The Years of Living Dangerously

In 1990, SNL presented “The Global Warming Christmas Special”, an extended sketch that sadly cannot be found online, save for a transcript. It was hosted by Mike Myers as Carl Sagan, with special guest Tom Hanks as Dean Martin, and you’ll have to let your imagination fill in the rest. If it helps to include Phil Hartman as Isaac Asimov, consider it done.

For years afterward, the sketch provided for us a landmark in popular awareness. SNL doesn’t tackle a subject until it’s ripe, and we could confidently say from that moment that global warming was part of The Conversation.

You might even say it was ready for prime time, but global warming had already been in prime time — thirty years earlier.

Back when Ma Bell had our money to burn, AT&T produced an annual series of science specials, initially guided by Frank Capra, and broadcast — in color! — on CBS. 1958’s entry was “The Unchained Goddess”, about the weather.

Near the end, after explaining the wonders of potentially steering hurricanes with oil fires on the ocean, Dr. Research — okay, this is Capra and the Fifties — issues a grim warning to the audience:

“Even now,” he says, “man may be unwittingly changing the world’s climate through the waste products of his civilization. Due to our release through factories and automobiles every year of more six billion tons of carbon dioxide, which helps air absorb heat from the sun, our atmosphere seems to be getting warmer.”

To which his assistant asks: “This is bad?”

Had we written the script, Dr. Research would have responded “No shit, Sherlock,” but we weren’t born yet, and America was spared.

That primetime broadcast wasn’t the end of it. All the science specials were later distributed as 16mm educational films, and we’re reasonably certain we saw it once or twice growing up, whenever a teacher needed an easy smoke break. But the SNL sketch comes to mind more easily, probably because Phil Hartman is funnier.

And it’s not like nothing happened in those intervening thirty years. Pollution was the topic in the Sixties, gas shortages in the Seventies, nuclear power and Chernobyl in the Eighties. By the time global warming returned to attention, we were already three horsemen into the Apocalypse.

The era we were born into and grew up in was the era when humanity came to recognize its collective impact upon the global environment. There was no before, only after.

The costs were what economists call “externalities”, not priced into the resources we consumed, enabling us to grow comfortable with the products while ignoring the consequences. And while that ignorance may have been simply naive at first — Who knew? — we also watched as it hardened into denial. Because understanding has its own cost:

Responsibility.

You cannot acknowledge that human industrial society is dangerously affecting the human habitat without feeling obligated to do something about it. And the higher the cost of action, the more compelling the option of inaction.

Only you can’t say that. You can’t feel that. You can’t grant that we are collectively turning the Earth into an Easy-Bake Oven, but what the hell, humanity had a good ride. Instead, you must actively disregard and dismiss all evidence within sight, including the evidence of your own eyes. There can be no problem, because the solution is unbearable.

But nature votes last, of course. A couple years after the SNL sketch, we read an article about global warming in the New Yorker, perhaps a book excerpt by Jonathan Schell, describing a “tipping point”, like a canoe tipping over, when the atmosphere would get so warm that it flips into a new steady state, unable to return to pre-industrial levels for centuries, as the gunk is slowly flushed out of the system.

Unless immediate, significant action was taken, then, in 1992, the inexorable rise to that tipping point would be reached, and no action thereafter sufficient to stop it.

We remembered that article, and recall it now, for only one reason:

The projected tipping point was 2012.

24 comments:

11:48 pm • Saturday • June 3, 2017

Thank you for reminding me for the 8 millionth time that I don’t regret going child-free. Best fucking decision I made for the planet; I could fly to China or France every month for the rest of my life and sow less destruction on the planet.

Not to mention, not deal with the angst of worrying about WTF will be happening 50 years after I die.

Every time I’m on the phone with my crazy liberal mother, she thanks me for not breeding. It’s refreshing.

12:15 am • Sunday • June 4, 2017

@SanFranLefty: I keep thinking my lifetime hit the sweet spot of humanity, and I keep hoping I’m wrong.

1:29 pm • Tuesday • June 6, 2017

In much needed good news today, special counsel Robert Mueller is assembling a Justice League team of prosecutors with experience investigating corporate fraudsters and mobsters to go after the D and F List hucksters and con artists in the Twitler regime.

All the twits in the world won’t be able to make this go away, so at least the lives of despicable lying psychopaths like Kobra Anne Conjob and crew will be a living hell for the forseeable future.

9:45 pm • Wednesday • June 7, 2017

WHAT. THE FUCK. IS GOING. ON?

9:48 pm • Wednesday • June 7, 2017

@JNOV: Well, the last thing I remember is that Trump was inaugurated January 20.

10:07 pm • Wednesday • June 7, 2017

@nojo: I’ve been living on ice cream since November 9th.

10:09 pm • Wednesday • June 7, 2017

Will someone please hammer a stake through Jefferey Lord’s heart?

Naw. I’ve been hearing R spingmeisters shaking their heads all day. They know, and it’s a wonderful thing.

WHERE’S BENEDICK?

10:11 pm • Wednesday • June 7, 2017

@JNOV: CNN feeds on your hate. For them, the only thing worse than Jeffrey Lord being talked about is Jeffrey Lord not being talked about.

10:11 pm • Wednesday • June 7, 2017

I’m too drunk to buy weed. And THAT is the downside of (state) legalized mara-jou-wah-nah.

10:11 pm • Wednesday • June 7, 2017

@nojo: Well done. That’ might be my favorite skit.

10:12 pm • Wednesday • June 7, 2017

Oh. I assume it’s a real Oscar Wilde quote.

#MontyPythonTaughtMeHistory

11:02 pm • Wednesday • June 7, 2017

@JNOV: It’s real or attributed — i.e., familiar — otherwise there’s no premise for Python to develop.

They did in the show, but I first encountered it on an album, and the overdone raucous laughter was exquisite. I still like to say “Very witty, Wilde”, but the reference is lost on most ears.

9:59 am • Thursday • June 8, 2017

@JNOV: IOW, no one delivers.

@nojo: Shaw said that. C’mon Shawrie! Shawrie!

11:23 am • Thursday • June 8, 2017

@JNOV: Oh, pfffffffft!

12:00 pm • Thursday • June 8, 2017

Has dumFux Nooz labeled Comey a Democrat yet?

12:51 pm • Thursday • June 8, 2017

@¡Andrew!: Not watching, but apparently Walnuts! just outed himself as an alien from another dimension.

5:30 pm • Thursday • June 8, 2017

Just saw a photo on RawStory of Twitler’s lawyer (snort!) Marc Kasowitz. Shee-yit, looks like he and Bannon went on a wild bender from hell last night. Even Boehner would be impressed, and that man is married to a bottle of Scotch. People should be offering him detox and rehab referrals.

7:07 pm • Thursday • June 8, 2017

@¡Andrew!: Manhattan Real Estate is really looking like a polite way of saying Mob.

8:06 pm • Thursday • June 8, 2017

@nojo: beg your pardon?

And even if we’re not past the tipping point – and I believe we are – we’re ruled by people who are too stupid to understand who are supported by people whose interests are served by those who do not understand.

8:30 pm • Thursday • June 8, 2017

@blogenfreude: Trump’s personal lawyer is a thug, is what I’m saying.

And I forget what constituted a Tipping Point in that old article: Temperature? CO2 level? Some complex combo? Plus, its twenty-year projection may have been later refined with more data and understanding.

But whether we’re Five Years Beyond now or not, it’s not like we’re doing everything imaginable to address the problem. And by the time we’re really in Deep Shit, it’ll be far too late.

4:21 pm • Friday • June 9, 2017

The results of the Bri-tish election are another glimmer of hope.

May is toast regardless for throwing away the Cons majority. “Crockery is being thrown at high velocity” has to be the best quote ever to describe this disastrous outcome for them (ha ha). Hung parliaments are notoriously unstable, and it’s likely the Brits will be back at the polls within a year.

Labour should kiss the sky if Boris Johnson becomes PM. He’s the Bri-tish Trump and puts the “ass” in asshole. Voters will be so horrified that the Cons will be ejected at the ballot box with lightning speed.

5:02 pm • Friday • June 9, 2017

@¡Andrew!: Bearing in mind that the Tories still won a substantial plurality of seats, if not a majority. Labour’s gains are real, but not predominating.

Granted, the UK Left is a tad splintered, as is customary. But from what I understand, Labour is not yet in a position to form a governing coalition.

More interesting (to me) is the demographic breakdown: Tory voters are dying off, just like here. But what turned this election was turnout: The kids actually voted.

7:15 pm • Friday • June 9, 2017

@nojo: That’s my hope as well, that the horror and revulsion over the Twitler regime has shocked enough people out of their complacency that they’ll bust ass to the ballot box and end the RepubliKKKans’ reign of terror. We’ll see how things land in Georgia (June 20th?).

8:28 pm • Friday • June 9, 2017

@¡Andrew!: Really, if this isn’t enough to get folks off their arses, we’re doomed and we deserve it.

Suppression victims excepted, as always.

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