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Commentary :: Environment : International : Media : Politics
Where's the Sense of Panic or Urgency?
27 Mar 2006
Modified: 11:17:07 AM
The nation goes nuts if it hears about a mad cow somewhere or if a bird comes down with flu, but global warming, a biblical flood on the way within a generation? Who cares?
Over morning coffee last Friday, I read in my local paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, a distressing lead story reporting on a recent study, published in the journal Science, saying global temperatures will rise by at least four degrees by the end of the century, with sea levels rising concomitantly by three feet over the same period.

The story, which was distributed by the Associated Press, was doubly disturbing because that four-degree rise in temperature over the next 100 years is the scientific community’s conservative prediction, with other models suggesting a global temperature increase of up to 9 degrees--enough to raise sea levels by 16 feet or more.

Now the simple fact of the entire water surface of the globe rising by even a foot over the span of one person's life is mind-boggling. Think about the amount of added water we're talking about here! And the consequences are beyond belief: cities like New Orleans going under on a regular basis (well actually, just forget about New Orleans), entire countries like Bangladesh, the Maldives and other low-lying coastal and island nations disappearing. Hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of prime real estate and hotels disappearing, states like Florida being reduced in size by half, and so on.

Of course, the vast changes in the oceans would mean equally vast changes in climate, with many inland areas, including large swaths of the U.S. west--the nation’s breadbasket--becoming deserts or semi-deserts.

One would think that a nation that flies into a panic at the thought of a few terrorists with a bomb, or of a bird with the flu, would really be worked up about this story, but no. It sailed by here in Philadelphia without note and with no follow-up--not even an editorial--and even more incredibly, it didn’t even make the paper, much less the front page, in most of the nation’s media.

What's going on here? The world is racing pell-mell to environmental catastrophe, and Americans, who are a prime cause of the problem with our multiple SUVs, our heated saunas, our 70-degree-in –winter, 60-degree-in-summer oversized homes, and our insatiable demand for plastics, are completely oblivious. Our stunning lack of concern about the disasters that lie ahead for ourselves and our children and grandchildren wouldn’t be that astonishing perhaps, if we weren’t so absurdly jittery about much lesser threats. Get a report that one lone cow out in Idaho was found with mad-cow disease and beef sales plummet. And wait until the first U.S. chicken comes down with bird flu--Colonel Sanders will be declaring bankruptcy within days. But the world as we know it coming to an end, with mass extinctions, flooding of coastal cities, loss of prime agricultural lands, and perhaps the vanishing of the Gulf Stream? Who has time for that?

The same mass attention deficit disorder afflicts our political class. Congress gets all worked up over an Arab-owned company buying up and running some of the nation's ports, and over a few million immigrants coming to the Land of the Free to try to make a better life, but when faced with a climate disaster that even the experts at the Pentagon have said is far worse than any terrorist threat, its members do nothing.

And the president? He's so busy trying to manage a pointless and unnecessary war of his own making he doesn't have any interest in global warming--in fact he has spent five years trying to deny it's even happening, in the interest of promoting the business of the oil industry that has bankrolled his political career. The criminal neglect of this crisis by the government will not change until the public wakes up to the problem and takes it seriously. The rising tide is not just about making the beaches narrower and the surf higher. It's about the very survival of the nation and of humankind.

In on sense, we're all guilty here. We drive our gas-guzzling cars, pumping tons of carbon per person into the air every year as if there were no price to pay down the road, and we continue to elect charlatans who tell us that doing anything serious about climate change would be to painful for the economy. But in another sense, the reason we're so apathetic is because our leaders are lying to us. When they lie, the mass media, which have lost the nerve to challenge the power structure and the political "consensus," lie along with them. And the liar-in-chief, President Bush, has gone out of his way not just to deny the crisis, but to have his administration interfere with, alter, and suppress evidence of it.

This is not a case of denial or even of simple negligence. It is a case of criminal negligence, and perhaps of all this president’s impeachable crimes should be number one on the list.

For other stories by Lindorff, please go (at no charge) to

For more on impeachment, check out our new book "The Case for Impeachment," which will be available May 1. Information available at
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