The terms we use often determine our mindset and understanding, or lack thereof. Teasing out the motivations behind words can often help us to unravel the truth that the terms are designed to hide. Pairing the word new, which by itself means that nothing like this has ever happened before and normal which means it has, is both unsound and misleading. It is far more likely that ever increasing oscillations between evermore disparate poles will become more common if we do nothing, but far from normal, this will forever be abnormal. The result of letting Mother Earth develop in her own way, will always lead to stability rather than extremes. Human impacts do not have to degrade this inherent stabilizing effect, but the way we have decided to unleash our powers for change are leading to a very dangerous state of affairs. Even our old “normal” was skewed because of human intervention, but our instrumentation was too crude to detect or understand it.
Anyone flying over the mid latitudes during the winter will see that cleared land reflects white light, along with the energy that it holds at roughly the same angle that it falls to Earth, leading to both cooling of the ground and warming of the atmosphere in latitudes further north. Conversely, land covered with trees appears black, absorbing energy from the sun right where it falls. This single change in the landscape, removing the forest, has been changing climate for over a century. Burning fossil fuels that took millennea to form, again, in just the last hundred years, has led to destabilizing the atmosphere as well as poisoning the air with contaminants that can fall up to many hundreds of miles away. Just because some of us don’t like maple syrup is no reason to subject the sugar maples of the world to the death sentence carried by acid deposition. Similarly, the “Brown Cloud” wafting across the ocean from China’s rapid industrialization, or the giant raft of plastic that bobs silently in the oceans have their own detrimental effects not only on the species who live in the oceans, but on those of us who live out our lives in the twenty percent of the planet that is above sea level.
For some of us, the rhetoric of the media and government lead us to discount the troubled state that we find ourselves in. Yet others realize the words are only developed by the factions that oppose meaningful change. Just as the “war on…” fill in the blank, was never designed to stop whatever you filled in the blank with, but rather secure the livelihoods of those who made a living from that particular “war”. Generations have found ways of living with ignorance, poverty, drugs, illiteracy, terrorism and the whole raft of social and economic ills that we have waged war on for the past several generations. Foremost in the lexicon of lawmakers are trite and catchy phrases like “No Child Left Behind”. Having been left behind myself, not because I was underachieving, but quite the opposite, I know that no amount of testing can teach children, unless we just want them to just be trained to spit out the right words when tested, without thinking. What the true purpose of that set of laws was, had nothing to do with children, but their teachers. The hope of regulators was that by increasing the number of standardized tests, (which are flawed in a series of very important ways) there would be clues about what teachers were under-performing and give administrators a bit of leverage for ousting them. The fact of the matter is, very few would support the idea of testing teachers, so the smokescreen was needed to obscure the impetus behind the law.
Similarly, when we hear the words, “Clean Air Act” or “Clean Water Act” it is assumed that these laws will assure one or the other of these great benefits. However, the rivers are not yet fish-able (if you desire to eat your catch) for the vast majority of citizens of these United States, nor has there been a single month of fresh air available in any metropolitan area since the clean Air Act was passed. Forty years of failure is nothing to write home about. In my location, in a medium sized city of about 100,000 souls, we are surrounded by another million or so folks who are strung out along a sixty-mile long valley, all contributing to a smog problem that isn’t even on the radar of our regulators or the citizens who live here. Plainly visible from either side of the valley, our own brown cloud is evidence of toxic compounds and poisoned air that we accept as fact instead of being outraged by it. Our illustrious Governor turned down federal assistance for the first ever high speed rail line that could have made our entire state a cleaner place and since moving to Wisconsin, nearly thirty years ago, I have pleaded with each and every Governor of the state to establish rail service for the million or so people living in the Fox River Valley, many others are committed to meeting the transport needs of our population at lower cost and with fewer emissions, but the leaders tell us that we are too dispersed to make that possible, yet we can ship the lowly tomato from California cheaply enough to make it possible to have them available at virtually every fast food restaurant in every town village and berg in the country. I’m sure that if we put our minds to whatever problems we face and stopped lying to ourselves about the nature of the predicaments we find ourselves in, the will to create positive changes would overwhelm the demented machinations of those who would define all problems out of existence.