Friday, March 23, 2001
A Consumptive Lifestyle Leads to Global Warming
I had read in the newspaper that author and environmental activist Bill McKibben would be speaking at the First Religious Society on Sunday. McKibben, a visiting fellow at the Harvard Divinity School, was to deliver the sermon, "The Coming Whirlwind: God and the Environmental Crisis." This most thoughtful and provocative subject drew my attention, especially after a week in which President Bush reversed a campaign pledge, deciding to not try to curb power plants' emissions of carbon dioxide which the overwhelming majority of world scientists say cause global warming. As I left the church at the conclusion of the Sunday morning service, I was more than grateful that I had decided to attend.
Referring to himself as neither a preacher nor a theologian, but "only a small, rural Methodist Church Sunday School teacher" in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, McKibben nonetheless addressed global warming as "the profound spiritual question of our time. When the message on television and billboards tells you that you are the most important thing on earth, or that you're the center of the planet, this helps build a strong economy, but the message is profoundly troubling for the environment," stressed McKibben.
As he sees it, the problem is "us"our affluent lifestyles, driving gas-guzzling SUVs, living in huge houses we really don't need, looking for immediate comfort and gratification.
McKibben listed some of the changes that have occurred in recent years or those that scientists tell us will occur in the future as a consequence of our conspicuous consumption. The greenhouse gasses that we produce in much greater quantity than any other nation will bring about the demise of coral reefs by the year 2050; melt the snows on Mt. Kilimanjaro by 2015; flood the plains of Bangladesh; and bring about the extinction of creatures of the high Arctic, where the weight of polar bears has dropped by 20 percent due to the loss of pack ice.
What does the future hold for our children and our grandchildren, asked McKibben? He believes we need to do something sooner, not later. Our political and cultural systems have not responded. For example, during the past presidential campaign, neither candidate dared support raising the price of gasoline.
McKibben believes the answer to this problem is to learn to stop putting ourselves at the center of the universe and to step back from our utopia with its unnecessary levels of comfort and status. He compares the intensity of effort that must be taken to curb the human activity that accounts for global warming to that of the civil rights movement in the '60s. "The religious communities are the only ones who can do it. They need to push fast and lovingly. We must learn who we are, not who we are told we are."
After the talk, many who had attended the service gathered around a table in the back of Union Hall to learn more about the group, Religious Witness for the Earth. This group is planning three days of Prayer and Witness for the Arctic Refuge, to take place beginning May 1 in Washington, DC. The group's plan is to urge members of Congress to spare the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and to support conservation, fuel efficiency, and renewable sources of energy.
As I left the church on Sunday, I was reminded of the the passions and the concerns that were felt by many Americans during both the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.
Global warming is the profound spiritual question of our time, warned McKibben. Sacrifices will have to be made if we are to stop destroying God's other creatures on earth and if we wish to preserve the world as we know it.
I urge concerned Carlisleans to attend the Prayer and Witness for the Arctic Refuge in Washington, DC in May. Check out their Web site at www.religiouswitness.org. This is an opportunity to meet with members of Congress and to defend our concerns for the environment.
Why I Hate TV
For most of my adult life, it has been my unswerving policy to avoid watching TV, which by and large is a great waste of time. Back in the 1960s, the commissioner of the FCC, Newton Minow, called broadcast TV a "vast wasteland." Apologists insisted that it wasn't actually that bad, just a half-vast wasteland. Since then, it's only gotten worse.
I could go on to decry programs like "Temptation Island," one of the silliest ideas fashioned by the mind of man, and "Real Police Chases" or whatever it's called but I would like to focus on TV news. With the possible exception of the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour, TV news can be properly understood only as entertainment. The goal is not to inform with accurate information but to entertain with sensational information. If you depend on TV for your understanding of the world outside your immediate ken, you will be in a constant state of near-hysteria.
Take the March 5-6 snowstorm. The TV forecasters could hardly contain themselves as they competed for the most hyperbolic description of the coming storm: "The biggest storm in the last 40 years!... Bigger even than the storm of '78, when everything was closed for four days and four nights!... Thirty-six inches of snow or more expected!" Yikes, this looked like Armageddon. On top of dire predictions came a great deal of admonitory advice: "Don't go out unless you absolutely have to.... Be sure to have enough food on hand.... Fill the bathtub with water in preparation for the near-certain power outages.... Call this number if you are freezing." Double yikes, this was Armageddon.
Then, all day Monday the grim-faced people at the ubiquitous "storm desks" had to fill in time with footage about the storm, which ungraciously had postponed its arrival. Thus, we could see forlorn reporters on downtown streets, unnecessarily bundled up in gear suitable for an arctic expedition, pointing hopefully to the few flakes that were drifting down, and interviewing plow operators who might as well have been on their coffee breaks. Other reporters dutifully stationed themselves in Scituate, always good for a few shots of waves breaking on the rocks, as they have for a century without effect on the sturdy breakwater, to prattle about the impending doom of high tides.
But Tuesday the entertainers had their day. The snow had begun in the gloaming and busily all the night had been heaping field and highway with a silence deep and white. Except that it wasn't a silence. The TV broadcasters were cackling away that it was at least as bad as they had said. All schools were closed.All businesses were closed. Road crews had been up all night. Waves were washing over the breakwaters. And the advice continued, including such helpful warnings as telling viewers to avoid heart attacks during this period since emergency rooms were understaffed and pretty busy anyway.
Come on, give us a break. New England has snowstorms in the winter, and this is New England and it's winter. I suppose it's all fun, the way things worked out, but I would be happier if the forecasters just stuck to the facts, kept their superfluous advice to themselves, and took the day off as the rest of us did.
Forum staff writers are elected by the board of directors of Carlisle Communications, Inc., publisher of the Mosquito, to provide independent commentary on matters they believe will be of interest to Carlisle citizens.
© +YEAR+ The Carlisle Mosquito