Friday, February 8, 2008

Knowledge is power

We’ll all agree that Knowledge is power but how do we label persons/government bodies that willfully suppress critical pieces of knowledge for short term gains? The PBS Frontline ’Hot Politics’ was a compelling watch for me and though I had earlier been aware of governmental wishy-washiness in matters regarding climate change, the cold hard facts presented in this report really jolted me.

‘Myopic’ is the word that comes to the mind when you think of the governmental attitude, apart from the harsher but still true assessment ‘criminal negligence’. Ignorance is definitely not bliss in matters of climate change and behaving like the ostrich, burying one’s nose in the sand is definitely not the attitude to adopt. The truth of climate change is going to catch up with us whether we acknowledge it or not—sooner or later, everybody will wake up to reality, documentaries like this can really be the catalyst creating public awareness and taking concrete steps to address the issues before it’s too late

Hot Politics presents the behind-the-scenes forces that made the government lag so far behind in responding to global climate change. The villains are across a broad spectrum—the uncaring self-centered politician who is concerned only about populist short term measures is as much the villain as the energy industry which stalled federal regulation of the carbon emissions that might impact the profitability of their companies.

It’s sad to watch all Presidents being equally guilty (though Al Gore –the might-have- been President comes off in better colors). We get to see the scenario since 1992--from the time then-president George H.W. Bush insisted that the first world climate change treaty make CO2 emission targets voluntary, through former President Bill Clinton’s failure to pass a promised broad-based energy tax or to push for U.S. Senate ratification of the Kyoto treaty, through President George W. Bush’s 2001 reversal of a campaign pledge to push for mandatory limits on CO2 emissions and his complete withdrawal from the Kyoto process.

Isn’t there anybody who cares—I think. Yes, there are plenty who do care but the conscientious voices get suppressed in such a scenario--the frustrations of federal officials like Eileen Claussen, one of Clinton’s chief international climate negotiators, who resigned from her position in 1997 because she felt the Clinton-Gore administration had dropped the ball by failing to push for Senate ratification of the Kyoto climate treaty.

So who is the main villain in recent times? During the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush outflanked his opponent, Al Gore, on the issue, promising to work toward a mandatory “carbon cap,” or ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. As president, Bush appointed former New Jersey governor Christie Todd Whitman, who also backed mandatory carbon caps, as his EPA administrator. However, Vice President Dick Cheney seems to be the villain who derailed all the efforts. Soon after, the Bush administration withdrew U.S. support of the Kyoto protocols and then began a process of stifling the dissemination of key findings by government scientists about climate change. “In my thirty-some years in the government,” says top NASA climate scientist James Hansen, “I’ve never seen constraints on the ability of scientists to communicate with the public as strong as they are now.” The interviews with climate scientists and environmental activists, and with political insiders make for interesting viewing.

Anyway, we can’t just blame the government and the ‘Powers that be’ for the mess we find ourselves in. Yes, they have acted/ continue to act in a highly irresponsible manner but the public should have been alert, not passive and forced the government to listen. Thanks to such incisive documentaries, the public is now armed with facts. Let us not be passive participants. A career in Clean energy appears more attractive to me after watching ‘Hot Politics’!!

1 comment:

Ross Tomlin said...

"Myopic" and "criminal negligence" are indeed terms that come to mind when describing political, industrial, and cultural opposition to climate change countermeasures. So are "intellectual dishonesty," "greed," and "cognitive dissonance." I sadly recognize the impulse by segments of the energy industry and special interests whose profit motives dictate such opposition, but I struggle to understand why members of the citizenry -- intelligent, well-meaning folks included -- join in said opposition. As Prof. Webber brought up in class, Al Gore's attachment to raising public awareness -- while indeed noble (and Nobel-ha!) -- inherently turns some conservatives off, despite the fact that not one peer-reviewed scientific article supports their beliefs. This can only be explained, I think, by this notion of cognitive dissonance -- that people are so wedded to preconceived notions crafted by the right's political agenda that the thought of divorcing themselves from these notions is unconscionable. Resistance to change is human nature, sadly.