“Goofball weathermen, Climategate, conspiracy theories—these are all a distraction from what’s really happening. Which, apparently, is what we’re looking for.”

18 Apr 2010

This quote from a recent New Yorker article, by the magazine’s main environment reporter, captures America’s mood well.

(In case you hadn’t heard about these things, here are links for reading up: Goofball weathermen doubt that climate change is real, ClimateGate was a supposed conspiracy by scientists to hide climate data, and these feed into wider conspiracy theories about the whole idea of climate change being a hoax.)

The same feeling—that Americans are obsessed with the frivolous, while willfully ignoring the death and slow-grinding destruction that’s eroding their way of life—is captured well in this comparison of CNN’s homepage with Al Jazeera’s, on an average recent day.

Why is it easier for people to believe in a worldwide conspiracy of scientists and governments, than it is to believe that a whole bunch of normal, relatively selfish people have screwed up the planet?

Why don’t they think that oil companies—the largest corporations in the world—are engaged in conspiracies to keep us “addicted to oil,” to use George W. Bush’s speechwriters’ words?

(Not that Bush blamed the oil companies. But there are good reasons to lay some of the blame for our situation at their feet since—as explained in several books including Ross Gelbspan’s—oil companies have been instrumental in spreading doubt about climate change, as a way of preventing action to cut greenhouse gas emissions.)

I don’t really understand what makes people glom on to one idea and not another. But it is comfortable to think that we’re not causing a problem, or that if there is a problem, we’re not to blame. And maybe that’s all there is behind all this.


books I've read on failure & grace

The World Without Us
The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
Hell and High Water: Global Warming--the Solution and the Politics--and What We Should Do
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
The Tipping Point
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time
The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization
Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail
The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850
Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Mason's favorite books »