Oprah, light bulbs, and global warming
Well, I still haven’t managed to find a copy of the whole show (where’s the bit torrent community when I need it?), but I went and flipped through Oprah’s “Global Warming 101” website and watched the video of Leo DiCaprio leading a tour of a green home. It’s all quite good. I’ll say, echoing Chris, that Oprah deserves enormous credit for bringing this issue to her huge audience in a way they can grasp. The combination of solid (if simplified) science and sexy celebrity is just the ticket. So kudos, Oprah.
That said, what really struck me is the jarring disjoint between the problem described — a decades-long warming of the entire planet’s atmosphere — and the chipper suggestions of What You Can Do — namely, switch out your light bulbs.
Now, I realize this is what Oprah has to do. Her show — like our entire culture — is a glorified self-help session, all about Being True to Yourself and Living Your Dreams and so on. It’s actually quite brilliant that she managed to speak about global climate change in that de rigueur self-fulfillment vocabulary. But I’m a little skeptical about whether it will stick.
It won’t take much reflection for the housefraus in Oprah’s audience to see the distance between their light bulbs and the earth’s atmosphere. Hell, a little research on their part would uncover a pretty vast distance between international climate treaties and the atmosphere. The fact is that none of the solutions currently on offer come anywhere close to producing the vast changes we need to slow or stop the accelerated heating of our planet.
The pay-off is just too speculative. Despite the enormous effort that’s going into it, I don’t see much evidence that it will ever be possible to create a mass social movement behind a threat that’s slow-moving, global, and for most people, largely abstract. Can anyone cite such a movement? Has there ever been one?
As I’ve said before (and so has Carl Pope), the key to addressing global warming is bringing the benefits of action closer to home. Frame the light-bulb thing around cheaper electric bills or cleaner air and you’re more likely to get results.
I have lots to say on this subject, but I think I’ll save it for a separate post.