Chicken Little

     I was thinking of Chicken Little the other day.
     What if he was right. In a long term kind of way.
     We reported on the Courthouse News webpage last week on congressional hearings on the condition of the planet. After talking with the scientists who testified, our correspondent said their conclusions were “discouraging.”
     The scientists said the overall temperature of the world will not return to its current level in the foreseeable future of mankind. Perhaps in geologic terms of time, they said, as in eras.
     Slowly, in other words, very slowly, the world is frying. The U.S. is in a zone that will be particularly affected by the increasing heat, they said. In another congressional hearing a week ago, witnesseses testified that the oceans have turned and will continue to turn more acidic, as result of man’s carbon pollutant. Sea life will slowly die off in a process that does not appear reversible.
     The consensus is wide among the scientists and, as they told our correspondent Nick Wilson, the data’s predictions are in the 90th percentile of certainty. No wonder he was discouraged.
     Those predictions instantly brought to mind the movie “Blade Runner” and its depiction of the future earth – modeled after downtown Los Angeles as much of it currently is at night — as a desolate and harsh place, populated by a few wretched souls. In the movie, those with means live far above the earth or “off world.”
     The fatalism that comes with understanding that world warming can be ameliorated but not stopped is not limited to the climate and the seas. It attaches to just about every attempt at reform underway in Obama’s administration.
     As a central example, we keep reporting at Courthouse News on health care testimony in Congress where witnesses talk about the depth and gravity of the problem. But they don’t talk about a solution. The only one that would seem to make a difference, a “single-payer system” where the government is the payer instead of the insurance companies, is already off the table.
     In international terms, I don’t see Israel backing off its settlements despite pressure from Obama. And thus the Muslim world will continue to burn with a sense of injustice, and thus we will not alter the tectonic political plates of the Middle East as they inch towards a rumble.
     On reform of the financial system, the package proposed last week failed to restore my trust, particularly in the area of executive pay and incentives that should again drive the market to froth.
     An old friend from college who is living in India asked me by email last week what I thought of the financial system now.
     I told her it seemed to me, having twice been burned, like a system for suckers, and the government’s inability to change the basic organization and incentives meant that it will remain a fool’s game for the foreseeable future. With an investment in land, at least you had some idea of what you were doing and the fee is set.
     But any investment, any health care system, any environmental measure depends a great part on the nation’s prosperity, on the one hand to preserve value and on the other hand to pay for parks and doctors, roads and cops. And it is there that the flow of news and data push me towards – I suppose the best word for it is a hunch — a hunch that just as the global heating will not turn around in the foreseeable future, nor is our nation’s economy going to return to the growth rates of the last half-century in the foreseeable future.
     Punctuating a week of discouraging news, I received an email report from the European Union’s statistical agency.
     The email’s one-paragraph summary simply reported the overall number of prisoners in the European Union. But I was sure that lurking within the full attached report was a comparison to the United States.
     That the comparison was indeed there was not a surprise but the difference in the rates of imprisonment came as a shock. Compared to the Nordic countries, with which we have a great many political and cultural similarities, we imprison ten times more people per 100,000 than they do, 750 to 71.
     Ten times.
     My reaction to that comparison — based on its economic and social cost — was apocalyptic. It was “Blade Runner” all over again. I forwarded the report to a friend in Denmark and a couple friends here in the U.S. who have lived in Europe. “We are doomed,” I wrote, “doomed as a civilization. We will live in the streets, huddled around bonfires, and scavenge for food like wild dogs.”

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