By Lance Simmens
Former Vice President Al Gore may not have invented the internet but he sure did raise the public consciousness around what at first was characterized as global warming and now has morphed into climate change.
Is climate change responsible for all of the world’s problems? No, but it is an important contributing factor to enormous shifts in long-term trends that need to be factored into how we proceed to leave this world a better place for our progeny. To minimize its importance would be a travesty that simply does not comport with our moral responsibility to future generations.
I was honored to be a member of the initial set of training sessions developed by Gore to draw attention to the important physical, statistical, and scientific impacts of climate change and their relationship to everyday life experiences. Subsequently I would deliver over 100 presentations, mostly to high school and college audiences, on the need to develop a response to what is indisputable: namely, the world is warming. Along the way there are certain things we have learned as well.
One example: in preparation for a one-hour PowerPoint presentation at the University of Pennsylvania, I was taken to task by Penn Professor Bob Giegengack, co-founder of the Institute for Environmental Studies, who questioned why we would begin the presentation with a spinning Earth accompanied by declaring that nothing short of the survival of the planet was at stake when in actuality the Earth would be just fine in the long run. But what about the humans, I questioned? He shot back “that is a different question.” I contacted Gore and the first slide was appropriately corrected. We must be constantly questioning our knowledge base and willing to modify it when required.
I hesitate to engage in a statistical cavalcade to buttress scientific facts that are both occurring and threatening to continue to worsen in the near future. The facts are the facts. Science is a precious and demanding discipline, and there is a treasure trove of data that outlines a bleak future indeed. We have made progress on this critical issue, but we have certainly not been diligent nor courageous enough to challenge what we know needs to be modified to forestall such a bleak future that is closing in quickly on the planet and its inhabitants.
Science also is not necessarily easy to comprehend and in a world where significant distrust and lack of confidence is reflected in our lack of respect for government leaders, administrative bureaucracies, and professionals in scientific fields it is easy to just throw one’s hands up and walk away.
Advances in scientific discovery of the impacts of climate change are essential as we focus on the long-term, while political criticism often is little more than an appeal for short-term skepticism. Hence, whether it involves highly trained experts in scientific fields or medical experts at odds over how to respond to the recent pandemic, we find many individuals confused as to what either they should or want to believe. Such confusion is aided and abetted by purposeful pandering from politicians wishing to cash in on their own personal fortunes, both political and financial.
I do not pretend to have the answers as to how to encourage, enforce, or effectuate a society of experts dedicated to the truth, facts, or even the best guess that their education and dedication to a better world can offer. I do know, however, that as long as our society is unduly influenced by conspiracies, distrust, outright lies, and personal largesse, we are bound to be driven to question even the most obvious facts. Political chicanery can lead to outrageous examples of defying common sense, stealing a line from the Marx Brothers “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes!” Equally important, however is the need to continue to study the facts and not BLAME SCIENCE.
If we do not exercise our own dedication to the betterment of others, we are bound to experience disaster around every corner. Unless we honor and believe that individuals of character are looking out for our best interests, and I am not talking about financial interests here, I am talking about the propagation of what is best for all, rich and poor, black and white and brown and red, we are bound to fall prey to the hucksters, the grifters, the self-absorbed, and those who continue to force us to withdraw from what would clearly be a future that benefits our children and future generations.
I refuse to believe that we are a nation of gullible idiots merely seeking to benefit from what is in the best interest for ourselves rather than what is in the best interests for the society at large. If that is wrong we will succumb to those who refuse to accept what is clearly in front of them. Wake up America; the planet will survive regardless of what we do, the humans will not.