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Stephen Gottlieb: The Earth Has Its Own Ways Of Cooling Down

Let me begin by congratulating the station on a successful fund drive. These guys are terrific, the work they do is important.

For me it’s been three weeks since we’ve last talked, and I’m glad to be back. I’ve spent time thinking about what’s really important. A lot of what I try to do is to put things in a perspective that I hope you can use. For many of you, I’m preaching to the choir, but collectively, there is a mountain we have to move.

Some people don’t like to think about global warming, either because it’s too big a topic, or because thinking about it doesn’t make them happy. But not to think about it is to help to bring it on, to be part of the failure to force our politicians to make stopping the greenhouse effect a top priority.

Let’s understand how the earth can rebalance itself. It’s really very simple. The earth can flood, boil, infect, dehydrate and starve us to death. Have you seen people starving to death, or people dying of thirst? It’s not a pretty sight, even when it’s someone else. But an angry earth won’t spare us. Some of the changes are happening faster than predicted. And it’s not clear to me whether the changes will be gradual or catastrophic. Some of our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren will be in the sights of disaster. Once the earth gets rid of most of us, the greenhouse gasses will slowly decline in the atmosphere. And then, maybe, if the hot earth doesn’t boil the atmosphere itself away, maybe the earth can begin to rebalance and cool down.

There have been many mass extinctions in the history of the earth. There is no reason to believe we must be immune. Science you say? Scientists have been telling us for decades what we have to do. Scientists aren’t holding some magic up their sleeves that will suddenly make everything right. They have ideas that can reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses we are creating, but if we wait for the market to adopt them, they will come into use slowly, they will work slowly, and too late. The scientists are scared and they are trying to warn the rest of us. It is the rest of us who have to listen and take action.

We have to insist. We are sick and tired of politicians who fail to address the biggest problem of our generation and we won’t take it anymore. It’s up to us, not the scientists. They can tell us what we have to do, but we have to do it. We have to listen and take action.

Oh I suppose there is another way. We could make war, fight and bomb each other into extinction. We used to fear that nuclear weapons could extinguish the human race. Actually, a likely result of global warming is that we will fight over the remaining habitable spots on earth. War, whether nuclear or conventional, kills, disfigures, cuts people apart or sickens them with disease. That’s not a fate I want to bequeath to the next generations.

But failure to act isn’t benign neglect – it’s collective mass suicide, quite likely of our own offspring. Can you deal with that? For myself, I have two little granddaughters that are hostage to whatever we do or fail to do about global warming. We all have work to do.

Steve Gottlieb is Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School and author of Morality Imposed: The Rehnquist Court and Liberty in America. He has served on the Board of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and in the US Peace Corps in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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