Years ago, when General Motors had begun the slide from which it has only recently recovered, I was in Detroit as part of my research into urban highways, waiting to interview a GM executive. On the bulletin board in the waiting room was posted: “The only one who likes change is a wet baby.” To GM’s great cost, that was only too symptomatic of the corporation’s response to Japanese competition. GM wanted only to go on building big gas guzzlers.
Well, a lot of other people don’t like change even as others crave it. The Arab Spring has thrown panic into the likes not only of Bashar al-Assad, the late Moammar Qaddafi, the mullahs of Iran, and the sheikhs of Saudi Arabia, but it has also shaken the rulers of Russia and China. Last week’s veto by those two superpowers of a Security Council resolution to support an Arab League plan promoting peaceful change in Syria underscored their anxiety about the threat of democracy. Russia’s Vladimir Putin faces his own challenge to power and mobilizes demonstrations that support him even as he evidently doesn’t feel secure enough to crush the bigger ones against him. The Chinese ever since Tienanmen Square have been quick to quash signs of democratic opposition. All of these blame popular unrest on foreign influences from the U.S. and Europe — which has some truth insofar as the West is home to democracy, though it ignores the deep dissatisfactions among their own citizens.
But it’s a two-way street. Here in the U.S. we read of Americans who see all efforts to limit damage to the environment as part of a United Nations plot. As Saturday’s New York Times reported, Tea Party supporters have been mobilizing against the non-binding but sweeping Agenda 21 adopted by the UN in 1992 “to encourage nations to use fewer resources and conserve open land by steering development to already dense areas.” At a time that technology has been advancing at a breakneck pace, and science can tell us far more about the universe we inhabit than ever before, a willfully ignorant, xenophobic spirit has gripped a surprisingly large segment of the American populace. Like General Motors those years ago, many Americans don’t want to face the reality that our growing world population is dangerously depleting the resources of the Earth we live on, affecting the air and the oceans, changing our climate and eating up open land.
How then can there be any surprise that forward-looking movements in the Middle East and elsewhere are set back by Islamic fundamentalism or the forces still loyal to repressive regimes? Chauvinism and paranoia come to the fore in reaction to change everywhere, and the United States is sadly not immune. The Republican presidential campaign has been pandering to the worst of the reaction. One can only hope that the majority of the population will prove saner.
Outside the Window
On the matter of climate, the abnormalities of 2011 with its tornadoes, tsunamis, floods and other disasters look to be continuing into 2012. Horrendous winter storms and deep freeze have hit from Alaska and down through eastern Europe as far south as Rumania and Italy. We, on the other hand, have to date had but one snowfall that rapidly melted, and temperatures have consistently been well above average. We’ve had several days of light rain, much of it hardly even calling for an umbrella.
Most of us probably aren’t complaining. The kids aren’t getting opportunity to test out their sleds, if they even have them. The one snow we had was too powdery for snowballs or the making of snowmen. Then again, the kids are mostly too young to remember what snow could be like. For the skiers among us it has been disappointing, and not for the first time. The rest of us don’t miss making our way through slippery paths or contending with the slush that follows snow.
Still, there’s the sense — and more than the sense — that it shouldn’t be this way. And we know why that is, even if the climate change deniers pretend otherwise. Cold and snow may yet hit us this winter, though it’s starting to seem unlikely, but what we really have to worry about is: when, and how high, will that water rise in the harbor?
— Henrik Krogius, Editor
Brooklyn Heights Press & Cobble Hill News