Thursday, May 25, 2006

Tangible Hopes

So, I'm eating an honest-to-God cheeseburger for the first time in forever at some diner near the Village, when a person who is somewhere between homeless and barely stable, upon first impression, walks in and asks for a glass of water. Much to my surprise, the owner gives it him without question, knowing full well he'll never get a cent out of this non-customer. After seeing people at Burger King get scolded for sneaking in and using the bathroom without ordering, and being in places in Japan where niceties are only assured when there is the possibility that the cash register will get rung up, I never expected such a thing, and it's nice to see it when it happens.

Yes, I saw "An Inconvenient Truth" earlier today. There was so much of Al Gore in it that you can't think he's not at least thinking about the White House (and he should be thinking about it, if you ask me - he is one of the few who could win, given the right circumstances), but that's not what I want to write about.

Republicans love to throw up words like doomsday and extreme - ironically, to tout their own worst-case scenarios about terrorism and, at the same time, dismiss the urgency of addressing global warming. When it's on the former, 9/11 gave the right wing free license to paint an extremely vague future that still sent fearful voters into the arms of an uncurious, simple-minded President. Without the World Trade Center, terrorism would have been just something that people ought to keep their eyes out for just in case. Now, it is their object example of what terrorism was capable of. They will never need another in this generation. Americans are convinced because a very distinct and relevant part of it is now so specific. The rest of the blanks need not be filled in.

Liberals, however, aim to be a more meticulous bunch. Not just at the think tank level, where conservatives may very well outshine in ambition but are hopefully matched in effort, but at the ground level where the voters are. Al Gore, with his PowerPoint presentation, invited the President to learn something new or at least hear a different perspective and was refused in the process. Undeterred, he goes to the people. He says he must have done this presentation "thousands of times." Let's be safe and say hundreds, or just a hundred. That's still a lot of people.

That's the width of the effort. The depth is the detail into which Gore goes into global warming and its consequences. I was convinced since elementary school that cars cause pollution cause greenhouse effects cause the melting of the ice caps causes flooding. But through correlation, logic, and deduction, Gore put on such a convincing argument, that even if it were only half true, it was still very frightening.

And it was a movie that yielded frightening prospects. It could have ended there, leave it to viewers to figure out for themselves whether or not they have the motivation to make the necessary changes to avert crisis. Like conservatives' nightmares of terrorism, the movie could have offered up no solutions and only fears.

The last ten minutes, however, saw a positive shift in the tone of the movie. Not only are people capable of reversing climate change, not only have people made inroads toward such a reversal, but they are also capable of undoing nearly two centuries of damage in only a fraction of that time. Given renewable energies, alternate forms of transport, etc., and the scope through which ordinary people can influence the growth of those new tools and technologies, carbon emissions could be eliminated completely in the most ideal case. As a sweetener, America could lead this effort and make a ton of money out of other countries following behind. With economic infeasibilities gone, the only ingredient missing, then, is the will to do it.

I believe that could be true, but it is harder than a dream scenario proposes. The point is, on the other hand, that it is a hopeful scenario. "An Inconvenient Truth" could have still been very convincing if Al Gore were to end his presentation at the point where the melting of the Antarctic sinks major parts of New York. Yet, it continued and ended on a note of optimism of a future that isn't written yet. Conservatives are often incapable of doing the same thing, as a conservative ideology always evolves (or flip-flops) based on their idea at the time of a simpler, worry-free, imagined past. The future for Republicans is always too uncertain for it to yield a positive result. So you have gay marriage bans and corporate subsidies and feel-good bombs, all to reclaim what is supposedly lost.

Clinton Democrats (whether centrist or leftist) try to steer clear of that instinct, instead opting to try and create something new based on a hope for the future they possess. Since 9/11, it's been very difficult to get that feeling, especially in these times. But Al Gore endeavored to show that very Democratic ideal. He succeeded, and in my book, that is what makes his warnings all the more convincing.

EDIT - my mistake; the AP article says Gore has, in fact, given the presentation more than a thousand times.


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