Tom Friedman’s NYTimes column today had the headline, “This is Not a Test.” I know he was using the word in an ironic sense, but I think he is dangerously wrong. This–what is happening out there in the world–is indeed a test. We are all being tested to see how we react to a series of threats. We, that is, each of us as an individual and all of us as a collective society, have been living in a bubble. Not just a dot.com or housing bubble, but a cultural bubble, ignoring indisputable evidence of present and impending breakdowns and non-ideological voices much concerned about the future. Sustainability is the subject of the test and we are failing badly.
How we have become so captured by Rush Limbaugh’s ranting that we are all Chicken Little’s baffles me. Anyone willing to raise the alarm that something is rotten in the State of Everywhere has been painted as an enemy, a non-patriot, and worse. But Limbaugh’s screed’s are only the loudest and most listened to of a myriad of clones. If you think I am making a political statement here, you are wrong. My concern is that we have been tested by nature and humankind for some time, but do not perceive that from within our bubble. The social and political consequences of speaking truth to power have become so dire that breaking out of the bubble and speaking the truth has become daunting. Fortunately there a few who continue to call attention to the reality of what is happening in the world. And there are some facts out there to deal with.
The greenhouse effect is a scientific fact. If one builds a greenhouse whether made of glass or of carbon dioxide and methane, the space inside the structure will inevitable warm up. To dispute this is to deny that an apple will fall down from a tree, or that water will boil when it reaches 212º F. It is also indisputable that levels of greenhouse gases have been increasing steadily since the onset of the industrial revolution. While the when and nature of the consequences of this process are uncertain, the inevitability of some sort of significant change to the climate is reasonably certain.
Another fact is that the global supply of fossil fuel resources are finite and will run out someday. The same is true of everything the Earth provides for us. People everywhere are beginning to worry about the availability of clean water, the epitome of terrestrial renewable resources. The seas, while limitless in scope, are shrinking in their ability to support life because they are becoming so polluted and full of junk. Economists ignore the facts that Herman Daly, one of their own, has pointed out about the folly of an economic system that is build on eternal growth and ignores the connection to the Earth.
Why are we failing this test and behaving as if none of this is true? This is a question that needs to be asked at every level of society. I have been hearing repeatedly that we Americans can fix anything. It may take a while to repair the financial mess, but don’t worry, it is in our nature to fix things. This in itself is a kind of bubble we live in. This test is not about fixing things, but stopping to assess the real mess, and in the lingo, getting real. If each of us continues to believe that their happiness rests on having things, we will surely send that message to the leaders of government, universities, business, and so on. And they will listen to us and direct the intellectual, financial, and technological resources at their command to fix the problem we call to their attention.
That’s the essence of democracy. Will it work if we are all living in a cultural bubble. I am deeply concerned that it will not, and that any quick fix will only put off the reckoning to future generations. Remember future generations are not some abstract notion. They are our children and grandchildren and so on. We have put them on Earth and we are responsible to them for the kind of world they will inhabit. It’s not likely to be a wonderful place unless we burst the bubble and get real about sustainability.

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