We just got a letter to the editor repeating what seems to be conventional wisdom among environmentalists: If Exxon would stop suppressing information about global warming — if the facts got out — people would demand an instant, total effort to combat it that dwarfed the "war on terrorism."
This faith — if people just had the facts, they’d think like we do — seems immune to refutation. Nothing seems able to dislodge it.
But it just ain’t so.
The facts about global warming are all over the place. There’s an endless cascade of stories in the country’s biggest media outlets. Allegedly censored scientists are all over the papers and TV, screaming the facts from the rooftops. The facts are not hard to come by.
The facts alone just don’t move people.
Why that is would be an excellent subject for sociological study. I’m sure it’s complicated. But here’s one thought: It is human nature to want — nay, need — human enemies. Evil people, who can be demonized. And tortured. And killed. And — most importantly — seen. People understand people. That’s one reason terrorism has such an iron grip on both domestic and foreign policy, despite the relatively low risk anyone in this country has of being affected by it in any way. It fits easily into the natural human cosmology of territory and territorial threats. It goes straight to our lizard brains, our fight-or-flight instinct.
Global warming doesn’t. It’s vague, and large, and slow-moving, and the enemy is structural and pervasive, and we’re all complicit. That kind of shit is just no fun to think about. It does not stir the blood.
I go back and forth on this, but at this particular moment I’m back to thinking that maybe the emphasis on global warming is overdone. We need to offer something closer, more human, more attainable. Some sort of intermediate steps. That is, in part, what the whole index-card thing is about.