Addressing the consequences of global warming will demand, on a worldwide scale, the kind of social and economic mobilization experienced in the United States only during its birthing revolution and World War II, and therein lies a problem. The buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is a nearly invisible, incremental crisis. Carbon dioxide is not going to bomb Pearl Harbor to kick start the mobilization. Author Jonathan Weiner observes, “We do not respond to emergencies that unfold in slow motion. We do not respond adequately to the invisible” (Weiner 1990, 241).
It has been said (not for attribution) that the best thing which could happen to raise worldwide concern about global warming would be a quick collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which would raise worldwide sea level a notable number of feet over a very short time. When stock brokers’ feet get wet on the ground floor of New York City’s World Trade Center, all the world’s competing economic interests might mobilize together and provide the sociopolitical responses necessary to address the atmosphere’s overload of greenhouse gases before it is too late. The same water that could lap at the ground floor of the Trade Center also would ruin most farmers in Egypt and Bangladesh and slosh in the lobbies of glass towers of Hong Kong and Tokyo. Perhaps, only then, might all of humankind heed the implications of Chief Seah’tl’s farewell speech a century and a half ago. We may be brothers (and sisters) after all. We shall see.
So far, at this writing in the year 2000 on the Christian calendar, humankind’s collective nervous system—national and international leadership, public opinion, and so forth—hasn’t done much about global warming. As of this writing, the flora and fauna of the planet Earth are still in the position of a laboratory frog submerged in steadily warming water.
This is not a secret crisis, just a politically unpalatable one. Al Gore, in Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit, raised a sociopolitical call for