Sunday, May 21, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth or Two about Al Gore and Us

I've made clear in several posts how overrated (by Dems anyway) Bill Clinton is as a former President. If he's lucky, I believe he might be seen by history as another Grover Cleveland. If he's lucky. Instead of understanding the flows of history and how they return to those with solid, reality-based steadfastness, he hemmed and hawed and "moved to the center" so much in fear of losing that what was won only looks good in comparison to his successor, who was only the successor because of Clinton himself (and the Supreme Court, yes, I know--but it shouldn't have come down to FL). One of the greatest raps on his legacy will be his cowardice in addressing aggressively the clear evidence of global warming and in establishing American leadership in meeting the challenges. In an administration of one lost opportunity after another (and, yes, the Repubs are rabid, but there WAS that stain on that dress that let the gasoline be poured), the global warming piece will be seen historically as the greatest.

Who do we have giving testimony to that now? Bill Clinton.

In a speech yesterday at the Johnson School of Public Affairs at UT-Austin, Clinton told graduates, according to Reuters, that

"Climate change is more remote than terror but a more profound threat to the future of the children and the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren I hope all of you have," Clinton said.

"It's the only thing we face today that has the power to remove the preconditions of civilized society," he said. "I am not one of those who is pessimistic about the future of the world, assuming we get off our butts and do something about climate change in a timely fashion."

It being Clinton, you can't help being skeptical that he is trying to immunize his spouse and up her cred in the face of the lionization Gore is already getting for getting out front with the same message. Still, it being Clinton, that message will resonate as much or more with his saying it. So let's give him props but focus on the key statement:

"It's the only thing we face today that has the power to remove the preconditions of civilized society," he said.

I disagree, actually. Warming is only part of a triumvirate of issues that will change the face of humanity as we know it if we don't respond quickly. The other two are water and energy (tried desperately to come up with a "w" word for energy so I could cleverly do a 3W thing, but couldn't do it--open to suggestions). All three are interrelated, of course, and could be subsumed under one overarching term by someone brighter than me. But the point is that humanity truly is at a point where it could tip backward into another Dark Age, and having Gore (the leader) and Clinton (the follower) take the stage to sound the alarm is already an historical moment.

If you want a good reason to slash your wrists, read these three books in relatively close proximity:

Morris Berman, Dark Ages America
Eric Larsen, A Nation Gone Blind
James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency

All of them tackle the same basic theme (my wrists are better, btw), that is, that we have passed the point of no return on being able to deal most effectively with the three symbiotic emergencies facing us. Berman, to his credit, points to Jimmy Carter and his calls for intelligence, prudence, and determination in addressing energy as the turning point (noting that those things were too hard and too much work and we turned to their antithesis, Ronald "the future will be laughing at all the things named after me" Reagan). Gore and Clinton, of course, deny that it's too late, and it is truly a debatable point. In nonlinear times you never are too sure where you are on the suddenly steeply sloping curve until you're able to look back later. But at least the issue is on the table and no one will be able to say that important American leaders didn't try, once again, to warn and mobilize us.

There is a point here that neither Gore nor Clinton have made it to yet and that's this. If these three life-threatening dangers, magnitudes above anything terrorism or anything else out there short of nuclear war could do, need our full attention and NOW, what does this say about our politics NOW?

We need to pull together, clearly, and we need to embarrass and laugh off the stage all those who pretend that these things aren't there, aren't threats. That includes full-scale boycotts of every business like the Exxons and GMs and Fords that support the "think" tanks that push the opposite, self-serving, destructive message. That's not to say censorship or violence. It's just to say, "You have lost credibility to speak. If you choose to continue, you will be met with such withering criticism and such dramatic economic hardship that you will not be able to withstand." There really is a difference.

But here's the harder part of what it means. To pull us together and focus, we will need to sweep virtually every other issue off the table, put them all on hold, accept a status quo and worse for things heartfelt and important to us as people and as a nation. It will have to be the spirit that motivated us through WWII but on a grander scale. There will, in other words, have to be a moratorium on the issues that divide us. Carter tried to inspire action by invoking William James' "moral equivalent of war," which has the unfortunate acronym of MEOW, which is how the public responded. But surely our spinmeisters of today can do better.

What is the alternative? Gore and Clinton are right in their long-term prognostications of the social impact and that the status quo has to change, but keep in mind as well that, in periods of scarce resources, authoritarian regimes historically are the norm. The more scarce the resources, the more authoritarian the regime. To maintain the seeds of democracy and freedom that will be needed after the crises have been resolved, we will ironically need strong, effective leadership modeled on Washington and Lincoln, who used the virtues of Cincinnatus as their own guides. We will also need an educated and informed community able to understand the nature of the problems and propose solutions and able to keep on hold their personal divisions to the demands of the times until the crises have passed.

Can it be done, or are the authors above correct, that it's just a matter of whether the denouement is sooner or later, if not already a done deal? Is there anyone out there who might provide the knowledge and leadership necessary to mobilize us and give us a chance? There might be. He has a movie coming out. Do you think it might catch anyone's attention if that movie became a best-seller? If it became one of the biggest box office hits of all time? Do you think that might force the political and business and media "leadership" of the nation, of the world to figure out this needs to be on our agendas? It's not death stars or whipped Saviors, but there has seemed to be an audience for Ice Agers and penquins.

So plan on seeing Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth." See it more than once. Take your friends. Take your enemies. The ticket's on you. Take your softball team. Take your softball league. Get the ticket sales and DVD and whatever else sales up to the stratosphere. Make the people who can make a difference take notice. If Gore knows what he's talking about here, there's still time. And, if he knows what he's talking about, what does that say about who should be leading us?