Global Warming -- Facing Our Fears
By Kelpie Wilson
t r u t h o u t | Statement
Thursday 06 May 2004
Addressing a meeting of environment ministers last week, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that the Iraq war and terrorism have overshadowed critical environmental problems. Global warming and dwindling natural resources are losing the world\'s attention as the focus shifts to war and terror.
\"However understandable that focus might be, we cannot lose any more time or ground in the wider struggle for human well-being. Just as we need balanced development, so do we need a balanced international agenda,\" Annan said.
In recent months, others have made similar statements.
Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson said: \"Current preoccupation is with terrorism, but in the long term climate change will outweigh terrorism as an issue for the international community. . . climate change is going to make some very fundamental changes to human existence on the planet.\" Anderson said that if nothing is done to slow global warming, the wheat-growing prairies of Canada and the Great Plains of the United States would eventually no longer produce enough food to support the population. \"Terrorism is unlikely to give us the strong possibility of 500 million refugees. Climate change is likely to give us that if it goes unchecked from flooded areas ... in countries such as Bangladesh,\" he said.
Sir David King, science advisor to UK prime minister Tony Blair, said climate change was the most severe problem faced by the world. He criticized the US for a failure of leadership: \"As the world\'s only remaining superpower, the United States is accustomed to leading internationally co-ordinated action. But at present the US Government is failing to take up the challenge of global warming.\"
He was later told by the prime minister\'s office to hold his tongue.
Support for Sir David\'s view came from Hans Blix, the former United Nations chief weapons inspector, who said the environmental crisis was at least as important a threat as global terrorism. Blix is in a unique position to be able to weigh these relative threats. Unlike the general public he has first hand knowledge of Iraq\'s WMD program and was not fooled by the Bush administration\'s lies and distortions about the Iraq threat.
Meanwhile, it is still possible to find climate change skeptics in the American media. The product of a few industrial think tanks like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Pacific Research Institute, their broadsides uniformly accuse environmental advocates and scientists of \"fear mongering.\"
The overwhelming majority of the world\'s climate scientists agree that human-caused climate change is real, but that is not enough evidence for media hit men like John Stossel of ABC\'s 2020. In a 2001 piece still posted on his website, Stossel says: \"Despite what we hear from the media, there is no consensus that global warming is harming the planet.\" Stossel asks, \"Are we scaring ourselves to death?\"
Still, the flood of climate change debunking has definitely slowed. As people around the world begin to believe the evidence of their senses, it becomes harder to sell the happy talk about global warming. Our fears are becoming reality:
Western forests are dying from drought and the fire season in the west has come earlier than ever with officials now reporting conditions in early May like those not formerly seen until July.
Reservoir levels are dropping and we are told that Lake Powell may go dry and stop producing hydro-electricity in a few short years.
Those in the middle of the country are preparing for another summer of severe storms and tornados.
In Europe, people are bracing for more catastrophic floods and another summer of killing heat.
In Alaska, the permafrost is melting and roads and foundations are buckling as the ground turns to mush.
Some Pacific islands are becoming uninhabitable as rising seas sweep across them during storms.
Around the world, declines of wildlife and the spread of invasive pests are linked to global warming.
Since 9/11 we have seen the Bush administration use fear to motivate the public to support an unfounded war on Iraq. Bush told lies that convinced Americans that Saddam Hussein supported al-Qaeda terrorists and that he was capable of launching missiles loaded with nuclear and biological weapons against his neighbors. None of this has turned out to be true, but the fear was created.
Fear is a powerful force in human affairs that, because of our psychological makeup, is easy to manipulate. We are taught to fear our fears, and to suppress them as we desperately seek ways to rid ourselves of them. When our leaders tell us we can act quickly to eliminate a fear, we usually jump on board without a lot of questions.
George Lakoff calls this the \"Strict Father\" model of politics. Lakoff is a professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley who has written widely on the topic of \"framing.\" In public debate, he says, the winning side is the side that creates the frame that defines the terms of the debate. Today the conservatives are winning because they have framed that debate according to a particular model of the family. The conservative family model is based on the \"Strict Father\" who supports and protects the family. \"He does it in only one way -- by strength and punishment. Only punishment works. Only shows of strength work,\" Lakoff said in a January 15 interview with BuzzFlash. \"When you have fear in the country, fear evokes a strict father model. It\'s to the conservatives\' advantage to keep people afraid, to keep having orange alerts, to keep having announcements that they have secret information that there might be a bombing somewhere in the country. As long as you keep people afraid, you reinforce the strict father model.\"
Lakoff contrasts this model with the \"Nurturant Parent\" family model that liberals use as a frame. This type of family and politics focuses on bringing out the best in everyone. It is more about joy, love, community and progress, but it has not coped successfully with fear. Lakoff said we need \"to be positive, to break through the fear You have to project an image of love and warmth, and happiness and hope. That\'s the first thing. You don\'t feed the fear.\"
But when it comes to environmental issues like global warming, our fears are real. And no one is providing us with easy answers like sending in the troops to oust a dictator. Instead, we are being told not to worry about climate change, pollution and energy shortages and to carry on with business as usual. So we suppress our fears and they add to the general state of fear that is then used to get us to agree to war and destruction.
In the depths of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said to America: \"Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.\" But FDR did not ask people to suppress their fears. He said, \"only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment,\" and called for moral vision and a plan of action.
Unaddressed fear leads to paralysis. We still have a chance to head off some of the worst climate change scenarios, but we must change our attitude toward fear and come to see it as our best ally. Where would we be today if our ancestors did not fear the predator, the storm, the poor harvest, and take steps to protect themselves? We must face our fears and act, in concert with others, in joy and love. When we can do that, we will be free.