The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

William Masters

February 21, 2012

Humans need to look at long-term impact on Earth

Global warming is real, and we are smugly oblivious. I recall the USS Nautilus making a journey to the North Pole decades ago, poking its conning tower dramatically up through the ice right at the pole itself. An arrival theretofore possible only by dogsled and arduous effort.

Now, polar bears are apparently drowning in open North Pole seas for want of ice on which to rest and stalk seals at their breathing holes. Photographs from space, a decade ago and now, highlight the loss to Greenland glaciers, too.

It's an old story: seas over-fished, animals killed to the brink of extinction, forests destroyed, mountain streams buried under tons of mountain tops shoved aside to get coal; or arctic seas and wildlife endangered by risky oil drilling. We need to care more about the environment, and not just here, but worldwide.

For 30 years, until finally stopped by federal regulation, General Electric dumped more than a million pounds of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, into the Hudson River. GE is still lobbying to undermine the Superfund law in court and in the media while still falling short in remediation.

It got Gov. Hugh Carey to pose as if ready to drink a full glass of PCBs. GE still claims that the expensive cleanup would make the dangers of cancer and developmental disorders even worse.

"Da Nile" won't help the Hudson. And there are still loopholes in the Clean Water Act that allow mining companies to dump their waste into waterways.

But global warming is more amorphous, and perhaps therefore more ominous. Like other threats, it would be irreversible. Human beings are notoriously shortsighted. Without God's instruction, it is not at all clear that Noah would ever have been motivated to build and load the Ark. Who would have guessed?

But of course, we have science. Science, however, is not uniformly helpful. It can demonstrate the delicate interdependence between salmon swimming upstream to spawn and the forests that line Oregon rivers.

But negative consequences are not so immediate as to be obvious to those whose immediate profit is based on catching salmon. No one fissure alone can account for any devastation, so there is little sense of personal accountability.

It is deniable. It is also deniable that airliner contrails can have measurable impact on the amount of solar radiation that reaches the Earth. But they do.

So look at Easter Island. For over a thousand years, the Polynesian immigrants there flourished by fishing out in ocean-going canoes constructed from palm lumber. They also cut trees to make fields for agriculture. When the trees were all gone, they were trapped and perished. Haiti cut its trees down, too. We live greedily on Mother Earth as if she will always and automatically provide for our needs.

So science cannot save us from our own catastrophes, but foresight could if not overridden by selfishness. And the selfish, who manage to accumulate advantage, always seem to find rationalizations to pursue more. Science is then dismissed as flawed, or contested. Remember the defense of nicotine?

Moral objections by the religious are rules advanced to be imposed on everyone, not just within their own precinct, for themselves.

Such efforts are just as selfish as those to preserve special interests. Birth control, abortion and gay marriage are examples, as was the disastrous experiment with Prohibition.

Other rules, such as the notoriously ineffective War on Drugs or for the death penalty, are current examples of shortsightedness.

San Diego residents are due for a major earthquake this century, but no one there dwells on this eventual certainty, or even seems worried about it. We are good at tuning danger out of our minds when we have no choice.

But Americans are highly invested in the status quo, because we are well-supplied in comfort and security, and well-removed from the specter of plagues, starvation or deathly deprivation and oppression.

Our science cannot forever insulate us from the realities of other human beings in the world. Our huge dependence on coal, petroleum reserves and mobile military power is not enshrined as our eternal God-given right.

We have to be clear-minded about the long-term costs of sustaining a lavish lifestyle. And our selfish addiction to comfort and feeling superior should not blind us to the blindness of those who dismiss the risks of shortsightedness.

We need to attend to the big picture, the long-term picture, and the needs of humanity in general. Even those of the humanity across town are worthy of attention.

William Masters can be reached at The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board.

Text Only
William Masters
  • Schreibman tops Chris Gibson on women's issues

    As the time to vote draws near, we need to remember how money can run politics more than we can. Raising funds is a prominent (if not the dominant) task of getting elected. Raising issues is also crucial, but those efforts are subject to distortion and fear-mongering.

    September 18, 2012

  • Republicans feelentitled to allthey can garner

    An entitlement is a legal benefit available from the government to individuals who are within a defined category of recipients, such as needing insurance for unemployment or health services.

    September 4, 2012

  • Romney focuses on self; Obama emphasizes unity

    Mitt Romney criticizes President Obama for saying a person's success is rooted in his community, and is not all his alone. Romney belittles this with his belief in individual initiative. He is better at the put-down than the push-up.

    August 21, 2012

  • Romney shows little regard for common man

    The Republicans in Congress have voted over and over, 33 times, redundantly and uselessly, to rescind what they call Obamacare.

    August 7, 2012

  • Scouts' gay ban creates problem where none exists

    The Boy Scouts of America's "emphatic reaffirmation" of its vow to exclude any and all homosexuals from its hallowed ranks is ill-considered and pathetic, especially in view of its having reviewed the matter for two years.

    July 24, 2012

  • Health care should be seen as way to help others

    What is health care? Well, first and foremost it is having care, or empathy, for the distress of others. Health care is extending efforts to alleviate the distress for a person who is ill. The opposite, if you think about it, would be torture — using the power to harm to win your own way.

    July 13, 2012

  • Romney sees his way as the right way

    Meet Mitt Romney, seeking the power of the presidency. He seeks to convince us that his conservative economic theories will save us from ourselves.

    June 26, 2012

  • Congressional candidate offers sound solutions

    Mitt Romney has clinched the Republican nomination for president. If he can lick Barack, he will be the president of all of us. He must be taken seriously, but for me, up to now, he has been like a big bell being hit with a cooking spoon.

    June 12, 2012

  • It's refreshing to hear our president dismiss prejudice

    Race and sexual identity both sponsor problems of social discomfort. Abstractly, such traits are fixed, but in life they are roads on the map of our cultural values, which change.

    May 29, 2012

  • Time for lawmakers who put needs of society first

    Richard Lugar, after six terms as a Republican senator -- known for his middle of the road rationality and his foreign policy finesse -- has been ousted by a Tea Party extremist backed by outside right-wing funding.

    May 15, 2012

  • War not worth gambling with lives of soldiers

    Are you not tired of our war in Afghanistan? It had a point, once, after 9/11. Bush couldn't distinguish his myopic personal agendas from the nation's needs and let Osama escape, dropping the ball entirely, causing many deaths.

    May 1, 2012

  • Titanic was a microcosm of U.S. economic disparity

    Haunting reminders of the Titanic tragedy have wafted over us with the centenary of its sinking. The maiden voyage of an impressive, state of the art vessel, was a little like that of the Challenger space shuttle, at the cutting edge of developing technology. But the shuttle carried our pride in science and space exploration, not hundreds and hundreds of people.

    April 17, 2012

  • William Masters: Nation stands divided between 'us' and 'them'

    In February, Trayvon Martin was shot dead as "suspicious" by a volunteer neighborhood watch man. The case has aroused community reaction in Sanford, Fla., and is still echoing across the country.

    April 3, 2012

  • A quarterback can't win the game alone

    What is the relationship between democracy and wealth? Democracy is a political system, while wealth relates to economics. We have equal political rights, but we don't all have money. Extreme differences destroy the continuity of community solidarity.

    March 20, 2012

  • CSSEE36.jpg Playing Left Field: Some blur lines between laws of church and state

    We have freedom of religion in this country. A clear separation between churches and governmental agencies is constitutionally mandated. Government power may not favor or advance a particular religion.

    March 6, 2012 1 Photo

  • Humans need to look at long-term impact on Earth

    Global warming is real and we are smugly oblivious. I recall the USS Nautilus making a journey to the North Pole decades ago, and poking its conning tower dramatically up through the ice right at the pole itself, an arrival theretofore possible only by dog sled and arduous effort.

    February 21, 2012

  • CSS6284.jpg Playing Left Field: Meaning of 'liberty' lost in GOP's translation

    COLUMN BY WILLIAM MASTERS .... Now, during the Republican presidential primaries, we hear a lot about liberty. It is a leave-me-alone type of liberty, suggesting the license to do what one may choose in the sacred call of business activity. Much is sought in the name of freedom.

    February 7, 2012 1 Photo

  • Government no longer about power of people

    In my time, the idea of conservatism has been turned upside down. Men in my family wore neckties even when just reading the paper at home.

    January 24, 2012

  • Americans should respect right to bear arms

    Early one morning a while back, I answered a phone call from Wayne LaPierre, head of the NRA, warning that the sky is falling _ no worse: that the U.S. is participating in a U.N. treaty effort to deal with the irresponsible international transfers of small arms.

    January 10, 2012

  • Inequalities breed social dysfunction

    In my most-recent column, I presented recent epidemiological evidence that the inequality built into a society underlies the sense many of us have that the country is going in the wrong direction.

    December 27, 2011

Additional Content
Join the Debate
Additional Resources
CNHI News Service

Is Israel justified to conduct its military campaign against the Hamas in Gaza?

Undecided/no opinion
     View Results