Smoke gets in your eyes


Alden Graves

Ninety-seven percent of the world’s climate scientists believe that global warming is caused by human activity. Ninety-seven percent. Even the Koch brothers’ operatives don’t have the gall to call that "a slim majority," although they have no compunction about saying that the experts are all wrong.

Climate scientists are qualified by years of education and research to offer informed judgments concerning an issue that is vital to the planet’s long-term viability. The scientists’ findings -- Al Gore aptly called them "inconvenient truths" -- should perhaps be taken as being a bit less self-absorbed that that of a coal baron in Kentucky, whose primary motive for jeopardizing the health and well-being of future generations is the shrinking profit margin in his own little world if the rest of world opts for fuels less damaging to the environment.

Climate change doesn’t, even to the layman, seem like rocket science. Instead of asking why deniers scoff at the phenomenon, a more appropriate question might be, "How could pouring tons and tons of lethal pollutants into the atmosphere every hour of the day not have a significant impact on the quality of life on the planet?"

It isn’t all that different from the way that a smoker does significant and frequently fatal damage to himself by drawing the toxins in tobacco into his lungs. When we listen to the huffy denunciations of climate change, we should take into consideration all those decades of being barraged with images of bright shiny people standing in front of snow-capped mountain peaks assuring us that smoking was an integral part of a genuinely happy life. The Marlboro Man was as familiar as John Wayne.

Smoking was romantic, too. Who can forget Paul Henried lighting two cigarettes at the same time and handing one to Bette Davis at the end of "Now, Voyager"? While Max Steiner’s music swelled up in the background, Davis, after taking a drag, talked about not asking for the moon because "we have the stars." Davis may have had the stars for a time, but the cigarettes finally put an end to her life. The actress died of breast cancer in 1989.

John Wayne, also a smoker all his life, died of cancer in 1972. I am happy to report that the first authentic cowboy to play the Marlboro Man, "Turk" Robinson, is still alive and well. He never smoked.

The massive roadblock thrown in the path of medical science to educate the public on the dangers of tobacco smoking seems eerily similar to today’s concerted denigration of climate scientists. The fundamental origin of the opposition is exactly the same -- an effort to protect the enormous profits of certain chronically (and likely criminally) irresponsible industries to the detriment of every single person on the planet. The primary difference, however, between the two issues is a very scary one. The tobacco industry finally admitted -- with both arms twisted behind its back and the government stepping on its neck -- that smoking caused serious health risks, a fact that it had known and lied about for years. But, the climate deniers remain unmoved by the traumatic changes in global weather patterns and the severity and frequency of massive storms.

I am perfectly willing to admit that people who believe that climate change is a fact might just possibly be wrong. What are the people who adamantly deny it going to do if nothing is done and they are proven wrong? Say they are sorry? There will come a point when the damage done to the atmosphere is irreversible. The consequences are going to be far more devastating than what can be grudgingly acknowledged by slapping a warning on a dangerous product and hoping enough individuals are still going to get hooked on it.

The public, by now, should be used to the tailor-made conclusions of our conglomeration of so-called think tanks. It is worth bearing in mind that the people who arrive at these very impressive sounding findings get paid to do it. They get paid to fashion a layer of credibility on a certain agenda, often by providing a barrage of statistics and graphs and mind-numbing data to advance what is primarily a political philosophy. I’m sure the tobacco industry was well served by any number of these entities until the truth was too obvious to be coated with a sneer and a coat of glossy shellac.

Politicians have a responsibility to heed people who know what they are talking about even if it runs counter to their ... shall we call them best interests. Instead, we have the likes of Brandon Smith, the owner of a mining company in Kentucky and a Republican state senator. Mr. Smith claims that man-made climate change is obviously a hoax because the climate has remained the same on Mars where there are no coal mines. He can back up his statement with "data and constituents and stuff." Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal once said that Republicans have got to stop being the "stupid party." I guess we will just have to hope and pray that the transformation comes in time.

Alden Graves is a Banner columnist.


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