samedi, mai 28, 2011

Is it all about "me?"

A few nights ago I was out running the track at our local elementary school. I was about a half mile away from the driveway when the sky darkened ominously and the wind picked up, and the tree branches began to move faster and faster. Lightning flickered to the north.

I quickened my pace. Then, recalling the recent and ghastly tornadoes in the Midwest, I raced across the grass, down the driveway and a road I normally don't use to the safety of my house. I went from "moderately fit" to "extremely fit" (NYTimes) in about a half a mile.

Later I heard that indeed funnel clouds had been seen in Northeastern Philadelphia and that there was a tornado watch in the Poconos.

When did we here in the Northeast have to watch out for tornadoes? When were entire communities in the Midwest torn apart by them?

Why are we having catastrophic floods on the Mississippi every seven or eight years? What's going to happen when the 25 feet of snow in the Rockies melts? Yes, there have been historical events -- decades or centuries ago.

But the point is that catastrophic weather is becoming the new norm.

As time has gone on, I've noticed that even my climate skeptic friends (many, but not all) have begun to believe in the evidence.

What I haven't seen is most of us make significant lifestyle changes. That includes me, local climate Cassandra. Building our greener house will have an impact, but it won't be huge.

What is it that keeps our eyes focused on our own problems, even when our way of life, health and happiness may be threatened?

Is it because as humans we're narcissists, unable to reach beyond our issues to think of the common good?

It has occurred to me that we are innately selfish. And I find narcissism, an extension of selfishness, a fascinating personality disorder. For years I've observed someone (a public figure) tear apart organizations and divide people because (my analysis) he lacks empathy. See the Mayo Clinic's definition of narcissistic personality disorder here. As a species, many of us do seem to lack empathy -- all you have to do is look what happened on Wall Street with the mortgage crisis to realize that some folks didn't give a hoot what happened to the people they were supposed to be helping.

But I don't think all of us are narcissists. And certainly, while self-interest is adaptive, selfishness isn't. With climate change, we face the possibility that the genie we have unleashed has gotten out of our hands.

We can't expect our elected officials to be our consciences -- they are reflections of ourselves. We can't seem to get international agreements. And in America our Congress, by and large, can't seem to get creative about a pro-business and pro-environment model.

Why don't we have the outcry over climate change that we have over, say Medicare? Is it only our older citizens who are capable of raising hell?

I don't think so. As a mother, I have a stake in the future for my children, and for yours.

And yet, no one talks about the ongoing impact. We attend our baseball games 20 miles away, drive our old or big cars, worry about children's fights and relational crises. And we do nothing.

Yet you better bet they are wondering what to do in Joplin, and New Orleans, and Alabama. With any luck, we'll start figuring it out here, too -- before we have to.

In the meantime -- run, baby, run.

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