Monday, June 23, 2008

nearer at least.

Here's a great post from the Journal's Best-of-the-Web blog.

Nigh Times


Mary Ann Lindley is an editor at the Tallahassee Democrat, the main newspaper in Florida's capital. In a blog entry on the paper's Web site, she writes that a friend recently gave her a copy of the Democrat dated Jan. 21, 1981--the day after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated and the mad mullahs who ran Iran released the American diplomats they had taken prisoner, a crime that has gone unpunished in the 27 subsequent years.

"But the thing that caught my attention in that 27 year old newspaper," Lindley writes, "was a letter to the editor from a Darrell E. Levi":

In 1981, Mr. Levi's concern was the "accelerating devastation of the world's tropical forests and with that the possibility of major changes in the world's climate."
He went on to write that "over the past 20 years, it has become clearer that the main, most inexorable threat humans face is not political or ideological conflict, social disintegration or economic chaos--as real and important as these things are--but destruction of the very biolgoical [sic] basis of life."
That was long ago, and yet the warnings he issued are almost precisely the ones we hear today: that we run great risk if we ignore our interdependency with soil, air, water, plants and animals and that a global ecological crisis is upon us and will destroy us without an informed citizenry prepared to respond and help steer a new course for "Spaceship Earth."

Now, we're not exactly sure what kind of "changes in the world's climate" Levi meant to warn about. Back in the 1970s, people worried about a new Ice Age, but at some point between then and 1988, the concern shifted to global warming. It's possible that in the interim, an informed citizenry did steer a new course for Spaceship Earth, one that took the craft dangerously close to the sun.

Possible, but--let's be honest--not probable. We like to think we're pretty informed, and we don't remember anything like this happening. Anyway, the Earth isn't really a spaceship. Its course is fixed by nature, God or some combination thereof.

The lesson of Darrell E. Levi would seem to be that doomsayers will always be with us. They were with us in 1981, they are with us in 2008, and we feel confident predicting that they will be with us in 2035.

Incredibly, though, Lindley draws the opposite conclusion--that Levi's predictions were prescient not because they came true but because people are making similar predictions now:

It's easy to dismiss today's "alarmists" who speak of the dire consequences of our various policy choices and personal decisions. But Mr. Levi's letter is riveting. He was--and is--right on the money. Everything he said then still applies, squared.
The good news is that some of today's citizenry is more informed and some leaders, such as Governor Crist, are aiming their sites [sic] on solutions, however incremental, to save the ship known as Spaceship Earth.

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