Creature of Catastrophe

If CO2 was pink

April 7, 2010

Stumbling upon intersecting observations by two writers today, I was reminded of a vacation several years ago at the Olympic Peninsula’s northwestern tip. I was drinking coffee in the lobby of a lodge. A new guest was checking in. The innkeeper, making small talk, asked what he did for a living. “I work for Duke Energy in North Carolina,” the man answered. With barely a pause he added, as if reading from his business card, “And global warming has nothing to do with carbon emissions.” I regret not asking him what that day’s crystalline sky would have looked like if CO2 was pink instead of invisible.

The writers who triggered that memory are Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker, whose 2006 book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, slapped me awake to what we’re doing to the planet. The second is by Marilynne Robinson, the acclaimed novelist whose new work of non-fiction, Absence of Mind, tackles science, religion, and human consciousness.

Kolbert wrote this week about the number of TV weathercasters who believe global warming is a scam (one-fourth) or, if happening, is caused mostly by natural changes (two-thirds):

No one has ever offered a plausible account of why thousands of scientists at hundreds of universities in dozens of countries would bother to engineer a climate hoax. Nor has anyone been able to explain why Mother Nature would keep playing along. . .

Robinson says in her book:

We might be the creature who brings life on this planet to an end, and we might be the creature who awakens to the privileges that inhere in our nature – selfhood, consciousness, even our biologically anomalous craving for ‘the truth’ – and enjoys and enhances them. . . Mysteriously, neither possibility excludes the other. Our nature will describe itself as we respond to new circumstances in a world that changes continuously.

How are Americans responding to the threat of climate change? A recent Gallup poll shows concern declining.