The Optimistic Futurist: When a headache is a good thing
By Francis Koster
Imagine that you had a child with a mild headache that lasted a few days, sometimes with nausea. As a responsible parent, you take the child to the doctor. Imagine the doctor finds a serious invisible disease. Even though you are a good and observant parent, and watch over your family carefully, you would not know of the serious illness until the slight headaches caused the doctor to investigate.
Without the headaches, the underlying disease would advance silently, causing mounting and irreversible harm (childhood leukemia is often first discovered when headaches prompt a visit to the pediatrician). In many ways, your child’s getting a headache would be a blessing — it points you to unrecognized conditions which can cause harm if left untreated. At the same time, we need to recognize that the headache is a symptom — it is not the invisible disease. The presence of the headache is a useful warning, but it is not the real problem.
Over the July 4th weekend, I was standing in my garden with my 6-year-old grandson. Just for fun (well, maybe a bit of education as well) we were measuring the difference between the temperature in the attic, the outside shade, and the bright afternoon sun. He showed me the thermometer for the outside sun – 106 degrees in early July. We retreated into the air conditioned house, and turned on the television — which was broadcasting news of awful flooding in England.
The temperature in my garden and the flooding in England are linked. Our Earth has a rising fever. Storms and extreme weather are symptoms -—the disease is our changing climate.
For all the heated discussion around the issue of climate change (pun intended), several recent reliable polls found that three out of every four adult Americans think climate change is a serious issue that we need to address as a society. They also believe their elected leaders don’t “get it.”
I was struck by the fact that although 75 percent of U.S. adults believe the climate is or will change as a result of man’s activities, far fewer people who self identify as Republicans believe in climate change (47 percent), compared to those who self identify as Democrats (78 percent).
I have thought a lot about why this is, and finally developed a theory: In the 2000 election, when Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore battled for the presidency, a lot of money was spent by both sides trying to cast the other side’s candidate in a bad light. Mr. Gore not only lost the election, he wound up with a lot of Republicans who would not chose to carpool with him.
Six years later, he went out and made a movie called “An Inconvenient Truth” that tried to summarize the work of thousands of scientists who have studied climate change for decades. He won a Nobel prize for this, and an Emmy — but not many Republicans are lining up to ask him to carpool. Many don’t like or trust him or any message he sends.
So I ask myself this question: What if instead of Mr. Gore making that movie, Oprah had done it? This would remove the “guilt by association” impact Mr. Gore had on the issue of climate change, and perhaps more Republicans would be open to looking at the issue. It is as if we are watching our child have a fever but because we don’t like the messenger who spoke up out of concern, we don’t make that visit to the doctor — and the illness gets worse while the family argues.
According to the overwhelming majority of scientists, climate change is caused by a sort of “contact lens magnifying glass” of manmade gas produced by burning oil and coal. The more such fuel we use, the bigger the lens grows, and the worse the problem. The recent heat wave and storms are just an early symptom, these scientists say.
You can take your own steps to fight this bad weather, and what it is telling us about the disease in our future. Chargers for cell phones, digital cameras, power tools and other gadgets draw lots of energy even when they’re not in use. Appliances like instant on televisions, computer monitors and DVD players can also draw power whenever they’re plugged into an outlet — even if they are “off.” This is called “phantom energy use,” and it can account for about 10 percent of an individual home’s electricity use.
In other words, you can do your part to reduce the illness (and protect your child’s future) just by unplugging cell phone chargers when not in use, and unplugging other items that have a box in the wiring between the plug and the piece of electronics. You will reduce your energy use by 10 percent, lower your bills, make a cleaner environment and suffer no pain. What a “win-win”!
Doesn’t that sound like an Oprah show to you?
For those of you who wonder where my factoids come from, you can go to my website, www.TheOptimisticFuturist.org. The footnoted articles appear there.
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Francis P. Koster lives in Kannapolis.
His “Optimistic Futurist” column appears in the Post every other Sunday. Contact him through www.The OptimisticFuturist.org.