My sister has a theory about news cycles and it seems to hold up pretty well. She believes that the really scary news, the stuff that can keep you up at night, is often dumped into weekend newspapers or even held until holidays so that it’s off the radar, and those involved can still claim they’ve been open and transparent. Which is how I missed that story about Disney buying Cuba. (Just kidding, Disney. No, really, don’t start making sketches of the “Plantain Bay” roller coaster…)
Her theory seemed to be in play last Saturday when papers were filled to bursting with coverage and sidebars regarding the United Nations report on global warming. The report basically served up the apocalypse: The Earth running out of water, extreme food shortages in Africa, a planet ravaged by floods and millions of species facing extinction. And you thought Grindhouse made it look like a tough world.
The reporting was full-bodied and candid in presenting the objections of scientists who felt that the UN report, grim as it was, had been watered down by governments seeking to avoid taking action. A detailed condemnation of our inactivity on the most urgent issue involving every inhabitant of earth, man and animal…. and it came out on Saturday, when we don’t get to the paper because the kids have soccer.
Or maybe we want the new awareness on global warming to fall into the Gap. Not the clothing store, but the large black hole where we often will our scariest monsters to dwell.
We had the big picture on global warming 35 years ago. It was the uber issue behind the mobilization of youth and community groups that became Earth Day. Dude, we’ve had all the signs and warnings. Global warming has never been a secret, so why and how did it fall into the Gap?
The boomer generation remembers its past as being rich with visions for the future. Space travel, flying cars, wristwatch TV sets. But we can see now that much of what we absorbed as “vision” was simply long-range marketing. All those world’s fair dioramas and animations involving appliances… they were sponsored by corporations assuming that the future held unlimited sources of energy and that the unfettered exploitation of it would never come back and bite us.
Any vision involving eco-friendly mass transit or recycled energy fell into a kind of black-box holding bin. Yes, there was a futuristic monorail at the amusement park. But Dad drove us there in our fossil fuel-burning station wagon. Many other futuristic concepts inevitably involved us at the level of consumer: The Jetsons were fun, but they were also teeing us up for microwave ovens.
Echoing off the cavernous walls of the Gap were voices quite nearly yodeling a common refrain: To save our future, we will have to give up much of our personal consumption. Tempering global warming clearly demands that we accept less as more. Those aren’t messages that get to our Desk Top, if you will, in an age where excitement about new personal entertainment devices seems to have an almost erotic edge. A mountain of shiny new music-playing telephones stirs us in ways Internet porn never will. It’s certainly not the same vibe we get from a mountain of used batteries or a dumpster filled to the brim with discarded computers, monitors and keypads.
The conversation has moved from stopping global warming to modifying its impacts and hopefully lessening the blow on less developed, poorer nations. Older readers will recall those moments when dialogues shifted from stopping air pollution to reducing it. More recently, we found ourselves debating not the existence of mercury in fish, but how much was acceptable. We’re not good at stopping on a dime. We’re letting big decisions be made for us by way of neglect and forgetting. The Gap is not as deep and commodious as it used to be. Now you can look in and see exactly what we’ve been ignoring.