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THE OZONE CHRONICLES; HISTORY REPEATING AS TRAGEDY

Joe Farnam, the dogged, data-driven discoverer of the ozone hole, died in 2013, three years before publication of findings showing that the ozone layer, which protects life on earth from UV radiation, has finally started to recover. This nascent recovery comes 42 years after atmospheric chemists fir...

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INSIDE THE MIND OF A CLIMATE CHANGE DENIER


Sunday February 21, 2010

-EUGENE LINDEN
 
 
THE SCENE: THE WASHINGTON MALL ON A SNOWY FEBRUARY DAY.
BOB AND JOE ARE STANDING IN FRONT OF AN IGLOO CONSTRUCTED BY THE GRANDCHILDREN OF SENATOR JIM INHOFE (R-OK).  IN FRONT OF THE IGLOO IS A SIGN THAT READS: “AL GORE’S NEW HOME.”
 
            Bob looks at the sign and laughs,  “Look at that Joe, guess we won’t be hearing any more about that global warming nonsense.”
            “I totally agree. Thank God my main man Inhofe had the guts to stand up to the girly-man liberals and expose global warming for the hoax that it is. [They exchange high fives and fist bumps]. If it weren’t for Inhofe, courageous selfless companies like Exxon, and the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page just imagine where we might be – ‘like your electric car, Bob?’ No thanks, I’ll stick with my good old American oil.”
            “Hmm, don’t we import most of our oil?”
            “Whatever. The main thing is: this country was built on oil and it will die on oil!”
            “ Word bro!” The two men start trudging through the snow.  Bob changes the subject. “So Joe, you watchin’ the downhill in the Olympics this weekend?”
            “Didn’t you hear? It’s been delayed. It’s warm up in Vancouver and they don’t have any snow.”
            “Jeesh, how stupid – you’d think they pick some place cold for the Winter Olympics – someplace like Canada.”
            “Uh Bob, Vancouver is in Canada.”
            Bob stops. “So it’s unusually warm up there?”
            “I dunno – something about El Nino.”
            “Don’t El Nino’s happen all the time?”
            “Yeah, why?”
            “Because why would they pick a place for the Winter Olympics if they know that every few years it’s going to get warm and they won’t have snow?”
            Joe is getting exasperated. “Maybe, Bob, because this year it’s warmer than it has been before.”
            “You don’t have to be sarcastic. That’s all I was asking.”
The two continue trudging down the mall.  Bob is still confused about the Canada information. “So Joe, if it’s warmer in Canada…”
“It’s not warmer in Canada!”
“But you just said…”
“What just because it’s warmer in Vancouver, you think it’s warmer in all of Canada?” Joe looks at Bob as though he’d never encountered anyone so dense.
“But didn’t I read something about sea ice melting, the Northwest Passage opening for the first time, permafrost melting…”
“Bob, haven’t you been listening to Rush and Glenn Beck? The scientists made up the data. Look around you [Joe points to the mountains of snow]! Like the Virginia GOP said, ’12 inches of global warming.”
“But you just said that warming in Vancouver doesn’t have anything to do with global warming.”
“Yes…”
“So ,why does snow in Washington have to do with global warming?
“Exactly!” says Joe triumphantly, “It refutes global warming! ”
“So the world’s not getting warmer?”
“Nobody’s proved anything -- the scientists made up the data.”
“That’s just awful – do we have proof.”
“Yup, those leaked emails from England, and then I read in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal that some of the claims about global warming in this big fancy IPCC report were based on non-peer reviewed articles.”
“What’s a peer reviewed article.”
“Supposedly it’s one where the scientists’ methods and data are reviewed by other scientists with the credentials to judge the paper.”
“I get it. So they used a non-peer reviewed article because the peer reviewed articles don’t support global warming, right?”
Joe again looks exasperated. “Well no, but that’s the problem. The scientists are all conspiring to suppress the truth that global warming is a hoax. So they get together to prevent the scientists who see the truth from getting published. That’s why these heroes have to get their money from the coal industry.”
“Wow! That’s a big conspiracy. But I suppose now that it’s all out in the open, these phonies will be discredited and the real scientists will get the word out that the world isn’t warming.”
Joe gives Bob a world weary look. “Don’t hold your breath, Bob,  they’re saying that nothing in the emails changes any meaningful thing in the global warming story. These scientists are ruthless…”
“I thought global warming supporters were girly men?”
“… ruthless girly men, Bob. Those emails have some really nasty accusations in them, ridiculing our scientists and accusing them of intellectual dishonesty. Why can’t they just argue the facts?”
“What was in it for those scientists, Joe?”
Joe again gives Bob a condescending look, “What else, money, power, fame, glamour ,girls , or, er, boys. ”
Bob again looks puzzled, “Even during the Bush administration?…Anyway, wanting money doesn’t explain the conspiracy part – you know suppressing the truth.”
Joe looks pleased. “So there is a brain in there [he knocks on Bob’s head]. You’re right. Think about it Bob. This supposed global warming would be happening all over the world, and if something’s a so-called threat to the world, then how do you fix it?”
“I’m guessing you’re going to tell me.”
“World government, my friend. Global warming is just a pretext so that liberals and George Soros can establish a world government. First they’ll take away our guns, then they’ll come back for everything else.”
Bob looks stunned as everything falls into place. “Thanks Joe – that’s one scary bunch of girly men. Well thank god they’ve been stopped! Come to think of it, we’re in a pretty good place. The conspiracy has been exposed, and we don’t have to worry about the world getting warmer.”
Joe gives Bob a sober look. “The conspiracy’s not dead Bob, we can’t let down our guard. Oh, and the world is getting warmer.”
Bob buries his face in his hands, “What do you mean, you just said the scientists made up the data!”
Joe reverts to condescension, “C’mon Bob, I said the data don’t prove anything. That’s different. Look around you spring comes earlier, lakes aren’t freezing, duck season is changing. It’s obvious the world is warming.”
“You mean the scientists are right?”
“Of course not. The warming is natural – probably because the sun is brighter.”
“Wouldn’t they think of that?”
“You’d think, wouldn’t you?
“So CO2 has nothing to do with it?”
“That’s right, CO2 doesn’t cause warming, it rises after warming. Anyway the warming’s all good.”
             “Why is that?”
            “Because it’s natural, dummy! Plants live off CO2, right? Remember the ad: ‘They call it pollution, we call it life!’ If I were a farmer I’d buy land right in the wind shadow of a coal-fired power plant.”
“Bob looks troubled, “But if it’s natural we can’t do anything about it. If we caused it, at least we would know why it was happening and how to stop it.”
Joe narrows his eyes and looks at Bob. “You going all liberal on me Bob?”
“Of course not! But how do you know it’s all good?”
“Trust me, Bob, and remember: Exxon’s got your back.”
 

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Short Take

[Mild spoiler alert: the book is a fictionalized exploration of a girl who falls under the spell of a Manson-like cult. We all know how that story unfolded. In this Short Take I’ll be offering my reactions to the protagonist, Evie Boyd.]

 

The Girls offers as bleak a view of the amorality of American youth as I have ever encountered. In a review of my first book, I was called “Intolerably apocalyptic,” but I can’t hold a candle to Ms. Cline. The book is a novelistic attempt to try and understand how some of the privileged young women of the late 1960s could commit unspeakable acts while under the sway of a Manson-like psychopath. 

 Thus we meet Evie Boyd, a fourteen year-old growing up amid relative affluence in Petaluma California. She’s directionless, with no apparent passions, self-conscious about her looks, emotionally needy, alienated from her parents (who get divorced), but possessed of a tough inner core and a rebellious streak. She’s enthralled when she encounters Suzanne, a wild, charismatic 19 year-old who seems to be a composite of Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houton, and Evie is honored when Suzanne pays her some attention. Events bring her to the cult’s squalid ranch, and for some weeks, Evie maintains a dual life, throwing herself into the life of the cult, while returning home enough not to galvanize her mother, who is pre-occupied with a rebound relationship with Frank, an entrepreneur who comes across as a hustler with a heart of gold.

Evie is so smitten by Suzanne that she doesn’t notice as the cult spirals down from talk of love and freedom to episodes of paranoia, back-biting and revenge. Along the way, Evie has her first sexual adventures, and enters sufficiently into the spirit of the cult that she brings them to the house of the family next door (which they descrate), even though she has known the family all her life and has no score to settle. Later, Evie talks her way into joining Suzanne as she and others set off to inflict mayhem on a Dennis Wilson-like figure, but Suzanne kicks her out of the car before they begin a horrific rampage.

Did Suzanne do this to protect Evie from what she knew was about to happen, or because she felt that Evie wasn’t a murderer and would become a liability? That’s left unanswered, but the bloodbath that Evie missed is so depraved – including the slashing apart of a toddler – that no human with a soul could find that earlier gesture redemptive … except for our Evie, who still feels the tug of Suzanne’s power, even after she learns every gory detail of Suzanne’s actions.

It’s several months between the time of the murders and when the cult is finally caught. During this time, Evie keeps her mouth shut about what happens and meekly allows herself to be shipped off to boarding school to resume her comfortable existence, though as a wreck, not a spirited teenager.

That’s when I decided Evie was a worthless human being. Sure, she was terrified that the cult would come after her, and there’s some honor on not squealing, but Evie had to know that the cult would likely kill again, and that made her an enabler of whatever they did subsequently.

The book interweaves the present and the past and so we learn how these events haunted Evie’s life. But there’s no redemptive moment, no act where she summons the courage to do the right thing, or rises above her own self-absorption. Even in the present, when the psychopath-in-the-making son of a friend and his underage, impressionable girlfriend crash at her digs, she can only summon a half-hearted (and failed) attempt to save the girl from following the path that so grievously sidetracked her own life.

All the men in the book are either pathetic or pigs of various shapes and forms – except for a premed student named Tom, who sees the cult for what it is, but who Evie rejects as a dork. Towards the end of the book, Evie ticks off a long list of subsequent experiences with awful men that could summon in her the hatred to commit horrendous crimes, seeming to imply that with the right mix of events, she too might have become a Suzanne, and, by implication, so could enormous numbers of other young women.

My first reaction was to call “Bullshit!” Were all young women potential Suzannes, we would have seen endless repeats of the Manson horrors in the nearly 50 years since the events. Instead, those murders still stand as a touchstone of horror because nothing since has eclipsed their mindless violence.

The Manson cult was at the far far end of the normal curve during truly abnormal times. In just the two years leading up to the murders, we had the huge escalation of a senseless war, the explosion of the anti-war movement and counter-culture, a breakdown of generational trust, my generation’s first experiences with powerful, mind-altering drugs, and a sexual revolution. In a country of more than 200 million people, that roiling stew of disruptive forces bubbled to the surface about 20 broken souls, deranged by drugs and in the thrall of a false prophet.

On reflection, however, maybe Ms. Clein was making a different point. All we have to think of are the teenage executioners of Pol Pot’s Cambodia or the child soldiers of Africa to recognize that the capacity for evil lies latent in the young. And, while in fiction we want our protagonists to find redemption or transcend their flaws perhaps Evie’s failure to rise to the occasion was making the point that a civilization that keeps our murderous impulses in check is not innate, but something external that has to be actively inculcated and supported. That’s something to keep in mind amid the current insanity of gun violence, and as more dark clouds gather on the horizon.



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