Editorials

Thinking weakens at key time

I finally understand why so many Americans don't accept the scientific truth of human-caused global climate change, and it's not a "one size fits all" explanation.

I don't have space to review, yet again, the unequivocal evidence demonstrating the certainty of climate change and its likely horrific consequences. In fact, it would be fruitless to do so, since most Americans have already chosen sides.

Trouble is, you can't choose sides on this issue, since there is only one; there is no controversy or debate in the only area that matters, the scientific literature, where ideas are subjected to extreme, continuing scrutiny, and are rejected if they cannot stand on their merit. Determining whether the planet is heating and if humans are responsible lies exclusively within the domain of science, not Fox News, or ignorant politicians, or a vanishingly small minority of dissident scientists. Period.

Frankly, public opinion should not matter either, since you cannot have an opinion about a fact. But you can't blame the public entirely when the information it receives is either incomplete or wrong. Fox News, a purveyor of right-wing propaganda that, sadly, too many Americans use as their news source, leads viewers to wrongly conclude that climate change is controversial in the scientific community, is not happening, is exclusively a part of a natural cycle, is desirable because it will result in longer growing seasons, and/or is a socialist plot to redistribute wealth to poor countries.

The mainstream, corporate media and, to a frightening extent, PBS and NPR, who have all but completed a death spiral into mediocrity, often treat the issue as having two equally valid sides, adding to the divisiveness.

As if the absence of truthful, edifying news isn't enough, now a newly published synthesis of sound scholarship demonstrates that using the Internet makes us, well, stupid. Nicholas Carr's new book, "The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains," provides solid evidence that, while the Internet succeeds in making us aware of the universe of information, at the same time it causes cognitive overload that actually significantly decreases learning, and not just for teens playing online games.

So, at this critical time in human existence, when all hope for some semblance of a civilized future on a habitable planet rests on educating for sustainability, we discover that this pervasive technology is our enemy. We knew this about television, a mind-numbing thief of time that promotes overconsumption and reinforces negative stereotypes, but computers and the Internet?

Unfortunately, the reasons for our ignorance about climate change extend beyond the media and computers. They include an educational system with a bloodlust for bean-counting and so-called accountability instead of ensuring that students learn what really matters: how to think clearly and critically, and live a reasonable life on a small planet with finite resources. Blame extends to the fossil fuel industry and associated businesses, the Republican Party (see Tom Friedman's outstanding op-ed "What 7 Republicans Could Do for America" in the July 21 New York Times), and the pathetically weak and misguided Obama administration, which has betrayed its staunchest supporters. The tendrils of fault extend to Democrats from states with big fossil fuel interests, who cannot rise above self-preservation, even when survival of a healthy planet is at stake.

And, as Shakespeare wrote, "the fault ... lies not in our stars but in ourselves." We must redefine the American Dream from huge house, big car, large family, big-screen TV, expansive air-conditioned self-storage unit for our extra stuff, to living smarter and smaller. Are we up to it? You decide.

Abel is a local professor, author and environmentalist.

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