GELFAND’S WORLD - One popularly used comment is "there oughta be a law" and following that, "I should write a book. "
As an example of a law that "there oughta be," I like to point out that we should make graffiti into a real crime. Engaging in what is colloquially referred to as "tagging" ought to get you a substantial jail sentence.
This year, we are seeing a lot of catalytic converter theft, and the law hasn't caught up to the problem. There oughta be a law making catalytic converter theft or possession of a stolen converter a felony.
As to that book I ought to write, here is what the forward would say:
Actions have consequences. Sadly, our society fails to communicate that point. We ought to be telling children that what they do as six and seven year old’s will go with them for the rest of their lives. Skipping school for extended periods of time will haunt them. Most children who engage in this behavior will never catch up. We even have impressive statistics to back up this truth although we need to teach this to the parents, not the kids.
It's a problem of attitude, and it goes across the entire political spectrum. The readers of this book may very well be of the liberal persuasion and will recognize the truth of this assertion due to the outrageous behavior of some people on the other side. If you attack the Capitol or refuse to get your vaccine, you will suffer the consequences. This is a simple fact that seems to have escaped the Capitol rioters and people who have not yet entered an ICU.
But liberals have been a part of the problem too.
The point of this essay is that people who knowingly take antisocial and self-destructive actions bear the responsibility. The rest of us don't have to pretend to pious sympathy. They did it to themselves.
But what inspired me to write this essay is a comment by an old friend, a solid liberal who has worked constructively for environmental causes for decades. Here's what he said (paraphrased by me) that set me off:
"Nuclear power would be OK if only we could solve the waste problem."
We have known about the fact of global warming for 30 years at this point. The danger of steadily increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide had been pointed out but we did nothing. The right wing has its own record of denial and lies, but the left wing bears a nearly equal responsibility for killing off the development and improvement of fission power over that same interval.
Actions have consequences. Global warming is here, and it is killing off tens of thousands of species. It is destroying entire habitats. It threatens the continued existence of Europe as a center of civilization. All of these things are real and not even all that controversial. Nuclear power is one tool that we could be using to delay and even prevent some part of global warming. It's risks are real -- particularly if we were to use nuclear reactor designs from the 1950s instead of continuing to improve -- but every time that we start to have a serious discussion about using nuclear power to stave off the emergency of global warming, somebody brings back those old arguments.
The predictable effects of unimpeded global warming are mass extinctions and millions of human casualties. The predictable effects of using nuclear power are the very real risk that in some places, radioactive particles will escape into the atmosphere and the local environment. The relative risks are substantially different, yet we continue to do nothing because it's easy to avoid taking on the naysayers.
Actions have consequences, whether it's ditching school chronically, avoiding known preventions for serious disease, or letting the surface of this planet gradually become inhospitable to those who currently live on it.
I'm reminded of those scenes in courtrooms where the newly convicted criminals stand before the judge and ask for mercy. Often enough, we will hear them say that they made mistakes. Our point as a society should be that these weren't mistakes, they were conscious choices actively engaged in. The judge usually reminds the defendant of that fact as he hands down a prison sentence. At that point, it is too late to undo what has been done.
How about if we, as a whole planetary society, recognize that unless we take action against global warming, what is being done right now is not going to be so easy to undo.
And there will be nobody to sympathize with us because we are all of us the problem.
This is not to say that we can't sympathize with convicts or those affected by radiation or the homeless. But we ought to be teaching our children from an early age that their conscious decisions can and will affect whether they end up in those homeless encampments or in the state prison, or whether planetary society survives.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)