Every ten years or so, the government discovers a crisis so dire that it can only be ameliorated by spending large amounts of tax dollars. Today’s crisis is climate change.
When I was in grammar school in the early 50s, the crisis du jour was nuclear energy. (Pope Pius, Christmas 1955: “The fate of the whole human race is at stake…entire cities wiped out…a pall of death over the pulverized ruins, covering countless victims with limbs burnt, twisted and scattered, while others groan in their death agony. Meanwhile, the radioactive cloud hinders survivors from giving any help, and inexorably advances to snuff out any remaining life.”)
Every country in the world will have the A-bomb, war is inevitable, and we’re all gonna die.
In the 60s, it was the population explosion. (Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University, 1968: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over… hundreds of millions of people will starve to death. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…” )
The earth can’t support this many people, so we’re all gonna die.
In the 70s, global cooling made its appearance. (NY Times, 1974: “…the facts of the present climate change are such that the most optimistic experts would assign near certainty to major crop failure…mass deaths by starvation, and probably anarchy and violence.” )
The temperature on the earth will drop so far it can’t support food production, and we’re all gonna die.
Then came the 80s and acid rain. (Sen. Gaylord Nelson, [d-Wis,] 1980: “Acid rain poses too great a threat…to ignore any longer…This is not an idle warning. In the beautiful Adirondacks, in New York State, 237 lakes are already dead…Thousands of lakes in Norway, Sweden and Finland have already ‘died’ because of acid rain.”)
Sulfurous pollution (man-made, of course) will cause the atmosphere to turn acidic; this, in turn, will be returned to us in the form of sulfuric acid rain. All the plants will wither on the vine, the food chain is disrupted, and we’re all gonna die.
The 90s brought us the ozone hole. (Washington Post, 1992. “Increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation expected to leak through the earth’s thinning ozone layer may worsen the danger of certain infectious diseases, including AIDS, according to a new report by the United Nations…Ultraviolet radiation has a profound influence on…the human immune system…In addition to skin cancer, cancer of the lip and salivary gland could result from excess exposure to ultraviolet radiation.”)
UV rays increase, everyone will get skin cancer, and, of course, we’re all gonna die.
Now we have the latest catastrophe: global warming. Or perhaps global cooling. Climate scientists and their followers are divided on the issue, and since nobody knows for certain, they’re now calling it climate change, so they’ll be right if either happens. The seas rise (or fall,) coastal population centers flood (or freeze,) and we’re all gonna die.
Add to these the “lesser” catastrophes: swine flu, second-hand smoke, bird flu, trans-fats, the Hanta virus, Alar, depletion of the rain forest, SARS, pesticides, West Nile virus, various hemorrhagic fevers, and my particular favorite, Y2K. All of these were supposed to end life as we know it.
Like all the others, global warming (or cooling) will eventually run its course, and we’ll have a new crisis to bedevil the population, one which, as usual, will require large amounts of tax dollars to ameliorate. My prediction: Antibiotic-resistant bacteria. We’ll have no way to fight infection, so we’re all gonna die.
Thus I present the following question: Why should I take this catastrophe any more seriously than the other catastrophes?
The great iconoclast, H.L. Mencken, said it best back in 1949: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”