American pundit Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times recently: "We don't just need the first black president, we need the first green president. We don't just need the first woman president, we need the first environmental president. We don't just need a president who has been toughened by years as a prisoner of war but a president who is tough enough to level with the American people about the profound economic, geopolitical and climate threats posed by our addiction to oil – and to offer a real plan to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels." He then went on to say: "I am not proposing that we radically alter our lifestyles. We are who we are – including a car culture."
That pretty well sums up the way most of us in the affluent West feel about global warming: we're ready to make small sacrifices, change our light bulbs, our cars and even our leaders, but our culture – the American way of life – is not negotiable.
That's too bad, because our consumer culture is the primary cause of our ecological crisis. Since WWII, our consumption levels have grown by 300 percent and in the process we've developed enormous footprints, insatiable appetites and a boundless sense of entitlement. There's something degenerate now at the very heart of our culture, and fixing it won't be easy. We'll have to confront the fact that we do not have the right to emit carbon into the atmosphere at a much higher rate than everyone else on Earth. And then we'll have to rethink many aspects of our lives: the way we eat, work, get around, shop, entertain ourselves, raise our children and think about freedom and the responsibilities that come with it.
That kind of cultural transformation will be pretty hard to pull off and it may take more apocalyptic eco-news, more Virginia Techs, kids on Ritalin, more military strikes and terrorists who hate us and maybe a global economic crash before we get serious.
But there's also an upside to all this: we're in the endgame now – all six-and-a-half billion of us living through one of the wildest, most lunatic moments in human history, working our way towards an enthralling collective climax. Will it be a dog-eat-dog bloodbath, or a more erotic, consensual kind of climax in which we work it out together? For awhile longer, the choice remains ours.