Monday, July 10, 2006

LONELY PLANET



Let us make the audacious assumption that a lot of details about global warming are in doubt (It would be a deranged assumption to say that all of them are downright wrong); yet Al Gore's documentary makes sense. The real question is this; we are bringing about unpredictable changes in the atmosphere that cannot be explained by natural phenomena extrapolated over a really long time. We know that the effects of human contribution to these changes can be extremely unpredictable, and generally deleterious. Given these simple facts, I think that anyone who says that we must not do anything about global warming is at least thoroughly misguided, if not downright immoral. Yes, like Gore, I too think that this is not so much a political issue as it is a moral issue, even if there are those among us who have grotesquely turned it into a political one. But even completely leaving morality aside, unpredictable climate change can create havoc, of the kind that used to be created when weather prediction was non existent. This involves much economic damage, including market fluctuations and sudden changes in fortunes. How about doing something about global warming for this reason alone?

Now, let us get rid of that assumption which we made above, because it is plain wrong. There is no doubt in the minds of the majority of scientists that global warming is real, that greenhouse gases are causing is, and that it is generally responsible for violent and unpredictable weather events. There is no doubt in the mind of scientists that for the first time in the history of our planet, a single species has engaged in activities whose magnitude has finally become enough to modify earth's mighty and tempestuous terrains, oceans, and atmosphere. Actually most scientists are quite sure about even definite changes, such as ice cap melting, but let us for a moment give the skeptics the benefit of doubt by agreeing that the exact details are debated. Even then, the issue does not lose its ominous urgency. No.

I don't want to go into all the details about global warming myself, because they are easily available and are enumerated in detail in the film. There are myriad changes of ever kind on our planet, including everything from hurricanes and desertification, to a rise in noxious plants and insidious animal, insect, and most importantly, disease causing microorganisms. It does not matter that we cannot pinpoint particular events to just global warming. This is like knowing that a tiger is on his way to kill us, and asking for the length of his fangs and the exact strength in his muscles, before deciding whether to run or not. Does it matter?
Gore does a great job of explaining in the most simple terms what is happening, and what the current as well as past scenario looks like, and the movie is worth watching just for those factual details. The same facts are enumerated and lavishly illustrated in the book too, which I promptly ordered.

Most amazingly, even though the whole film is about Gore making a presentation, and even talking about his childhood and life, the film is not one bit about Al Gore. The data speaks for itself, and no human being can divert us from its significance. That is the beauty of the film. We hardly see it as Al Gore's film about global warming. We simply see it as an urgent message about global warming, in which a responsible citizen who could represent any such citizen of our planet, is narrating ths story of our pernicious contribution to the planetary bill. The graphs and charts can be understood by any high school student. As one review said, there's no scene in any horror movie which can elicit as much horror as the face-slapping truth of some of those charts. The images of dying glaciers, rainforests, and rapidly declining species of every kind are striking, but not because of their grandeur. They are striking because of their sheer number, which demonstrate that climate change is not just real, but it's happening fast. We are losing day by day, and painful bit by bit, what Edward Wilson describes as our primeval emotional connection to nature.

Another key feature of the film is that Gore is distinctly non-partisan, and yet he manages to convey that the current administration will go down in ignominy because of its blatant disregard, abuse and manipulation of sound and objective scientific advice. If we deem Union Carbide to be a criminal, then why not politicians like those in the current administration, who are doing the exact same thing by ignoring data that has a fair chance of causing the death of millions and destruction of untold amounts of property? What kind of monsters will go on playing for profits after knowing that there is a thirty percent chance that ten million people may die because of man made climate change that they are partially or largely responsible for?

And in the end, does it matter if the whole issue is about profits? In an ironically amusing and disarmingly simple cartoon, Gore demonstrates what dissenters of global warming are doing; they are weighing gold bars and prosperity on one side of the scale. What's on the other side of the scale? Planet Earth. Q.E.D. and there should be no need to say more.

The real issue in my mind, far away, is actually quite different but a crucial one that I believe strikes at the heart of our existence and history on earth. We have phenomena here that are generally agreed upon. There is also general scientific consensus on their causes, which are man made. And there is also general consensus about their effects. My point is, irrespective of the details, isn't it our moral, political, social, and even economic duty, to do something about events that, even potentially, can hold the planet's fate in their balance? Do we need to be one hundred percent sure of such a catastrophe in order to do something about it? If so, then I think we will have failed all our future and past accomplishments, and our unique perspective of insight and foresight which has helped us survive and conquer this planet much more than we should have.

The issue surely is a moral one. But I think that the greater issue simply asks the question of what the stuff is, that we as humans are made of. We have outlived our lifespan and colonized every acre of the planet by averting exactly those risks which we were reasonably sure of, without waiting for certainty about their prospects. We never always asked for one hundred percent guarantee when it came to issues of survival. Do we ask for one hundred percent certainty that an emergent disease could possibly wipe out even ten percent of the world's population? Do we ask for one hundred percent certainty that a natural catastrophe will happen in some location? Do we we ask for one hundred percent certainty about financial events that could bring about economic depression? The answer clearly is no. We have always acted on the basis of the best possible knowledge that we have, even though we never were one hundred percent sure. We have kept the midnight oil burning in our laboratories and institutions, and poured in resources of every kind, to prevent minor catastrophes that even had a fifty percent chance of occuring.
If this is the case, then it is beyond me to understand why we are so stuborn in acting to prevent something that is firstly reasonably well-established, and secondly, something that is a million times more damaging than these other events, even to the point of being a certified global killer. Have the trappings of our unique minds injected so much hubris and clouded our psyche so much, that like a Greek tragedy, when it is most necessary, we fail to summon all our qualities that have furthered our existence and prosperity until now?

And yet, even in the dark recesses of our greatest errors, hope goes about its daily business as usual.
This is a problem we can solve. In the end of the film, simple ways to reduce our dependence on oil and cut down on emissions, including electing reponsible politcians, intersperse the titles. A large enough number of people just have to do it. A large enough number of people have to lobby in whatever way they can, to change policy. At the very least, they have to educate themselves about issues at the very basic level. If there is any time for all of us to climb out of our cocoon of complacance, this is it, and perhaps this is the last great opportunity we have. The greater responsibility is obviously of the developed nations, but we all have to do our share. The science is reasonably sound, and we are only deceiving ourselves if we ignore it or deem it to be "uncertain", as most politcians do. Central to their behavior is perhaps the notion that environmental protection and corporate interests cannot coexist. Wrong again. However, it is also true that every day that corporations and governments ignore warmings about human initiated climate change, so will changes for the better keep on becoming harder to implement. If we cross the tipping point, some things may permanently change. It's a law of nature.

Sometimes, I get the feeling that human existence is the greatest of Greek tragedies, inevitably caught so much in its own inertia, that the sheer scale and intensity of that inertia means that we are hurtling inexorably towards our doom. We did not die because of plagues because we invented medicines. We did not die of natural disasters because we protected ourselves through technology. We have not even died yet of war, for inexplicable reasons in which I nonetheless see hope and aspirations. But what about those reasons which we manufacture almost gleefully. It may be that fate would have finally found the perfect way to bring an end to humanity, by literally its own will.

And yet like I said, the fact that even the darkest scenarios hold hope also seems to be a curiously human attribute. Gore talks about the great wars we have fought, the disasters (including CFC damage) that we have averted, and the differences that we have overcome in presciently achieving the impossible. When no amount of logic and reasoning can pacify our hearts and minds, it is only the thin but remarkably assuring thread of history that can guide us in the dark. And yet, like the thread of Ariadne, it leads us both ways, to liberation, or to the Minotaur which we have subconsiously created out of our common greed and woes. Where we go depends on us, all of us. We have to integrate and educate, empathize and act. This issue is not about Republicans and Democrats, about conservatives and liberals, about developed and developing countries. We are beyond rhetoric. We have entered the age where action should provide its own rhetoric.
Global warming is a fact with unpredictable consequences. We are largely responsible. The consequences will be violent. Unless everyone does his or her own part to prevent it, the olympian sun, both literally and figuratively, will undoubtedly melt the wings of us proud Icaruses.

And in the limitless reaches of space, with not an inkling of life anywhere in the Universe, there wouldn't even be any one to watch this pale blue dot, alone in its glory and pride, gradually dim and fade away into non existence.

Don't miss 'An Inconvenient Truth'

2 Comments:

Blogger Hirak said...

Saw the movie this evening. Much as I hate sitting through them, I must say it was the best Powerpoint presentation I have ever seen.

8:52 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

True!
HOWEVER....it was an APPLE KEYNOTE for MAC presentation, not Powerpoint!!

7:59 AM  

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