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Saving the Earth for Our Grandchildren

Steve Hochstadt: Until recently, nobody knew that the unprecedented wealth of American society carried extreme dangers for our own future. Our modern lifestyles of consumption are slowly killing the planet.

I’ll be 62 this month. Even if I live another 30 years, I won’t have to suffer much from the effects of global warming.


Some more uncomfortably hot days, a few more storms, perhaps more expenses for air conditioning. I’ll be gone before it gets too hot.

My children are in their late 20s. By the time they are ready to retire, they’ll be facing a different world for their “golden” years. Dangerously hot summers will be common across the southern U.S. Coastal cities in Louisiana and Florida will be flooded. Thousands of animal and plant species will be extinct, with huge dead zones in the oceans. Unless we act now, these disasters will then accelerate during the lives of my grandchildren.

Science can deliver uncomfortable truths. When Rachel Carson announced in Silent Spring in 1962 that DDT was killing wildlife, agriculture had to abandon one of its basic tools. She was relentlessly attacked by politicians and the chemical industry. It took years to overcome resistance to her truths. When Dr. Herbert Needleman discovered in the late 1970s that lead was harming children’s brains, politicians and industrialists selling leaded paint and gasoline fought to discredit him.

This crisis is much worse. Until recently, nobody knew that the unprecedented wealth of American society carried extreme dangers for our own future. Our modern lifestyles of consumption are slowly killing the planet. The truth of global warming and its long-term effects is scarier than vampires, aliens and Bret Favre’s retirement put together.

According to the latest issue of National Wildlife, “70 percent of all known plant species, 37 percent of all known freshwater fish species, 30 percent of all amphibians, 28 percent of all reptiles, 22 percent of all mammals, and 12 percent of all birds now face threats to their survival.”

Once again politicians, big industry and the professional deniers in the media say “Do nothing.” They rely on tortured logic, personal attacks and outright lies to argue that the world’s scientists are wrong. The so-called Climategate scandal is an example of their tactics. Some stolen e-mails were massaged by climate change deniers to “prove” that scientists were lying. Further investigation shows that these e-mails were embarrassing about the researchers’ tactics, but say nothing against the scientific facts of global warming.

A July 28 editorial laid out that uncomfortable truth, but you don’t see the deniers on TV or in local columns taking back their trumped-up charges.

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The deniers have no credibility. They represent the same forces who have tried to prevent every attempt to protect our environment, which means to protect our health. They are afraid of the truth.

Do we as a society really care about anything but our own lives? Are we capable of seeing further into the future than tomorrow?

Global warming is not a party issue. Democrats and Republicans may not agree on the right means to reverse our production of greenhouse gases. But they must agree that it needs to be begun right away.

Hunters and farmers, bird watchers and truckers, rural and urban Americans will all suffer unless we act. Giant corporations will do nothing to change their methods unless they are forced to. Only government can stop global warming. Not just our government, either, but the world’s governments acting together. No amount of ideological posturing or flag-waving will help.

I’m sick of politicians who think only about their reelection, their campaign contributors and their pictures on TV, who put ideology above country. I don’t expect them to come up with brilliant solutions. I just want them to take seriously the job we elected them to do — to think of the future, to gather the best information, to do what’s best for all Americans, those alive today and those not yet born.

Steve Hockstadt

I want them to stop fiddling, while we burn up in this heat.

Steve Hockstadt

Mr. Hochstadt is professor of history at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, and author of Sources of the Holocaust (Palgrave, 2004) and Shanghai-Geschichten: Die jüdische Flucht nach China (Berlin: Hentrich und Hentrich, 2007).