RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Climate Change Demands Attention

In the last moments of the presidential campaign, environmentalists suddenly found their voices and pointed out that nothing environmental, including the subject of climate change, had been covered. There hadn’t been any speeches about it, any Q and A in the debates, any attention at all. The media, in fact, was baffled when anyone mentioned earth.

One interesting exchange came when a caller (kudos to that guy!) asked NPR’s Neal Conan about the subject. Conan seemed baffled, then tossed the idea around with his guest. Who would be responsible for covering climate change, they asked each other, would it be the pols, or the media? In other words, if the pols didn’t want to discuss the subject, the subject wasn’t covered.

In other other words, if the industrial-sponsored politicians didn’t want to discuss the subject …

In other other other words, if industry didn’t want to discuss the subject …

The media, then, had a pre-set list of questions, and anything that was NOT on the list was off-limits, and nobody wanted any surprises. This year, it was the economy, stupid. And, oh yeah, abortion. Besides some lame reassurances that the government would take care of our troops, the heroes, there wasn’t any discussion of our military involvement all over the globe. No discussion about transition to a green economy or the takeover of our food system by the big pigs, or just about anything else you care to pick out of the black hat. By the time it came to voting, weren’t you just bored to tears?

It would have been duplicitous, of course, for the pols to ask us to save energy … Hopping from Florida to New Hampshire to Colorado, there’s no way to estimate the carbon footprint for this election. They traveled non-stop for more than a year — by private bus, by private jet plane — and every one of the candidates in all the US elections did the same. If someone like Chris Christie hadn’t racked up enough miles at home, he’d jet off to the hinterlands to introduce some failing candidate.

And the state elections were equally distressing. Here in Missouri, I was shocked to see vans wrapped with the names of candidates for state offices, to ferry them and their teams from one county seat to another. These vehicles were probably obtained through the services of the ethanol lobbies, going to Farm Bureau picks, but couldn’t they at least have donated a Prius?

Like every other state, Missouri has seen its share of weird weather, and we should be paying attention. Last summer’s drought was one of the worst on record and the heat broke all previous records, day after sizzling day. Two summers ago, a tornado vacuumed up entire neighborhoods in Joplin, dropping them on cornfields. What’s it gonna take? The end of the ice caps? Santa and his elves hammering together a toy factory on rafts?

On Halloween night, a week before the election, environmentalist Bill McKibben phoned in a speech to a packed auditorium at the University of Missouri. The speech had been planned for months. McKibben had recently published an article in Rolling Stone that links together the future effects of fossil fuels on the climate. At the rate we’re going, he says, it won’t take long for the earth temperature to rise to an uninhabitable level.

Appearing on a giant screen after dialing in on Skype, McKibben’s speech was a great demonstration of the power of technology and the possibilities of finding new ways to save giant amounts of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions. People in the audience loved it … a giant McKibben on the stage, like a rock star!

But McKibben didn’t make the Skype appearance because he wanted to save the planet. He made it because the climate had spoken. Just days earlier, hurricane Sandy had slammed into New Jersey.

Flights were cancelled and power was down in Manhattan. Cell phones in New York were cut off for at least a week. Flights didn’t flight. Lights didn’t light. Elevators didn’t elevate. And, unlike storms in the past, nobody’s saying this is the “storm of the century” or a “hundred year storm.” Instead, we’re hearing about the safety of having lots of insurance, and re-insurance. Having that, the increasingly violent weather creates a merely tiny blip on the economic radar. Forget, then, the misery of families and the damages to kids who’ll grow up with nightmares. We’re supposed to believe that all that really matters is the economy, stupid.

The subject of climate change is unpopular, because it’s so terrifying. We’re all in denial and we’re all waiting for a hero to save us. Obviously, the hero won’t be connected with the industrial bought-and-paid-for governments.

It’s up to us, fellow humans, to find the courage to make the differences. The government has been muted.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2012

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