The Physics of Copenhagen,Why Politics-as-usual May Mean the End of Civilization

 We need people taking strong positions to move issues forward, which is why I’m always ready to carry a placard or sign a petition, but most of us also realize that, sooner or later, we have to come to some sort of compromise.

That’s why standard political operating procedure is to move slowly, taking matters in small bites instead of big gulps. That’s why, from the very beginning, we seemed unlikely to take what I thought was the correct course for our health-care system: a single-payer model like the rest of the world. It was too much change for the country to digest. That’s undoubtedly part of the reason why almost nobody who ran for president supported it, and those who did went nowhere.

Instead, we’re fighting hard over a much less exalted set of reforms that represent a substantial shift, but not a tectonic one. You could — and I do — despise the insurance industry and Big Pharma for blocking progress, but they’re part of the game. Doubtless we should change the rules, so they represent a far less dominant part of it. But if that happens, it, too, will undoubtedly occur piece by piece, not all at once…

…When it comes to global warming, however, this is precisely why we’re headed off a cliff, why the Copenhagen talks that open this week, almost no matter what happens, will be a disaster. Because climate change is not like any other issue we’ve ever dealt with. Because the adversary here is not Republicans, or socialists, or deficits, or taxes, or misogyny, or racism, or any of the problems we normally face — adversaries that can change over time, or be worn down, or disproved, or cast off. The adversary here is physics…

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Originally published December 6, 2009 on Tomgram and Huffington Post

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