Friday, September 11, 2009

Climate change is serious business. Just ask 'Star Trek'

Don't you hate it when you make a poignant comment and your friend responds with something completely unrelated, as if you didn't say anything?

"I question whether the Lockean model is really helpful to understanding society."

"Yeah, I hope we're having pulled pork for lunch, I could drink that Chipotle sauce straight from the bottle."


My dad can be that way too. Whenever I start talking about climate change, he starts talking about a "Star Trek" episode. By the third time he told the story, I finally listened.

Apparently there's an episode where the "Star Trek" team realizes a particular planet's destruction is imminent. When they inform the leader, he responds to the effect of, "Everybody here knows. But there's nothing we can do about it. So we ignore it." The population decides to plug its ears to the warnings and live out its remaining days.

Are we this way about climate change? Possibly. Despite the glacier of peer-reviewed, credible studies published from the 1990s to yesterday, not much has been done to reduce the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

Even attempts by human relief organizations to humanize the crisis have dripped quietly into the ocean of 24/7 news, where Oxfam International's "Climate-related hunger could be the defining human tragedy of this century," is jumbled with the headline, "Bridget Marquardt's Pooch Pee-Pee Problem."

The difficulty in getting society's attention is daunting. However, our greatest problem is not ignoring the information, but the way it has been presented. Leaders and politicians cannot say "Our planet is in peril, buy a Prius and change your light bulbs," and expect people to take them seriously.

We're not stupid। We understand the growth of China and India, the power of lobbyists in Washington, D.C., our unsustainable industrial food structure, our culture that salivates over cheap oil and Styrofoam cups, as well as the difficulty of helping the people whose countries may drown because of our historic carbon emissions. Any worthwhile change would require a radical shift in daily lives, a model that could be replicated and result in a cultural shift where consciences aren't soothed by having a "green" Facebook application or online banking.

If a leader who didn't assume our ignorance gave an Ubben Lecture at DePauw on this issue, a memorable quotation might be: "I'm not challenging you to buy offsets for your car and turn your AC down a degree, but to see how little you can use coal and oil in your daily life [applause]. I'm not challenging you to recycle your daily Dasani, but to stop purchasing all bottled water, the extraction of which has drained aquifers in drought-prone areas [applause]. I'm not challenging you to bring reusable bags to Wal-Mart, but to see how much of your diet can come from the Farmer's Market [applause]. And I'm not challenging you to believe the feel-good lies from coal and oil companies with good marketing strategies, but to call for a moratorium on new coal plants and comprehensive climate change legislation that will bring green jobs to America and ensure an international solution to a problem that if not dealt with now will be suffered by you and your children. That's what I'm challenging you to do! [applause applause applause]."

Only when more of our culture, which begins at DePauw, puts this message into practice will leaders have enough support to pass strong legislation and begin truly addressing climate change. It's a message worth considering if we want to avoid becoming a Star Trek episode.