".

Listening to a piece about An Inconvenient Truth on NPR last week, I was struck by a part where they described a cartoon in the movie. In the cartoon, a frog is placed in a pan of water on a stove. The stove is then turned on, and the water begins to slowly heat so that the frog doesn't notice. In the original version, the frog eventually dies, but in the version that's in theatres now, the cartoon has been changed so that the frog realizes what's happening and jumps to safety.

Personally, I think it would have been better to leave the frog in the water, as it more accurately reflects what is likely to happen. I understand very well our desire to find hope. It's a very basic emotional/psychological need we have - to find comfort, even in the face of adversity. My fear, though, is that we'll keep hoping and hoping - because acting to the degree that will be required is most certainly going to be painful, particularly for those of us in the developed world - until the water is boiling around us.


Angie said...

I agreed with you Mel ( little as I know about U.S politics) .I wouldn't say people skills are Joe's strongpoint.I await the day I get told to f*** off because I'm a dappy English housewife.There's being blunt and being rude ..the crying thing didn't go down too well and it is hard not to take it all as personal.

Tallguy said...

Yes, Mel, I agree with you. I'm now at an age where I've realized I am not going to be saving the world. There isn't the time, nor the energy in me. The best I can hope for, like you, is that I hope that I don't leave the world any worse than it is.

Unknown said...

Thanks Mel for clarifying your thoughts so well. You are absolutely right, "F__ 'em" doesn't come close to describing the intent of your comments, and I'm glad to hear you're so committed to it, even though you are more realistic than most folks (including myself) on this issue.

One interesting thing is your (NPR's) description of the cartoon in the movie. The frog doesn't actually jump out of the hot water...it never realizes it is in danger. A man takes the frog out of the water.