Friday, July 06, 2007

Live Earth and the Cassandra Complex

The dilemma is as old – at least – as the golden age of Greek literature and political democracy: how to convey to the majority the reality of an impending disaster that most cannot yet feel or sense without becoming a Cassandra?

Cassandra, daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, could foresee future events. Unfortunately, what she saw – the perfidy of the Greeks in building the wooden horse and sailing away – was not what the Trojans were ready to hear. After all, had they not withstood the 10 years siege of their city by the Greeks?

Cassandra’s failure was due to the limitation of her information. She could foresee impending doom for Troy from the wooden horse the Greeks left on the Plain of Ilium, but exactly what role the horse would have in the city’s fall she could not see.

Today we do not depend on oracles and gods to predict the future but on subject matter experts who, for the most part, are scientists. What have not changed over the centuries since Cassandra are the elements of persuasion and of conveying information convincingly enough that the majority of people accept that:

- a crisis looms just over the horizon;

- it will affect the entire population equally regardless of wealth, position, or status;

- the probability is quite high that its effects may be irreversibly destructive unless the trajectory of events or the point of convergence of trends contributing to the crisis is deflected or shifted;

- bold, decisive, even radical action by those in authority would alter conditions conducive to creating the crisis; and

- relying on luck or muddling through is not going to be sufficient.

This is where the United States and the rest of the world find ourselves the day before LIVE EARTH, the 24 hour, seven continent, non-stop rock and pop music concerts jointly sponsored by Kevin Wall and Al Gore to draw attention to and get information out to people about the looming crisis affecting the earth’s climate. Although there may be some “surprise” announcements today, currently there are eight main concert sites and some 7,000 secondary Live Earth-associated events in 129 countries.

Although there are still some holdouts, most scientists accept that there is a climate crisis and that it is, in large measure, the result of human activity. As such, it is within humanity’s power – and is its obligation – to undertake decisive steps to alter, deflect, or even reverse the trend lines of the last 100 years by changing the way we live and use the earth’s resources.

As climate is a global phenomenon, what is achieved or what is left undone will affect every living thing – plant or animal – on every continent and in all the seas and oceans of the planet. Moreover, the longer we continue on the current path without change, the greater the damage and the longer the period of recovery. For some species, their “crisis horizon” has arrived while for others it has already passed. And we can expect, without significant and immediate change mandated by officials, that the frequency of “crisis horizons” will increase exponentially, not arithmetically.

Live Earth, in itself, will not change anything. It is not raising money for a worthy cause such as fighting AIDS or poverty, like other similar world-wide musical events. Its purpose is to raise awareness of the climate crisis, to be a catalyst in a multi-year campaign to get individuals and groups across the globe to make changes in their personal life-styles and to demand action by governments and corporations to control and reverse global warming.

In the 1960s, events like this that were intended to raise awareness of and generate opposition to the Vietnam War were, by comparison, fragmented and episodic. It was also largely a U.S. phenomenon in its expression of outrage and in its ultimate remedy. Perhaps because the outrage over the human toll has yet to become really widespread, the Bush administration has been able to ignore the marches and rallies and sit-ins by those calling for the end of U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But that is changing as the casualties accelerate and the American public starts to realize that the continuing presence of U.S. troops is retarding, not accelerating, the rehabilitation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, one of the lessons that Live Earth ought to convey is the link between the war in Iraq and the looming climate crisis – the need for reliable sources of oil to power the U.S. life-style.

Viewed in this light, the Iraq war is a subset of the climate crisis. And although the concerts are to take place on the “triple lucky 7” date of the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh year on the 21st century, luck will neither win the Iraq war nor save the planet from what could well be called man’s war on the earth.

Both require real action, real commitment, real outrage.

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