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On 400 PPM, Mass Stupidity, and the Suicidal Language of Climate Lemmings

OK, lemmings don’t commit mass suicide.  But they do reproduce chaotically, and periodically consume their way out of sustainable habitats, and into mass migrations that result in most of their population dying.

Sound familiar?  We’re cavalierly headed for our own cliff – 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere sometime in the next couple of months, if not sooner.

The lemming has a brain the size of a pea.  What’s our excuse?

We used to consider 400 ppm to be our Maginot line; the thing we had to avoid at all costs.  But it turns out, 400 is too high.  And we’ve known this for some time.

As the former head of the IPCC, Dr. Rajendra Pauchuri said in 2009,  “What is happening, and what is likely to happen, convinces me that the world must be really ambitious and very determined at moving toward a 350 target …”

One of the nation’s foremost climate scientists, James Hansen, has been saying the same for some time.  And the bulk of empirical evidence supports this position.

Yet the world is blithely blitzing past 400 ppm, on our way to the “politically acceptable” level of 450 ppm. 

Basing our target on what is “politically acceptable” rather than what is scientifically necessary makes about as much sense as trying to jump the Grand Canyon in ten-foot increments.  Even the most conservative of scientists say that setting the carbon dioxide ceiling at 450 ppm only gives us a 50/50 chance of avoiding the most dire results of climate change. 

A 50/50 chance of avoiding an environmental Armageddon?  Oh, yeah, gimmee those odds.  Here’s a question: would you invest all your money in a stock that had a fifty percent chance of tanking?  Of course not.


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But hey, why not risk destroying the climate we evolved in – you know, the one we depend upon to survive -- as long as we can drill, frack, mine, and dig up carbon laden fossil fuels so we and continue to make money.

Yeah, maybe if we have enough money we can purchase a new climate, down at the climate boutique shop … I hear they’re having a special, sometime in the next century.

We’re making lemmings look smart. We’re hurtling off the ledge toward sharp, craggy rocks, and yelling for the remaining few people who exhibit signs of sanity to join us.

The lemming does what it does witlessly.  We do it with knowledge – and malice -- aforethought.

For example, Obama is still backing an “all of the above” energy policy.  And Republicans?  Hell, they’re busy setting up dioramas featuring dinosaurs and humans as contemporaries while they pocket record amounts of campaign funds from the fossil fuel special interests in exchange for trying to discredit science and scientists and otherwise do their best to repeal the Enlightenment.

Perhaps the scariest thing about all this is a sizable majority of Republicans aren’t doing it for the money.  They actually believe this shit.  Here’s a few of the loonier pronouncements coming from their leading … er … luminaries:

Rick Santorum: Wasting energy makes a nation great.
Oh, hell yeah.  Spending more than we have to, to foul the Earth is always a good strategy.

Sarah Palin: “And I believe that it’s [climate change] just God huggin’ us closer.”
Yes, of courseThat must be it.

Mitt Romney in June of 2011: “…And so I think it's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you’re seeing."

Mitt Romney in October of 2011: “My view is that we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us."

OK, you got that?  Humans cause climate change, except when they don’t.  Where’s a good lemming when you need one?

Congressman Joe Barton: “It's [carbon dioxide] in your Coca-Cola, your Dr. Pepper and your Perrier water. It's necessary for human life … It's odorless, colorless, tasteless, doesn't cause cancer, doesn't cause asthma."
Nope.  Just mass extinctions; billions of dead people; and pestilence, famine, and starvation at a cost of trillions …

Congressman James Inhoffe:  “The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”
This was Inhoffe’s response when--after citing Genesis 8:22 as “proof” that humans couldn’t be responsible for climate change -- a Christian radio host pointed out that the passage didn’t really address the issue.  It’s stupid enough to use the bible to refute a scientific point, but geez, at least get the quotes right.

Bobby Jindal:  “We’ve got to stop being the stupid party.”
Sorry, Bobby.  That ship’s sailed.

Yet it’s not as if Democrats are really any different.  Their rhetoric is less stupid, but their actions – or inaction – is all too often indistinguishable.

Nope, lemmings don’t commit mass suicide.  But people apparently do.

John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track, both available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson

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