I recently found myself in a discussion about global warming, which is something I will only do with individuals who are least nominally capable of grappling with objective reality. On topics such as this that limits my prospects considerably.
The conversation went through the typical motions and concluded with my associate making a statement along the lines of: The American people are hostile to government action that addresses global warming because they know it will increase their costs at the pump and quite frankly, many wouldn’t be able to afford it.
Prior to the above statement I had been expressing my amusement and semi-bewilderment that the majority of the public had been convinced to believe something contrary to the conclusions of legitimate and rigorous scientific findings.
My associate’s retort was a valid one and we both commented on how common it was for individuals to be selectively skeptical of medical findings that interfere with lifestyle habits they are strongly attached to, downplaying the risks of smoking, eating Big Macs, or whatever.
This is all well and good and I appreciate and agree with the point that was made, but my objection lies not so much with my fellow Americans being reluctant to pay higher gas prices, but rather with the fact that they have been convinced that there are no risks associated with that choice; that “global warming is a hoax” or that it is a hotly debated topic within the scientific community. My problem is with the multi-billion dollar public relations campaign being waged by the most powerful corporations on Earth to sow doubt and skepticism, and generally manipulate opinion in the same cynical fashion that had tobacco industry funded doctors publishing reports telling us that not only was smoking not bad for you, it actually had positive health benefits. The parallels between the “global warming is a hoax” and “smoking has no harmful health effects” campaigns are striking. Both are cases of incredibly powerful industries doing damage control when overwhelming evidence starts to show that their product is harming human beings.
That Americans want to protect their pocketbook against higher gas prices is understandable and they cannot be faulted for that. But allowing themselves to be manipulated on such a mass scale to be “skeptical” of conclusions reached by over 90% of the experts in that field, while gullibly swallowing propaganda fed to them by oil companies is pathologically stupid. It’s unforgiveable.
The media presents the debate as if there are somehow two equal opposing sides. That the assertions of corporate-owned right wing politicians and television pundits, along with a few oil company funded “studies”, are the equivalent of the overwhelming, worldwide, scientific consensus on the topic. Given that no entity on Earth – with the exception of Wal Mart – rakes in more revenue than the five major energy corporations, and that the advertising dollars from these companies is staggering, perhaps it’s at least explainable (though by no means acceptable) that the media so complicit in this mass ignorance.
It’s true that most Americans get their information about the outside world from watching television and don’t have the time to do in-depth research on all of the issues of the day. But this is a potentially tragic situation, and one that does not do the collective intellect of the American public justice.
I would submit that given the opportunity to make a truly informed decision between lower gas prices now and taking action to reduce the consequences that science tells us will result from not lowering our carbon emissions, the result would be different than what we are now seeing.
If the same discipline that brought us cell phones, modern medicine, and space travel is telling us that there are very real and likely catastrophic environmental costs associated with continuing to burn fossil fuels at the current pace, those costs should be reflected in the price at the pump. Otherwise the market, that Hallowed Deity, is grossly distorted. And if the public was more informed as to how our wars in the Middle East and the so called war on terror are directly related to oil, they would realize that those costs should also factor in to their price at the pump.
The truth is that gas prices in the US are artificially low and this is solely the result of the power wielded by the energy corporations. Yes, this gives the illusion of being easier on the pocketbooks of American consumers, but the true cost is eventually paid one way or another. That may take the form of trillion dollar wars that costs lives in addition to taxpayer dollars, or environmental catastrophes with costs that we may not yet be able to comprehend but would be psychotic not to consider. By the time we begin to understand those costs it will probably be too late, and future generations will look back on us a society of gullible, short-sighted dupes that were either too selfish or too stupid to confront reality and make the necessary but difficult changes that could have prevented such a tragic predicament.