There are people who believe in global warming, and there are people who don't. But mostly, practically speaking, there are just people who try not to think about it.
I fall into that third group, and you probably do, too. It's not because we're scared, although global warming is some heavy shit. I've been watching my hometown sit on the brink of disaster all week, and basically, if tens of thousands of North Dakotans — scientifically recognized as the hardiest, wisest, and most beloved by God of all the Earth's peoples — can barely hold back one stupid river*, then it's horrifying to envision all sorts of similar crises popping up on a planetwide scale. What, for example, will the Italians do? Italians are very lazy.**
You may take offense to my saying that, but I will just note that if any Italians are truly upset, they can write me a letter (not likely — too much work), and more importantly, that you probably don't know that many actual Italians (grandmas do not count). Which brings us to the primary reason most of us don't think about global warming, even if we do believe in it:
The world is just too fucking big.
It has, of course, become popular in the last few decades to note how small the world is, and there's some truth to that, especially relative to how things were for most of history. It used to take months to ship goods from one side of the globe to the other; now we can do it in hours. Sending messages is even faster — we can do it in seconds. Mere moments after I'm done writing this column in Madison, Wisconsin, people in Venice will be able to read it (if they've finally woken up from their "siestas," that is). And since this speeding up of everything is comparatively New and Exciting, and usually involves computers (which are our glowing idols that command our devotion for hours every day), we tend to focus on it.
But, truth is, our brains are still crude products of evolution that haven't changed that much since we rode on dinosaurs, and anything that's farther away than the pterodactyl nest on the next ridge over is difficult to grasp in a fashion that resonates. Oh, a big event — like a September 11 — will get our attention, briefly, but something as slow to happen as climate change is a nonstarter. Especially when, thanks to the newish smallness of the world and the speediness of information, there are more ways than ever to take our minds off of gloomy news.
And this is a problem, I think. Because if global warming — not that I am some kind of weatherologist here — is half as bad as the experts say it will be, then the whole planet is in trouble, particularly if it jumps on top of the daunting dogpile of crises we're presently facing, namely the economy, predicted shortages in fresh water and energy, and the awful standard of living already endured by millions of humans.
(And let me add that even if you don't believe in global warming — well, is that really a gamble you think we should take? I mean, have you ever gone back home to make sure the stove is turned off? Ever double-checked that you locked the car? Ever had a lawyer look at something before you sign it, just in case? If you're that careful with just, like, stuff, all of which is either replaceable or get-by-withoutable, doesn't it kinda seem like we should be really careful with the, uh, planet? At least until we have another one?)
What to do, though? Before we moved from New York almost a month ago, Mrs. Moff had been a volunteer docent at the American Museum of Natural History for many years, where the current exhibition on climate change has been, um, not nearly as well attended (I am told) as the Harry Potter-inspired one they did on mythical beasts. That could be because of the economy, or it could be because jeez, depressing. Even more depressing was the news from the exhibit that, despite the recent push toward greener technology and living, at this point, very little of what we do on a personal basis can make a marked difference in halting the progress of global warming. If useful action is going to be taken, it will have to be on the part of national governments and multinational industries.
There's the paradox. We can't really comprehend the problem on a massive level, and yet our individual efforts aren't enough, on their own, to counter it. I can't believe there's no solution — or absolutely no way to mitigate things, at least — but what is it? Because I'm afraid the technology to clone millions of North Dakotans, who could save us all, is still too far off.
*Which is not to diminish the amazing efforts of all the Fargo-Moorhead residents and others who've been laying sandbags, etc., for days now. But as they all know, it's a close thing, and still will be for at least another week.
**It's OK for me to say this, because not only am I a quarter Italian, I am also very lazy. Identity politics.