CHRONICLE ENVIRONMENT; Be Afraid. Be Very
By VERLYN KLINKENBORG
In a way, the true puzzle of
global warming isn't the mechanics of man-made climate change -- the feedback
loops, the damage to the ozone layer, the shift in oceanic oscillations, the
melting of the ice-caps, the desertification of formerly productive agricultural
lands. Those can be studied and understood. The true puzzle is human nature. In
every one of these accounts of climate change and environmental degradation, the
authors note the inertia of the global system, whether they're talking about
economic or climatic models of the future. But there's another kind of inertia
built into the system too, and I know no better account of
it than a passage from Isaac Asimov's ''Foundation,'' the opening novel in his
classic series about a science called ''psychohistory,'' which combines
psychology and statistics. ''The psychohistoric trend of a planet-full of people
a huge inertia,'' says Hari Seldon, the ancestral hero of the foundation. ''To
be changed it must be met with something possessing a similar inertia.''
This is a way of saying we live as
we have always lived. Sometimes -- like now -- nearly everyone is aware of
dramatic changes in the world. Yet we continue to live in
the assumption that we can ride out the changes without changing ourselves,
coasting, as we have always coasted, on the historic wave of human development.
What it will
take to wake us up is a wave of equal size traveling in
the opposite direction. That wave is already on its way.