Ungrateful Cretins

December 23, 2009

This is a bit of a piggy-back post on the previous one. I’ve noticed in the past few weeks an increasing skepticism regarding action taken in the name of the common good, with people looking back and saying, “What was all the fuss for?”

Take acid rain, for example, a cause celebre in the 80’s. Portrayed as a scourge against nature and humanity, Congress passed several laws curtailing the emissions which cause acid rain over the protestation of the industries affected. “Why make us spend all this money? You’ll be crippling our ability to compete! Jobs will be lost!” Regardless of whether these things happened, emissions have dropped and so has the incidence of acid rain. But since it isn’t in the news as much, people seem to think it wasn’t all that big a deal. My guess is this forest would disagree.

OOO! What about the ozone layer? That was a big deal, too, right? NASA released some creepy projections of what atmospheric ozone would look like if emissions of CFC’s weren’t seriously curtailed, and the world understandably went bonkers. CFC’s were then sensibly banned, and things stabilized, right? Wrong. That’s an image from 2006, illustrating the largest hole in the ozone ever recorded. But still, we spent a lot of money, right? And it isn’t in the news anymore, right? So it was a waste of our money, right?

Now we get psuedo-scientists citing both of these examples as why we shouldn’t spend money to prevent the world’s temperature from rising. Yep. Because the science is really on their side.

But I don’t have to stick with just scientific examples here. What about Y2K? That was supposed to make all the planes crash and the bank accounts reset to zero, right?

And then we spent a bunch of money preventing that from happening, and nothing happened. Now… I’d think that Occam’s Razor would suggest, then, that the money we spent worked. A surprisingly large number of people seem to think that what it really means is, “Whoops! There was no problem at all!” I remember my dad spending almost all of 1999 working on computer programs to prevent his company from losing all of its records. In fact, he wasn’t able to spend New Year’s Eve with us, because he had to be at work to make sure the computers didn’t explode. Farhad Monjoo explains the whole situation pretty well in this series from Slate.

Now, if this is a problem when we take (expensive) action against a perceived problem, what happens when we take (expensive) action against an approaching apocalypse and things still end up sucking? Like… now? Governments around the world have spent obscene amounts of money (Enough to make Solomon blush) to prevent the world’s economy from tripping over its shoelaces. And, obligingly, the economy has been crappy. So now, in the face of almost every reputable projection of what things would have been like had capitalism not been saved from itself, people have turned into deficit hawks, screaming that the government is just spending too darn much. (Suggest cutting the defense budget, famously bloated, to these people and the screaming will just get louder.)

What does this say about our chances of averting climate disaster? Well, I think world leaders are in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation here. Spend the money to fix the earth, and in fifty years everyone will be asking what the big deal was. Choose not to spend the money and in fifty years everyone will be angry at the politicians for not averting disaster. This Guardian article also makes me much less trusting of emerging economies interest in actually fixing things.

Special thanks go out to wikipedia for these two articles on the ozone layer and acid rain. Enjoy lots of numbers.

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2 Responses to “Ungrateful Cretins”

  1. AllegraIntegra said

    While not relevant exactly to this post, nice Eddie Izzard reference.

    I don’t have much to add except I agree with you 100%.

    • christophermahlon said

      You know, Ali, I’m so marinated in Eddie that I don’t even catch the references when I make them anymore. Whew.

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