We’re Living in a Fantasy Land

Sometimes, when I see the number of news articles and television interviews about climate change, I think that the message just might be starting to get through. But then I hear other things that are much more discouraging, and remember that although the media might occasional pay lip service to environmental issues, in the “real world” climate is very low on the list of everyday priorities.

Nasa has cancelled a number of satellite missions that were intended specifically to orbit the Earth and send back data related to our climate. This data would have been invaluable in our efforts to understand the complexities of the environment we are altering. Funding issues have lead to many of these small satellites being put on the backburner. One important satellite had an estimated cost of $200 million.

Of course, it is hard not to notice that the US government can find money for other things, including a mere $8 billion every single month to spend on the Iraq war, which was initiated (in a misguided way) to avenge the deaths of about 3,000 people. Many more people than that already die each year due to pollution; as climate change continues, countless more lives will be destroyed. Thanks to our “if it bleeds it leads” media, most Americans seem to be many times more concerned about dying in a terrorist attack — a danger that is statistically negligible for the vast majority of citizens — but few give much though to climate change, which is almost certain to kill many and damage the lifestyles of almost everyone.

A similar mindset is evident here in Toronto, on a smaller scale. The recently resigned chief general manager of the Toronto transit system has bluntly criticized politicians in Toronto (and North America in general) for continuing to prioritize cars above public transit, despite what they might occasionally say. “The car rules,” he says, “That’s just Toronto; North American city.”

Of course, our governments just give people what they want. And, despite a large amount of grumbling about gas prices, few drivers are actually willing to do anything about finding a solution. The long and short of it is that we live in a very wealthy country, and almost everyone who drive can absorb the recent price increases with little real hardship. And as long as governments continue to pander to our car-centric lifetstyles by tinkering with gasoline taxes, expanding our overloaded roadways, and underfunding transit, these habits will not change.

Nothing will change, that is, until the day finally comes when an economy wilted by skyrocketing energy prices converges with storms, floods, and droughts brought on by climate change, and everything comes crashing down around us. Sadly, by then we will have missed our only opportunities to build a safety net of alternatives.

One day soon we will realize that our everyday “real world” in which cars are the norm and climate change and peak oil are considered low priorities is actually a fantasy. Enjoy it while it lasts; fireworks at 10.



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