Eugene Linden
home   |   contact info   |   biography   |   publications   |   radio/tv   |   musings   |   short takes   

Lastest Musing
Tiny Country That Tells a Big Story

This oped

continue

Featured Book

The Ragged Edge of the World
Buy from Amazon

more info

Articles by Category
endangered animals
rapid climate change
global deforestation
fragging

Books

Winds of Change
Buy from Amazon

more info
Afterword to the softbound edition.


The Octopus and the Orangutan
more info


The Future In Plain Sight
more info


The Parrot's Lament
more info


Silent Partners
more info


Affluence and Discontent
more info


The Alms Race
more info


Apes, Men, & Language
more info

A climate change of heart


Wednesday March 29, 2006

Even Bush's business allies have seen the light on global warming. But he's dug in. A BELEAGUERED president stubbornly insists on staying the course even as his staunchest allies abandon him. I'm not talking about Iraq, but global warming. Here's a case where virtually everybody is acknowledging a weapon of mass destruction the threat of climate chaos but still President Bush refuses to take action. When the evangelical community, Bush's stalwart base, called for climate action last month, the news grabbed headlines. But the more important Bush defectors on this issue are some of the world's largest corporations, including British Petroleum, General Electric, DuPont and Cinergy. So, the question arises: Why does Bush persist in his increasingly lonely stance? The answer may lie in the difference between realpolitik and ideology. Many corporations initially opposed climate action as a practical matter, because of its perceived costs. The Bush administration's opposition seems to derive from its ideological hostility to international treaties and the United Nations on the one hand and environmentalists on the other. One story from 2002 illustrates the different approaches. A former staffer from an anti-climate-action lobbying group, the Global Climate Coalition, had dinner with oil and chemical company bigwigs at the Palm Too restaurant in New York not long after the U.S. negotiating team walked out of the talks on the Kyoto treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. "You'd think that this group would have been jumping for joy," he told me, "but instead, they were sputtering mad because they felt that the move could not have been done in a more politically incompetent way." The last thing these savvy businessmen wanted was a grand gesture that would galvanize the the world against the U.S. Instead, business groups had hoped for the U.S. to stay inside the negotiations, where they could quietly kill action by a thousand cuts. That approach had already proved successful. For 17 years, industry-sponsored lobbying groups forestalled action on climate change even as scientific alarm mounted. One prong of the attack was to infiltrate treaty negotiations. The lobbyists not only influenced policy, in some cases they wrote it. In one incident in the 1990s, Don Pearlman, an attorney who represented the Climate Council (another vociferous anti-climate-action group), was escorted from the floor of a Kyoto negotiating session after he was spotted writing positions for the Saudi Arabian delegation. When they were not writing policy for emerging nations, industry groups were insisting that there was no scientific consensus that climate change was an urgent threat. It was a brilliant tactic. The naysayers didn't have to disprove global warming; they just had to create the impression that it was still subject to debate. This left the public feeling that there was no need to get excited until the scientists sorted things out. Two things happened to change corporate attitudes. The destructive power of extreme weather events has become impossible to ignore (for instance, Hurricane Katrina and the 2003 heat wave in Europe that killed nearly 35,000 people). Even to the casual observer, the climate system seems to be popping rivets. And multinational corporations couldn't afford to be too out of step with their customers and stakeholders, particularly in the many countries where global warming is viewed as a clear and present danger. Businesses began defecting from the Global Climate Coalition, which closed up shop in 2002 (noting that the Bush administration had adopted its agenda). And some companies changed positions to attempt green branding or because of the threat of sanctions. In other cases, however, change came about simply because there was a new boss. That seems to have been the case with General Electric, the ninth-largest corporation in the world. Chief Executive Jack Welch was vocal in his opposition to taking action on climate change, and according to those close to the situation, in 1997 he forced the head of Employers Re, a GE insurance subsidiary, to abandon a plan to join a public/private environmental and climate initiative put together by the U.N. Environment Program. Now, however, under Jeffrey Immelt, GE trumpets the very type of initiatives that Welch squashed. The changed corporate landscape gives hope until we remember that the climate seems to be changing the landscape that we live on even more rapidly. With carbon dioxide levels already higher than they've been since homo sapiens emerged as a species, we are conducting a science lab experiment on a planetary scale. India, China and other big greenhouse gas emitters will not do their part unless the United States, the biggest emitter, joins the effort. And that won't happen without presidential leadership. So, President Bush, if the scientific, evangelical and business communities can't sway you, what will it take to persuade you to help halt our lunatic meddling with Earth's atmosphere?

contact Eugene Linden

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.



read more
  designed and maintained by g r a v i t y s w i t c h , i n c .
Eugene Linden. all rights reserved.