I wish I could take credit for the term “Climate Cliff,” but I cannot. I first saw it referenced by an organization called “RootsAction,” which describes itself as an “on line initiative dedicated to galvanizing Americans who are committed to economic fairness, equal rights, civil liberties, environmental protection – and defunding endless wars.” All of which, by the way, I happen to agree with. If you’re interested in looking into them further, their web address is www.rootsaction.org.
But it was this expression, “Climate Cliff,” that most caught my attention. There has been so much talk, so much air-time, so much energy spent of late on endless discussions of and worry about the so-called Fiscal Cliff that I have frankly become almost desensitized to it all. I mean, how much can you worry about whether members of Congress will eventually stop warring with each other and, instead, actually sit down and DO something to help the people who voted them in? I’m sick of it. And, yes, I mostly blame the rigid, recalcitrant, and doctrinaire Republicans who seemingly will not budge on the one issue that everyone knows most Americans already agree on, namely, raising taxes on the super-rich. How many times do we have to listen to Speaker Boehner and his colleagues say that this is nothing but a “jobs killing” measure? Come on! It’s clear to everyone that they are simply pandering to the richest of the rich, who put them where they are in the first place.
But, you see, I’m already getting off track again. Of course what happens with the economy is vital to all of us, because it means that it affects our livelihood and our ability to take care of ourselves and of those we love. So, yes, it is important. But in the larger picture, it’s frankly small potatoes. In comparison with the looming Climate Cliff, which almost no one in Washington seems to be thinking much about, it’s the most myopic of short-term stuff indeed. Note what even President Obama recently said on the subject: “I don’t know what either Democrats or Republicans are prepared to do at this point. I think the American people right now have been so focused and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth that, you know, if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s going to go for that.” Really? “Simply to address climate change”? As if that were a simple, or an inconsequential issue, or one that wasn’t in the end going to wind up devastating the planet.
The whole thing reminds me of something I once head a Catholic priest say many years ago, something which appalled me almost beyond words at the time, and which I still find hard to believe that anyone could have said. Speaking about birth control or, more to the point, speaking against birth control, he reflected that we really didn’t have to worry about overpopulating the planet anyway, because God in his wisdom sent wars and plagues and mass communicable diseases to keep the population within bounds. What a lovely concept, I thought! God says you can’t use condoms because – well to be honest I’m not exactly quite sure why – but on the other hand it was apparently OK for him wipe out millions of people, who already happened to have been born, but who lacked the money to defend themselves against one infectious disease or another. Such was the reasoning of the Catholic Church at the time (this was in the late 1960’s), but I’m not sure if it has changed all that much since.
Although it may be a bit of a stretch, worrying about the economy right now, as important as it may be to most of us, seems a little bit like that to me. At least it does in terms of concerning ourselves with things that do not address the overriding issue. In regard to birth control, the important issue really is that people have too many children, and not that we should (God forbid!) actually rely on wars, disease, and natural disasters to cull the population. And in terms of the future of the planet, we do need to be worried, very worried, about global climate change. But what is so concerning is that I fear Pres. Obama may actually be quite correct in his assessment of things. It probably is true that most Americans are totally focused on the economy, on jobs, and on growth, and the whole idea of what will be happening to the planet in the coming years and decades is so far on the back burner that it’s getting no attention at all.
So, what I am suggesting is that we begin substituting the phrase “Climate Cliff” in our thinking, in place of “Fiscal Cliff,” in hopes that all of us, you and I and Pres. Obama and Wall Street and American corporations and political parties and civic organizations and religious groups and governmental and inter-governmental bodies of all stripes, will eventually begin to feel some of the same sense of urgency about global warming as we currently do about our collective wallets. Not to put too fine a point on it, in the end money won’t amount to a hill of beans, if we’re all swimming in a sea of noxious gases, or literally in overflowing oceans, or we are unable to feed ourselves and our families because the ecosystem simply can no longer sustain itself in a healthy way.
I used to think, or at least hope, that we would somehow come to our senses about all this because we wanted to preserve the beautiful planet we call home, because it is the right thing to do not to destroy magnificent forests and kill off whole species of animals who have done nothing to contribute to the warming of the globe. But I have come to the conclusion that most of us most of the time are so engrossed in our own little lives that the majority of people cannot get out of the ego-cocoon that we live in. Well, so be it. Let us then worry about climate change for our own benefit.
In the end, it does not matter much exactly why we concern ourselves with the issue; the only thing that matters is that we do something about it. We are, indeed, headed toward a Climate Cliff, and no amount of worry about short-term fiscal matters is really going to make much of a difference.