Minimal State

There are those among us who see the political state as a Big Brother who watches everything we do and tells us NOT to do those things we want to do. Or it takes our money. They would minimize the role of the state, if not eliminate it entirely. They call themselves “libertarians” because they are convinced that without a political state watching over us we would be free as birds. What they don’t realize is that the sort of freedom they envision is chaos, like a crowd trying to escape from a burning theater. Without restraint we do not have freedom. Quite the opposite.

In any event, the economist Robert Heilbroner, who wrote The Nature and Logic of Capitalism, has a chapter in the book that addresses the relative roles of the state and capital and their need for one another. Those who would do away with what they regard as state interference would cut off their very noses to spite their faces. Ugly, to say the least. And stupid. The state does tend to become bigger and bigger, that’s certainly true. And we all hate to pay taxes (those of us who do pay taxes, that is). But the role of the state has become absolutely necessary to the preservation of our society and for the continuered prosperity of those who would do away with it. As Heiolbroner notes:

“It is equally evident that the designation of capitalism as ‘self-ordering’ . . .must be understood in a qualified sense. The term applies that all essential activities connected with the material process can be, at least in principle, consigned to the markets. [This is untrue] not alone in the case of such goods as defense, without which no marketing system seems imaginable, but in the broad historical reality of capitalism as a self-reproducing social formation. Here the state, both as defender and promoter of the economic realm, has played so prominent a role that even the most abstract scenarios of the system unwittingly assign it a central and indispensable place when they take as their unit of conceptual analysis the state. Remove the regime of capital and the state would remain, although it might change dramatically; remove the state and the regimen of capital would not last a day.”

The state provides capital with avenues of transportation for their goods as well as avenues of communication to open up new markets and keep those open that are at present offering the owners large profits. The state also provides the capitalist with trained (if not educated) workers and health care for the employees in order to enable them to continue to work and produce commodities and goods. This is in addition the huge military machine that, as Heilbroner suggests above, defends the capitalist from those who would threaten his profit-making activities. In addition, as we have seen especially in recent times, the government stands ready to bail out struggling or failed businesses, — as in the case of such things as farm subsidies and the recent bailouts of the banking industry and two of the three major auto companies in this country.  Government is absolutely necessary to the continued existence of business and the health of our economy. It is perceived as Big Brother watching and nay-saying, but it is in fact Big Brother who makes it possible for those who would do away with it to prosper.

At present, of course, we have a president in this country who is a staunch advocate of minimal state, because he also sees the state as having outgrown its usefulness. He would do away with those regulatory agencies that protect the citizens and their health, forgetting in the process that upon their good health depends the continued prosperity of such things as, oh I don’t know, say, the hotels and resorts that have made the man a fortune? The desire to minimize the state and reduce, if not eliminate altogether, its role in our economy is myopic, to say the least. It sees only what it wants to see in its paranoid condition, and ignores the fact that the political state is the underpinning of everything they regard as valuable, namely, those things that have made (and keep) them healthy and wealthy. It is short-sighted, if not simply stupid — not unlike the continued ignorance of global warming that is a direct threat to their continued existence, not to mention the continued growth of their obscene wealth.  It’s as stupid as, say, thinking this nation can go it alone in the day of international conglomerates and global business in which the economies of the nations of the world depend upon one another as never before. Isolationism is not the answer; it’s not even a desirable option. Neither is libertarianism. We all depend upon one another in so many ways — as never before.

Gruesome Prospect

In an extremely interesting, if at times gruesome, article in the New York Times, we read about cannibalism in various animal species — including among human animals. Apparently it is not that uncommon, even though in humans recently  it has become less common since our “civilized” tendencies would rule it out as unthinkable. Still, we have read about crises and so-called “life-boat” situations in which humans have drawn straws to see who shall be sacrificed to save the rest. Our skin crawls at the very thought. None the less, as the article concludes,

As scientists have come to understand, factors like overpopulation and a lack of alternative forms of nutrition lead to cannibalism among animals, and it is clear that even modern humans have been driven to the behavior on many occasions. What, then, of the future?

Populations are growing. Resources are dwindling. Deserts are spreading. And the societal rules that bind us together are proving more fragile than we ever imagined they could be. Maybe it is wise to remember that human cannibalism, so unthinkable now, was not uncommon not so long ago

In a word, as humans continue to populate the earth and food becomes increasingly scarce — especially with global warming making food production more and more difficult and major storms destroying food supplies– this unthinkable possibility looms large.

I recall reading many years ago a novel by the prolific British novelist Anthony Burgess entitled The Wanting Seed. It is a dystopia, as those novels are called, about a possible future in which there are far too many people and food is scarce. This is fiction, of course, and we all know it is at best an “alternative fact.” In the real world this could not possibly happen. Right.

In any event, in Burgess’ novel, the powers that be conjured up a bogus war in which thousands of young lives are taken; the dead are then chopped up and placed into cans to feed the remainder of the population — which knows not wherefrom the food they eat has come. Now, again, this is fiction (gruesome fiction at that), but it is not beyond the realm of possibility given the state of things as they appear on the horizon. Needless to say if the powers that be resemble in any way, shape, or form the powers that are at present sitting in Washington this possibility seems even less remote. Those folks seem to lack any moral sensibility and are willing to do whatever might advance their own particular agendas. And, clearly, survival would be among those agendas.

The point of this strange post is that we really need to recognize the elephant in the room in the form of a human population that increases daily — a problem which may well be at the root of all the other problems we face at this time. We also need to stop and think about what we are doing to the planet — and also think the unthinkable. What if food production falls off precipitously and there simply isn’t enough to go around? Who makes the decisions about which mouths to feed and who should go hungry? And is it totally beyond imagining that humans might indeed start to eat one another — as they did in 1846 at the Donner Pass when desperate times demanded desperate measures? If we continue to ignore the so-called “population explosion” and continue to turn a blind eye to the fate of the planet earth on which we all depend we may face desperate measures before we know it.

Pascal’s Wager

I am re-blogging a (slightly modified) post from over a year ago in light of the fact that our president-elect is convinced that global warming is a hoax and the Wisconsin D.N.R. has declared that global warming is merely a “subject of scientific debate.” Both of these positions are irrational and, worse yet, a gamble with the lives of countless folks who will be affected if and when the scientific community is proven to be correct. In the meantime, I argue here that we should all err on the side of caution: it is the only sane position to take in light of the probable consequences of being wrong about a situation that is so deeply serious to us all.

I have remarked in the past, as have others, that it makes good sense to “err on the side of caution” when it comes to the issue of climate change. If we suppose that the scientific research is all wrong, or mostly wrong, or that humans have had nothing whatever to do with global warming (both of which are extremely unlikely), we should still act as though the threat is very real. While it would require that the Congress get out of the pocket of Big Oil, for most of us it would involve minimal personal sacrifices — such as lower temperatures in our houses in the Winter or higher temperatures in the Summer. But if we were to rely on renewable energy, drive smaller cars, walk or ride a bike, we might just begin to reverse the trends that science has shown are now taking place. In a word, we would, perhaps, avoid a calamity of global proportions that is otherwise almost certain to take place. If we are unwilling to do these small things, and continue to deny the evidence that is considerable, the consequences will almost certainly be dire.

Thus, it simply makes good sense to err on the side of caution. It costs us little and could help preserve the planet and if we turn out to have been wrong (or the science was wrong) it has cost us little. Those who refuse to take this line of reasoning are making a huge gamble that they are right and 97% of the scientific community is wrong. This is a gamble that no human being should take upon himself or herself, and those who are in positions of power to mandate remedies and refuse to do so assume a huge responsibility; they are being just plain stupid, if not immoral.

I am reminded of “Pascal’s wager” which the mathematician/philosopher recounts in his Pensées where he suggests that it would be wise to bet that God exists because even if He doesn’t we would still lead better lives than if we insist that He does not exist and pursue a dissolute life and risk all. And if we accept that He does exist, we might enjoy the joys of heaven after we die — rather than the awful alternative. Pascal insists it is simply a matter of common sense. As he puts it in his somewhat terse style:

“But you must wager. It is not optional. . . Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. . . “

The issue, again, as Pascal saw it, is pressing: we must wager. So is the issue of global warming, except that the gamble in the latter case involves the entire planet whereas Pascal is only concerned about an individual soul. If we lose, we lose all.

 

Expertise

One of the things that defines the times in which we live is our suspicion of anyone who presumes to know what he or she is talking about. We deny expertise. It’s one of the sadder effects of our egalitarianism. We move from the moral fact that all are equal to the absurd conclusion that no one knows any more than anyone else. Aside from our medical people and our auto mechanics, whom we must trust, we think all other opinions are of no great weight, certainly no better than our own. We forget what George Berkley once said: all opinions should be tolerated for what they are worth. Some opinions are heavy and others are so light they float away in the wind, many of our own included.

But if it is my opinion I am convinced that it weighs as much as yours, no matter who you are. “It’s just Plato’s opinion,” as one of my students said in reading a Platonic dialogue, with the clear implication that it weighed no more than this particular American college freshman’s did. “We are all entitled to our opinion” translates for many into “my opinion is just as good as yours.”

Take the issue of global warming, as an example. There are a great many people in our Congress who think that 97% of the scientists are wrong despite the fact that those scientists have examined the situation carefully and are reluctant to draw conclusions that cannot be corroborated by their peers. That is to say, those who sit on their butts every day making huge salaries think they are as smart as those who are paid very little to study the appropriate evidence and draw conclusions, many of which are unpalatable to them as individuals. Science is disinterested and a very strict task-master. Yet, those sitting on their butts in Congress, or running for president, claim to know better than they what is happening to our world. The problem is, of course, those who do not know control the mechanisms that might make our world a safer place in which to live and plan our collective future.

Expertise, if you think about it, is based on knowledge of one’s field. An expert in biology may not be the best person to ask about the literary value of a new novel. But in his or her field the opinions uttered have weight. We do ourselves a great disservice to ignore the experts in an age in which we are overwhelmed by information and have so little knowledge about so many things. Like it or not, we must trust others to help us understand what is going on in our world. If we have pain in the gut which we think results from listening to political lies, and it the pain persists, we really ought to visit the physician and listen carefully to what she has to say.

At some point we must trust the experts and acknowledge that there are people who know a great deal more than we do. We must trust those who know and know those who are worthy of our trust. But those people who stand up before us running for political office and who claim to know things that are patently absurd should not be trusted. We must always be on the alert for those who claim to be experts but who know less than we do, while at the same time acknowledging that there are experts who know a great deal more than we do. It requires judgment and scrutiny of every word and gesture — and a suspicious eye on the possibility that there is a hidden agenda somewhere that we might not want to embrace.

In a word: ask ourselves whether or not the person who is making the claim has something to gain from our believing what he or she has to say. The scientists who predict that our planet is in dire straights have nothing to gain from our accepting their conclusions. Those fat cats who sit in Congress and are paid to vote as the corporations want them to definitely have something to gain from the rejection of what the scientists have to say. And that politician with the strange hair who stands there making outrageous claims wants us to believe everything he says even though so much of it is bollocks. His agenda is not even that well hidden.

In a word, we must suspect all those “experts” who have a hidden agenda. But this is no reason to reject expertise altogether: there are some who really do know more than the rest of us. But, to my knowledge, none of them has strange hair.

Sierra Report

On a semi-regular basis I share some of the information that comes in the monthly Sierra Magazine. They have a page they call “Up To Speed: Two Months, One Page.” I summarize some of the information on that page here:

The Bad News:

• March 2016 was the warmest month one record. It was the 11th straight month to set the record, which was also unprecedented.*

• Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide rose by the greatest margin on record.*

• For the second year in a row the Arctic Sea ice has shrunk to a record low.*

• Mitsubishi admitted that it has been exaggerating the fuel economy of its cars sold in Japan for 25 years.

• The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that local governments, such as those in Longmont and Fort Colins, cannot ban fracking in their jurisdictions.

[*And yet we have a presidential candidate who insists that Global Warming is a hoax while, at the same time, he petitions the Scottish government for permission to build a sea wall to protect his golf course in Scotland from rising sea waters. (This would also come under the heading of “bad news,” except that it deserves its own category — perhaps: More Insanity?? )]

The Good News:

• Oregon announced that it will stop buying coal entirely by 2030.

• Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company declared bankruptcy.

• ConAgra Foods, General Mills, and Kellogg said they will voluntarily label foods containing GMOs.

• President Obama withdrew his earlier proposal to open the southeastern Atlantic seaboard to oil and gas drilling.

• Within a month of the Tesla Model 3’s unveiling, nearly 400,000 people had paid $1000 apiece to reserve the all-electric car.

* Seaworld announced that it will stop the captive breeding of orcas.

 

 

 

 

Crippled Government

From the day Barack Obama was elected, the opposition party pledged themselves to thwart his every step. And given that Obama has proven to be a rather ineffective president, it could be said that the pledge worked like a charm. But what the division has brought about is a government that simply cannot get it done and on the international front it must make this country look like living proof that democracy won’t work.

The upcoming international meeting on climate change in Paris is an interesting case in point. Take the following snippet from a recent opinion piece on the internet:

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is trying to negotiate a legacy-making climate change pact this coming week in Paris with one hand tied behind his back. Congress can’t even agree whether global warming is real.

Scientists point to the global agreement, years in the making, as the last, best hope for averting the worst effects of global warming. Obama has spent months prodding other countries to make ambitious carbon-cutting pledges to the agreement, which he hopes will become the framework for countries to tackle the climate issue long beyond the end of his presidency in early 2017.

But Republicans have tried to undermine the president by sowing uncertainty about whether the U.S. will make good on its promises. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other GOP leaders have warned other countries not to trust any deal Obama may strike; other GOP allies are working to nullify Obama’s emissions-cutting steps at home.

What this means is that while the rest of the world knows that climate change is caused in large part by human activity and that this activity must be changed soon or the planet faces irreversible damage, the Republicans in Congress are tied to their pledge to oppose every step the president takes and, tied as they are to Big Business and Big Oil, are determined to scuttle any possible agreement the meetings might produce. America will be seen by the rest of the world as a chicken without its head, fluttering about aimlessly and blind to the obvious facts that everyone else has come to accept. And this fluttering chicken threatens us all.  The bottom line is the Republicans don’t want to take any steps that might “cost jobs” in spite of the fat that global warming could be reduced simply by committing this country to alternative, clean energy — which would produce thousands of jobs and save the planet at the same time.

Sitting on the sidelines as we do, it is clear that the machine of government is horribly broken. If Obama were a stronger president who knew how to wield the power his office potentially holds, perhaps this would not be the case. But faced with the fact that a weak president is opposed by stupid, small-minded men and women in Congress who are pledged to undermine his every step, we may be forced to admit we live in a country that, alone, stands in the way of a workable plan to save this planet from devastation.

The Gamble

I have remarked in the past, as have others, that it makes good sense to “err on the side of caution” when it comes to the issue of climate change. If we suppose that the scientific research is all wrong, or mostly wrong, or that humans have had nothing whatever to do with global warming, (both of which are extremely unlikely) we should still act as though the threat is very real. While it would require that the Congress get out of the pocket of Big Oil, for most of us it would involve minimal personal sacrifices — such as lower temperatures in our houses in the Winter or higher temperatures in the Summer. But if we were to rely on renewable energy, drive smaller cars, walk or ride a bike, we might just begin to reverse the trends that science has shown are now taking place. In a word, we would, perhaps, avoid a calamity of global proportions that is otherwise almost certain to take place. Thus, it simply makes good sense to err on the side of caution. It costs us little and could help preserve the planet. Those who refuse to take this line of reasoning are making a huge gamble that they are right and the scientific community is wrong. This is a gamble that no human being should take upon himself or herself, and those who are in positions of power to mandate remedies and refuse to do so assume a huge responsibility; they are being just plain stupid, if not immoral.

I am reminded of “Pascal’s wager” which he recounts in his Pensées where he suggests that it would be wise to bet that God exists because even if He doesn’t we would lead better lives than if we insist that He does not exist and pursue a dissolute life and risk all. And if we accept that He does exist, we might enjoy the delights of heaven after we die — rather than the awful alternative. Pascal insists it is simply a matter of common sense. As he puts it in his somewhat terse style:

“But you must wager. It is not optional.  . . Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. . . “

The issue, again, as Pascal saw it, is pressing: we must wager. So is the issue of global warming, except that the gamble in the latter case involves the entire planet whereas Pascal is only concerned about an individual soul. If we lose, we lose all.

Fear Itself

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the young hero tells his friend “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Now, I know that “philosophy” in Shakespeare’s day meant “natural philosophy,” or science, as we would say today. None the less, as a professor of philosophy for forty-one years, I always balked at this statement. I dismissed it as the faulty insight of a poet, not to be taken seriously. But as I have grown older, and “crawl toward death,” as Shakespeare would have it, I realize that, like so many things the poet said, it is a profound truth. There is much more to life than can be found in philosophy, or in reasoning about life and drawing conclusions from syllogisms, no matter how valid. There is mystery and there is passion which refuses to take a back seat to reason. Thus, while I taught logic for so many years and sought to help young people learn how to reason cogently and reject the bloat and rhetoric around them, all important things, to be sure, I realize that Shakespeare was right — as was Pascal, David Hume and William James, among others.

In his remarkable book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, for example, William James recounts numerous personal experiences reflecting the power of religious feeling and the fact that, as he put it,

“The truth is that in the metaphysical and religious sphere, articulate reasons are cogent for us only when our inarticulate feelings of reality have already been impressed in favor of the same conclusion. . . . Our impulsive belief is always what sets up the original body of truth and our articulately verbalized philosophy is but a showy translation into formulas. . .Instinct leads, intelligence does but follow.”

Indeed, I am of the opinion that the strongest “instinct” is that of fear. In the infant it is the fear of falling or the spontaneous cry at the sound of the door slamming shut. In our youth we fear separation from our mother (“separation anxiety” as Freud called it), we fear the unknown and the unexpected. As we grow older our fears start to mount: the fear of flying, the fear of failing, the fear of debt, the fear of inadequacy, the fear of rejection, and above all, the fear of death. As we age we are a nest of such fears that we try to shield ourself from in a verity of ways that depend upon our personality and our ability to face our fears without flinching. Some people are better at this than others.

Fear of hellfire and damnation was used throughout the Middle Ages by the Church to keep its adherents close to home. Fear was used by Hitler and Stalin to control their masses of zealots who trusted no one. And, one might suggest, it is even used in this country today to maintain control of the thought and action of American citizens who are constantly reminded of the danger of “terrorism” and the need for security in the form of massive “defense” systems. Fear permeates our thinking on many levels.

Take the case of global warming. Clearly, this is an issue where fear and strong passions rule supreme. Some accept the evidence provided by science that the threat of climate change is very real, but this seemingly rational acceptance is perhaps nothing more than the fear of what will most assuredly happen to the planet if we continue to ignore the warning signs. Opponents of the notion of climate change find solace in the spurious reasonings of those who reject science because they find in those “arguments” a safe haven from the fear that global warming may indeed be a fact. Like all of us, they fear the unknown and in this case find themselves unable to allow that the threat might be very real indeed. They seek reassurance for those beliefs they hold dear. In both cases, our reasoning is led by our feelings, especially that most powerful of all feelings, fear.

Shakespeare was right. There are more things in heaven and earth than can be found in our philosophy. Reasoning can take us only so far — and it does tend to be led by the “instincts,” as James would have it. But this does not mean that we should ignore reasoning altogether. Or the findings of hard science, either. It means that we should allow for the pull of the strong emotions, but at the same time seek to temper them with the calm influence of reason which can be reassuring. It can reassure us that the sound we heard in the night was only the cat, not a burglar, for example. It can assure us that there is a way home when we are lost deep in the woods. Reason can calm our fears — up to a point. And it can show us a way to solve our problems which, if ignored, may overcome us altogether.

Thinking Short-Term

I thought I would turn my attention from my recurring concern over the death of Western civilization and the birth of a new barbarism for a moment and deal with something much more important to Americans, namely, baseball. Specifically, I want to consider the recent vote to determine this year’s All-Star teams that will play next week in Cincinnati. Surprisingly, the votes reflect a fact that adds evidence to my thesis that our civilization is weakening at the foundation, namely, one more example of short-term self-interest that seems to pervade this country. Let me explain.

The Kansas City Royals surprised everyone last year by making it to the World Series where they lost to the San Fransisco Giants. Apparently, this year they want to win it all so there was a massive PR campaign in Kansas City during recent weeks to vote as many players from that team on the All-Star team as possible. We will ignore the fact that having the fans vote to determine who the best players are is in itself a hair-brained idea to simply note that the campaign in KC worked. The team just added its fifth player to the All-Star team. Let’s think about this for a moment.

The winning team in the All-Star game can claim home-field advantage in the World Series. This is important because the American League uses designated hitters whereas the National League does not. The strategy differs and it would be to the American League team’s advantage to play at home. But if Kansas City, an American League team, has lowered the probabilities that the American League team will win the All-Star game by failing to vote for the best players, they may have just cut off their nose to spite their face, as it were. If they wanted to give their team the best chance to win that game, they should have voted for the best players in the league and not simply tried to pack the All-Star team with their own players. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

As I say, as problems go this one is tiny. But, as I also say, it provides us with yet another example of short-term thinking which has become chronic in this country and which has major repercussions (think: global warming). My own thesis is that this type of thinking — if it can be called that — stems from the tendency we increasingly show in this country to quantify all issues and then weigh costs against benefits. In a word, we have adopted the business model in all other lines of endeavor, even where they clearly do not apply, such as education and health. We seem to be incapable of anticipating consequences and thinking long-term.

As far as this particular example goes, I admit my bias. I am a fair-weather Twins fan and I was disappointed to see Brian Dozier, who is having a banner year by any standards, lose out to yet another Kansas City player in the recent fan run-off to determine the last player to be selected by the two leagues. I dare say Dozier is disappointed, because he has been having an All-Star caliber year. Mike Moustakas, the Kansas City third baseman, took his (!) place. And if I turn my thoughts to the way he might be thinking about the way he was selected to the All-Star team I recall Sandra Day O’Connor’s comment after she was elected to the Supreme Court. Asked if she would have been disappointed to discover that she was selected on the grounds that she is a woman, she replied “not nearly as disappointed as I would have been if I hadn’t been selected.” So it goes. It’s all about winning. Or is it?

Talking To A Wall

In light of the recent Senate vote on climate change, I had an imaginary dialogue with Lisa Murkowski, Republican from Alaska, who is the Chair of the Senate Energy Committee — a very important position indeed. The dialogue, such as it was, went something like this:

Me: So, Senator, it appears your colleagues in the Senate have finally arrived at the position scientists have held for many years about the radical changes in our climate that are already impacting on our weather and food production in disturbing ways. Is that so?

L: Yes they have and I was one of the 98% who agreed that climate change is a scientific fact.

Me: I also noted that 59 Senators agreed that humans are somewhat responsible for that fact but that only 50 agreed that humans have had a “significant” impact on global warming. You were one of those who voted “no” on this latter question, were you not?

L: Yes I was.

Me: Why was that?

L: Because I think the jury is still out on weather humans have had a significant impact on climate change. After all, there have always been ebbs and flows, oceans rising and falling, radical changes in weather patterns and temperatures, and even though humans may have contributed somewhat, it is a stretch to say that we have made that much difference.

Me: Really? Even though human populations are exploding all over the earth and industrial gasses are expanding at a very rapid pace in order to feed and clothe those folks? You don’t think that the carbon monoxide that our homes, cars, planes, and factories spew into the atmosphere has a significant effect on the rising temperatures around the globe?

L: No, I do not. Moreover, I resent the implication that because I don’t recycle and I want to keep my house warm and drive a car that can get me down the road quickly I am part of the cause of a global problem, that I should alter my lifestyle in order to please some crazies who seem determined to exaggerate the problem. Besides, any serious attempt to curb global warming, I am told, would require stringent controls on industry which would be bad for business and, as we all know, business is the engine that runs this great country of ours.

Me: Indeed it does. But there are companies harnessing alternative energies and building mass transit systems that could create work for anyone who might be displaced by currently existing industries that might be forced to cut back in order to reduce our carbon footprint — especially if they received a fraction of the $8 billion in subsidies that, as an example, the oil industry receives at present.  But let’s go back to the original question. Let’s suppose, for a moment, that those “crazies” are correct and that you and I, along with the industries that support our present standard of living, are all making an impact that could be reduced if we altered our lifestyles. Shouldn’t we attempt to do something that will reverse the trend?

L: Not in the least. Until you can show me that humans, all humans, are making a huge difference I prefer to continue to live the way I am right now.

Me: OK. So if the “crazies” are exaggerating the problem then you are home safe. But if they are correct in their estimations, by the time you and the others who think like you realize this it may be too late. It seems to me you are taking a huge risk. On the other hand, if you were willing to give them the benefit of the doubt it would doubtless alter our lifestyles somewhat, but it would also pay dividends in the long term by preserving a healthy planet for future generations. We would still maintain one of the world’s highest standards of living. Shouldn’t we err on the side of caution?

L: I don’t see why I should have to make any sacrifices at all on the basis of assumptions and speculation.

Me: Because these “assumptions and speculation” are supported by 98% of the scientific community that has studied the problem in depth. It is not simply an assumption or idle speculation, but a fact based on solid evidence and it behooves us all to take steps — again, if it’s not too late. As a nation we seem to be hellbent on conducting a risky experiment that places a premium on profits and creature comforts in the hope that the serious problems we are facing will simply go away by themselves. It’s virtually certain that humans are playing a significant role in climate change and we are making a terrible mistake to simply ignore that possibility — especially since the price of attacking the problem is so small in the grand scheme of things.

L: Who are you anyway? And why are you in my face?

Me: I am sorry. But just one quick question. I noted that two of your biggest contributors this past election were utilities and oil and gas companies — to the tune of well over $1 million, and that four of your five largest individual contributors were electric utilities and oil companies as well. Doesn’t that skew your thought process somewhat on this issue and, at the very least, shouldn’t you step down as chair of the Energy Committee because of a conflict of interest?

L: I don’t have time for this. I have a committee meeting.