WAMC for 28, 2010
Dr. Steven Leibo is the Director of the Sage College’s Program in International & Globalization Studies
‘What a Difference a Week can Make’
What a difference a week can make. I mean it was only about two weeks ago that I found myself sitting in a meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia with a group of environmental activists who had been personally trained by Al Gore to more effectively teach people about the challenge of global climate change; the challenge that humanity’s thoughtless interaction with nature has forced upon us as we move more deeply enter the 21st century.
A topic I might add that the average Indonesia or Jakarta resident probably doesn’t need a particularly persuasive lecture to appreciate. I mean this was in a city, Jakarta that is increasingly vulnerable to massive flooding as it floods more and more often, a tragedy I heard about almost immediately from a guy who was showing me around the old port of Jakarta while telling me how much more common flooding has become – -sometimes over a hundred times a year.
Floods caused by global climate change and its own citizens pumping out so much water beneath the city that it’s sinking – another wonderfully brilliant move humans have done from Bangkok to Venice. While anther fellow I met started talking about how things have become so uncertain that people don’t even know when to plant their crops. Information that hardly seemed surprising given that my visit took place during their supposed rainy season, though I personally saw hardly any rain at all
But as I said there I was with that group of Indonesian climate change activists as the conversation moved into quite an unexpected direction as I had to explain that in my country. You know, the United States, a nation normally thought, to be frankly, more “modern” more democratic more “future oriented” than Indonesia a significant percentage of people still did not understand the science or remained in denial about the threat of dramatic human made climate change
When one fellow asked me “Do they think it’s not happening or that people are not causing it? Frankly, he looked a bit perplexed.
I paused for a moment. “Both” I had to say but then I went on explain that in America all sorts of people had bought into the American fossil fuel industry’s very generously funded and remarkably well fashioned public relations campaign to deny man make climate change in order to save their corporate profits.
And my hosts just looked at me—I am not sure what they thought… maybe they were feeling sorry for me. Now granted all that had taken place in an environment where the corporate spending limits in campaigns were at least somewhat constrained by generations of American campaign spending legislation. Legislation all designed to make sure that large corporations with their enormously deep pockets and professional staff s ready to sell their policies with the same skills they normally sell their product are kept somewhat in check.
Legislation that was inspired by democracy’s notoriously great vulnerability to manipulation by those with enough cash, but that was of course a couple of weeks ago. And now I keep wondering how that conversation might have gone If I had been sitting there in Jakarta only a week later. Sitting there after the American Supreme Court decided to open the flood gates of corporate money; to even more directly influence the democratic electoral process. As big money banks and medical insurance companies have long done but less directly – a revolution in American governance likely to deeply and grievously weaken American democracy for generations to come.
But I suppose it could be worse. If huge wealthy corporations like the giant oil and coal companies can now fully mobilize their money and sales skills to stop our conversion away from the fossil fuels that enriched them — stalling our efforts to slow dramatic climate change. I guess it won’t matter how democratically Americans governed themselves in our last few generations before we let dramatic climate change get totally out of control. And the really nasty fight for survival begins, struggles driven by growing global drought and crop failures