When it comes to the threat of global climate change, there are only two valid responses.
1) Multilevel denial. This is the thought process behind the conservative view. It goes, “The world is not getting warmer, and if it is getting warmer it’s not because of humans. And if it is because of humans, there’s nothing we can do about it. And if we could do something about it, the whole world would have to join in to fix it, and developing nations never will. So I am going to drive around in a 2006 Ford Guzzler. I’ll eat plenty of beef hunks and pork chunks raised by Big Meat, vote for candidates who claim any temperature low enough to call for a Members Only windbreaker proves the world is staying nicely cool, and just not feel bad about it.”
2) Panicked belief. This is the thought process behind the environmental aspects of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal (the non-environmental aspects are a whole other ball of impossible). It goes, “This big blue marble is browning up faster than avocado toast in a pottery kiln. We need to stop burning fossil fuels, live in smaller homes and accept that those homes and our offices will be 80 degrees in summer and 60 degrees in winter. We need to live close to where we work and where our food is grown; we need to get off meat. We need to drive hybrids the size of pup-tent-enclosed bikes. And we need to develop the technology to generate and store green power for all our needs, NOW!”
But I, and most people I know, follow a third, intellectually indefensible but pleasant path: Make fun of both of the schools of thought that are intellectually consistent. Believe in global warming but refuse to work to prevent it. Drive the big car, but feel bad. Fly to Lisbon, but vote Democrat.
The evidence seems strong that the Earth is warming because of human behavior. While it’s true the Earth has gotten very hot and very cold in the past, sometimes very quickly, without the cause being human behavior, the science behind the assertion that greenhouse gases are causing it now is strong. People who deny that theory make less sense and have fewer facts behind them than those who support it.
So I accept that global warming is a problem and hope that changes in behavior could slow or limit the damage. I support such changes in theory. I get annoyed at warming deniers.
And I change almost nothing about my behavior.
My work commute is a 50-mile round trip. My thermostat is set at 70, and I burn wood because it’s pretty. I have not cut down on meat. I have never nixed a plane flight, meal, purchase or creature comfort for environmental reasons. Neither have most of my (far more liberal than I) friends and acquaintances. We recycle the odd bottle and avoid the occasional disposable plastic bag, but those don’t help much.
What would it take to change our behavior? Changes in the law and/or changes in the costs. That’s how humans are.
During World War II, the United States rationed gasoline so people would drive less, so fewer tires would be needed and there would be rubber for military needs. Americans wanted to win the war, but they didn’t cut down on their driving until forced. That’s how most people are. That’s why it would take new laws and huge pricing incentives and disincentives to slow or stop warming.
If you believe global warming is a pressing danger, and that it still can be meaningfully addressed, you are honor-bound to get behind politicians who support immediate and drastic action. History will forgive the deniers if they turn out to be wrong. It will not forgive people who understood the threat but cared too much for our own comfort to address it.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.