The Doomsday Clock was just reset: It’s now “Three Minutes to Midnight,” warns the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. It’s loud ticking is a grim reminder, as Joe Romm put it on ClimateProgress, that “Earth’s rate of global warming is 400,000 Hiroshima bombs a day.” Yes, a civilization-ender, and yet, Gallup polls dismiss the warning — the public doesn’t consider climate change a major national priority.
The threat was also summarized in Scientific American: The Doomsday Clock is “a visual metaphor to warn the public about how close the world is to a potentially civilization-ending catastrophe. Experts on the board said they felt a sense of urgency this year because of the world’s ongoing addiction to fossil fuels, procrastination with enacting laws to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and slow efforts to get rid of nuclear weapons.”
Yes, global warming is as powerful and lethal as 400,000 atomic bombs exploding daily, said James Hansen, former head of NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies.
America is addicted to Big Oil. But paradoxically, that’s numbing us to the terminal ticking sound of the disasters ahead. Our brains are trapped in denial — not just Big Oil and their right-wing climate-science deniers — but more than 100 million average Americans. We’re deaf. Dumb. Blind. To the threats.
This is a problem of psychology, behavioral economics and the neurosciences. As anthropologist Jared Diamond, author of “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” put it: Our brains still haven’t learned the lessons of history. Remember, centuries ago two million people lived in the Mayan civilization. But like “so many societies the elite made decisions that were good for themselves in the short run and ruined themselves and societies in the long run.”
As a result, the Mayan civilization collapsed “because of a combination of climate change, drought, water-management problems, soil erosion, deforestation.” Diamond added the rulers “managed to insulate themselves from the consequences of their actions.” Forests being chopped down. But “the kings didn’t recognize that they were making a mess until it was too late.”
Flash forward, “similarly, in the United States at present, the policies being pursued by too many wealthy people and decision makers are ones that, as in the case of the Mayan kings, preserve their interests in the short run but are disastrous in the long run.”
Yes, today the old pattern is repeating. Listen to 10 excuses Americans make. All of us, not just Big Oil but all across America, Washington, Wall Street, and yes, all over Main Street. Here’s why we are already repeating the same fate as the Mayans in today’s world of endless hypocrisy and denials about global warming, failing to prepare, oblivious of the coming storms. We are self-destructing our civilization and our planet with nonsense rationalizations like these:
1. Climate costs must be balanced against jobs and the economy
This is Big Oil’s biggest argument. In fact, the only “jobs and economy” the oil industry cares about are their own hundreds of thousands of jobs, over $ 100 billion in annual profits and trillions in revenues the last decade. Diamond warns: environmental solutions are not a “luxury” with just a cash outflow. “This puts the truth exactly backwards. … Environmental messes cost us huge sums of money both in the short run and in the long run” and “cleaning up or preventing those messes saves us huge sums in the long run, and often in the short run as well.”
2 . Technology will solve all our climate problems
In Robert Gordon’s provocative National Bureau of Economic Research paper, “Is U.S. economic growth over?” we learn that not only is America’s GDP dropping to under 1% by 2100, Silicon Valley innovations and new technologies will not trigger a new Industrial Revolution reversing the trajectory of this future. “This faith in the future is based on an unsubstantiated track record that technology has solved more problems than it created, and will solve existing problems without creating new problems,” says Diamond. “Actual experience is the opposite.”