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Letters to the Editor

December 26, 2007


Published December 26, 2007 at 5:00 a.m.


Bill McKibben is a smart environmentalist who has his sights on our planet's biggest worry ["You're Getting Warmer," December 5]. But I think he's a bit dry, and that more absurdity is needed to attack the problem of global warming. At its core it may be a simple problem: "Chemistry and physics don't bargain." But the scale here is so colossal that it mocks the ability of our best institutions to deal with it. We don't know how to face that. Most of us are lousy at science, and taking an absurdist look at things isn't our strong point, either. We like to think that good old elbow grease and intelligence will do the trick. Not here, I'm afraid. Only absurdity has the magnitude needed to face a problem as unimaginable in its dimensions and ripples as climate change.

One idea I had a while ago - a rather absurd one, I admit - was something I call a "carbon inspectorate." A carbon inspectorate would be way beyond another global air accord that flounders or a rewrite of America's Clean Air Act or having green workers put solar panels on your roof. It would be a global task force of inspectors who carry sensors that ferret out the smallest carbon leaks, like energy guys in your house hunting down drafts. These inspectors would have the authority to take appropriate action to stop any carbon emissions without resorting to something as old-fashioned as a court injunction. These guys and gals will make Homeland Security agents seem like sweethearts. They will be tomorrow's super heroes because they will be saving tomorrow. Their predecessors, from McKibben to Al Gore to smoke inspectors back in the 19th century, will be idolized. De-Carb will rely on legal mechanisms not yet created but which will elicit humanity's cooperation because the mechanisms will keep a window open for the survival of our species. Carbon violators in such a world will be guilty until proven innocent because the perils of procrastination will outweigh the old protections of outmoded legal institutions and laws. After a carbon maker proves he or she is innocent, they will be back in business. Not before.

Such an absurdist vision seems somewhat inevitable. Not that I like it. I'm a frugal, pragmatic Yankee. Or was until recently. But what's coming down the pike strikes me as more Franz Kafka than Louis Carroll. In my lighter moments I hope McKibben's humanism prevails. In my darker ones I'm convinced we're screwed. That we don't have what it takes to handle this. That's why we aren't mobilizing to do much. This is the most absurd realization of all. But I can't shake it.

Joe Sherman


Sherman is the author of Gasp: The Swift and Terrible Beauty of Air, which provides a history of the earth's atmosphere.


While it may be true that the article concerning the growing and looming homeless crisis within the Burlington area ["Budget 'Band-Aid' to Patch Homeless Policy Ills," December 12] was relatively short, it still appears to have had plenty of lean meat (e.g., good-quality information, as well as behind-the-scenes material often not found within the mainstream press; also without all the "journalistic" fat or filler too often found in pieces done in the fashion where the backgrounders, sources and reporters think the public could never appreciate or understand more weighty material, etc.).

In my opinion, this piece was an informative article fit for a weekly alternative newspaper, yet also read a lot like a j-blog post - seemingly the best of both worlds.

That said, due to the need to balance a "journalistic" meal of good quality lean meat with a healthy serving of potatoes - as well as veggies and the like - let's hope Seven Days does not stop there. There is definitely much more to be covered and dug up. This report is only the tip of the iceberg. There is a need to interview and quote people who either live or have lived such experiences, giving voice to these credible witnesses, similar to how the "usual suspects" are interviewed and quoted.

Morgan W. Brown