Brennan: Climate problem v. smoking
By Tom Brennan |
A prediction: The warming climate crisis will be resolved the same way the cigarette smoking problem was.
It will be messy, some people will participate and many won’t but awareness is now very high and enough people will participate to make a difference over time.
The good news is that most of the critical decisions will be made at higher levels where public concern — and ability to act — is greatest. With smoking the most critical decisions are made by individuals, many of them addicted to cigarettes, and public worry has much less influence.
Smoking worried people for years, but it was considered acceptable, even fashionable, in some circles for a very long time. At worst it was a nasty habit. Then on Jan. 11, 1964, the surgeon general of the United States announced that studies showed cigarettes cause cancer. Attitudes began changing rapidly.
I quit smoking that day, but I can’t say it was due to any great strength of character, actually more like the exact opposite. The day before I was headed from my home in Central Massachusetts to a ski resort in Southern Vermont.
Bob Cabot and I were both reporters at The Worcester Telegram and were headed off for a weekend of skiing, frivolity and pure enjoyment. (Bob was a member of that Massachusetts Cabot family — and a fine guy.)
Because we were in a celebratory mood we decided to stop occasionally along the way for a libation. And when we got to the resort we continued libating well into the evening.
The next morning we both felt the after-effects of our indulgences the night before. We had breakfast, reviewed our self-imposed frailties and decided that if we went skiing and fell down, we would shatter into little pieces. Going up on that mountain seemed out of the question, so we loaded up our car and headed glumly back to Worcester without ever having put on our skis.
We were driving through a wooded area with Bob driving. I turned on the car radio and was reaching for a package of Lucky Strikes in my shirt pocket when the news announcer reported that the Surgeon General had announced that cigarettes cause cancer and were a significant reason for premature demise among humans.
I listened to the announcement and thought about the guilt and discomfort from our activities of the night before. I crumpled up the pack of Luckies, threw it out the window and never smoked a cigarette again. And not long after that I heard an announcement about roadside trash and felt guilty about throwing the cigarettes out the window.
I switched to smoking cigars, which was not an ideal option, but few people are dumb enough to inhale cigar smoke so they are a much healthier vice than cigarettes.
I even gave up cigars about eight years ago. I never smoked them in the house in deference to my wife’s offer to harm me if I did. Instead, I smoked them when I went for walks. But then I started working out in physical fitness centers and was walking the neighborhood much less. Between walks I left unfinished cigars in an ashtray on the rear porch. That works fine if you don’t leave them too long, but when you relight a cigar after it has been sitting for a couple of days it tastes like something that has passed through a dog’s digestive tract.
Today cigarette smoking is far less common, at least in the United States where the cancer problem is fairly well understood. There are still 42 million smokers in the United States but that is only 18 percent of Americans, down from 42 percent in 1964 on the day I threw away my Luckies.
The prospects for greatly reducing human contributions to global warming are actually much greater than they were for smokers to give up their bad habit. And that is because the decisions will be made at government and corporate levels where the collective human conscience can have a huge impact.
Global warming is a natural phenomenon that has been going on for centuries but is being compounded and complicated by emissions from human fuel consumption. The primary sources are the emissions from coal and oil burning. They could be greatly reduced if people switched to less destructive power sources like solar energy, hydroelectricity and natural gas.
There are many cynics, I know, but hopefully their cynicism can be channeled to help resolve the problem. Our children, our grandchildren and the families that come after them will be counting on it.
Keep your fingers crossed.