Dear Future Son/Daughter,
Florida was nice, but you didn’t miss too much. Think: New York’s waiting room stocked with oranges and wacky news. We only lost a species forever every 20 minutes. And people really didn’t believe global warming was man-made.
Sounds silly now, I know. You see, our baby boomer parents saddled us millennials with the bailout bill. We eventually paid it off, but we put climate change on your tab. Here are two reasons why:
No. 1: Al Gore had no friends.
A two-term vice president, arguably the 43rd president of the United States, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, an Oscar winner, and even a Grammy winner, history will smile on Al Gore as one of the greats of our era. But contemporary American popular culture was not so kind. The globe’s public spokesman for climate change was merely the late-night punch line whenever it became very cold. Al Gore was built for deal rooms in the back, not the podium out front. He was awkward, grew out a beard for a while, and got fat (see also: Michael Moore).
Al Gore’s lack of a pulse didn’t help, but the reality is, green wasn’t sexy. It had too many numbers and took too long. Indeed, early 21st-century American environmentalism was a non-event. NBC painted its peacock green for a week. The Facebook page “Global warming didn’t cause the drought. Someone dropped a Shamwow” had 200,000 fans. The Facebook group “Global Warming”? 36,000. Prius hybrid drivers, especially in the Bay Area, were deemed Starbucks smug.
No. 2: It should have been called global weirding, not global warming.
When snow blanketed the global climate change summit in Copenhagen last December, Rush Limbaugh sneered, “When phony scientists reach the height of deceit, God dumps a snowstorm on ’em, all over this man-made fraud.” He was not alone. It got to the point where Republicans virtually cheered for freak snowstorms. During February’s blizzard in Washington, D.C., the family of Republican senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma made an igloo next to the Capitol with a sign reading “Al Gore’s New Home.”
Meanwhile, across the continent, Canada had to import snow to Vancouver for the Winter Olympics. A record 13-year drought eviscerated Australia. And this is why New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman harps that we shouldn’t call it “global warming” but “global weirding.” The climate changes with warmer temperatures, and strange things happen. The dries get drier, the wets get wetter. More violent hurricanes pulverize shores more often.
Friedman had another idea too: “China for a day.” As repressive as the Chinese government is, it gets stuff done. So Friedman muses about what would happen if for one day and one day only, Washington adopted China’s governing apparatus. Not to censor its own people or terrorize Tibet, mind you, but to pass a comprehensive climate change bill. What if for one day, Washington filibustered the filibuster and let the White House pass a sensible, scientist-backed climate change bill? It will never happen, and it’s tragic. Because climate change is not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue—it’s a children and grandchildren issue.
No. 3: Republicans went crazy.
Obama was our best shot, but he couldn’t do enough. Yes, he dithered. He’d hold information sessions, not pep rallies. He misread his sweeping 2008 election as a mandate for federal activism. Except, Americans didn’t want a more involved government. They just didn’t want George W. Bush. But the biggest problem was, Republicans just went crazy.
Washington, circa 2010, was paralyzed by partisan bickering. Since 2006, Republicans either threatened to use the filibuster or did use it 70 percent of the time (it was eight percent in the 1960s). Their playbook had one play. Obama was too big to succeed. From the petty (cheering when Chicago didn’t get the Olympics) to the grand (blocking jobless benefits), many Republicans seemed to root for President Obama to fail so they would look better in November … country be damned in the meantime.
Republican leadership veered sharply off the beaten trail to the tune of (not-even-elected officials) Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Michael Steele. Former half-term governor Palin dismissed man-made global warming as “snake oil.” Limbaugh routinely blasted it as a communist hoax. And I’m sorry, Mr. Steele, but repeating “drill, baby, drill!” louder is not a viable energy plan. It became very hard to have a meaningful national debate when one side had a bag of words and the other was handicapped by … reality. You can’t reason with a crazy. And when that crazy was slightly less than half of Congress, the American Empire showed cracks and fissures on a late-Ancient Rome scale.
P.S. Don’t let the old Coca-Cola ads fool you. Polar bears would have ripped your head off.
The author is a 2008 graduate of Columbia College and will receive his MBA in 2011.