In my unproduced screenplay, “Jeepers, It’s Hot!”, an everyman played by George Clooney turns on his TV set to see what the weather man has to say about exactly when the heat wave will be over. Maybe in a day or so? Maybe by the weekend? Instead, the meteorologist (Jim Parsons as Fritz Coleman) gazes unflinchingly into the camera and intones, “We’re in for at least 25 more years of these record temps before it cools down. Of course by then, most of the life on this planet will have expired. Now, here’s Fred with a look at sports…”
Global warming is not being perceived the same as Godzilla or even bird flu. Somehow, our lethargy in paying attention to it in previous decades has evolved into a level of acceptance: Three digit temperatures and droughts and record numbers of tornadoes and hurricanes and shrink- ing glaciers and rising shore lines are being adapted to. And with those adjustments comes what feels like a tacit understanding: All these undeniable signs of global warming are irksome and destroy property and limit water and make us sticky and hot … but they are otherwise benign.
I’m talking about an integration of global warming into everyday life, not the battle between science fact and political nincompoop denial. Following a two week cycle of national engagement with an unhappy thrice-divorced county clerk who claims to be defending God’s law, we’re going to have to finally admit that what pulls us into these “culture wars” is our appetite for fresh entertain- ment, with a soupcon of righteous indignation as a side dish.
As a result of the exploitation of “issues” and “controversy” as fresh content for our amusement, citizens are becoming completely small picture. If there were a weekly TV series called “That Was Fun!” that reminded us of events that commandeered our focus and emotion for 15 minutes at a time, a recent episode might have included Caitlin Jennings, any shooter in a mass murder, Octo- Mom, Sarah Palin, various missing blond-haired white children… you get the idea.
Having lost the ability to work not only ‘big- picture’ but long-term, we are now integrating global warming in same way citizens of Los Angeles have integrated the overpopulation of, at least, their freeways. Or the way that residents along the Gulf of Mexico have adjusted to recurring tar balls and sludge on their beaches.
There was never going to be rioting over global warming, although I think that’s coming some hot summer afternoon. While critical to our survival as a species, climate change doesn’t stir the blood like racial injustice or abortion or my new favorite, “religious rights.” But what’s really keeping us inert is the scope of global warming, and our distance from the last time we took decisive global action of any kind. Oh, sure, we get into wars easily enough. But those are about channeling our collective aggression, and for obtaining oil. What was the last global life-affirming action we took? Some would say LGBT rights, except that as we pursue that important goal the temperature keeps going up.
Several days ago I viewed an online ecology video claiming that not only are we wrong for accepting bottled water as the way of things, we’re barely recycling the global production of empty plastic bottles. Some claim that as many as 80 percent are not recycled, and that the use of energy and petroleum to produce and ship those plastic bottles is in itself an ecological disaster.
With an almost hopeful tone, the video suggested that the sight of someone carrying around a plastic water bottle will soon be perceived the same as someone smoking a cigarette. In other words, we will turn on our friend … the water bottle. Loosening the hug we’re giving global warming and instead facing-off against it as an enemy requires that we reclaim the Big Picture. That likely won’t happen right now, as we diddle in the hideously small-picture circus tent of Mr. Trump. It won’t happen if we can’t teach ourselves to let tasty snacks like that county clerk fall by the wayside so can we turn our attention to the fully adult issue of planetary survival. I’m voting for getting smarter and making better use of our time. Who’s with me?