September 2006

The Moment of Truth

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

by Bob Lane

The August Discussion Group reviewed Al Gore’s article “The Moment of Truth,” published in the May 2006 issue of Vanity Fair. Gore wastes no time in stating that the threat of global warming is real, deeply relevant, and a “true planetary emergency.” His article is part scientific, stating a number of recent, documented environmental crises, part withering criticism of the Bush administration’s lack of response to a number of these environmental crises (including Hurricane Katrina) and a call for action, urging readers to join in this “moral and spiritual challenge” to save Planet Earth.

Gore challenges the skeptics and deniers of global warming with actual facts of environmental devastation. Most of the mountain glaciers in the world (including the Rockies, Andes, Sierras and Alps) are melting, as is the floating ice cap in the Arctic Ocean. In a first documented occurrence, scientists have discovered large numbers of polar bears drowning in this newly expanded ocean. Even more serious, the ice cap on the top of Greenland is beginning to melt. This 20,000-foot thick ice cap is “now poised to slip into the sea.” When the ice caps melt into the ocean, the overall sea level worldwide will be raised by over 20 feet. With a raised sea level, the world’s climate system will be forever changed, with the Gulf Stream and the El Nino/La Nina ocean cycles, among others, all now “at risk of being pushed into new and unfamiliar patterns.”

The ocean is also becoming more acidic, as a result of the large amounts of carbon dioxide, the result of burning of fossil fuels, being absorbed by the ocean. While the acid this creates–carbonic acid–is fairly weak, it is enough to change the ions (carbonate and bicarbonate) in the ocean. As a result, corals are now unable to form their unique skeletons, “the base of many food chains in the ocean.” If this pattern continues, the acid will make ocean life unable to form shells, as the shells instantly dissolve in the acid. The ocean, the heretofore harbinger of life, will become a virtual wasteland, unfit for any living creature.

Despite these dire examples, and others cited, of the environmental catastrophes we will soon face, many within the next 10 years, our leaders, Gore writes, are “resisting the truth” and finding it “simply more convenient” to ignore the numerous warnings that abound. Of Hurricane Katrina, he writes that the current administration chose to ignore two crystal clear warnings: that the tropical storm that became Katrina was becoming a ‘deadly monster” poised to slam into New Orleans, and the other, perhaps even more serious, that the levees, not built for such powerful storms, were in grave danger. There is even a videotape of President Bush being presented with these facts, but not questioning or acting upon them.

Gore states that the criticism of the administration is not partisan as many naysayers would say. “A recent report by Republicans in the House of Representatives called the White House reaction (to Katrina) a ‘blinding act of situational awareness’ and that the administration, as well as Congress, “failed to act on the massive amounts of information at its disposal.”

As tragic as Hurricane Katrina was, Gore writes that it also served as a turning point in showing Americans that we are not immune to environmental catastrophes, that they can and will indeed arrive on our doorstep unless we act now. Americans “are beginning to demand that the administration open its eyes and look at the truth, no matter how inconvenient it might be for all of us–not least for the special interests that want us to ignore global warming.” He continues, “America is beginning to awaken. And now we will save our planet.”

Joining together to save the planet from the reality of global warming will give the world a shared purpose, Gore writes, a “generational mission,” a rare occurrence in the world’s history. He urges Americans to not miss the opportunity to come together for a “compelling moral purpose, a shared and unifying cause,” and the “opportunity to rise.” The survival of Planet Earth is something that all of us– regardless of geographic area, creed, race, gender–have in common and must do something about if we are to sustain ourselves as a people.

Gore closes by stating that despite the environmental crises that have already occurred and several impending challenges yet to come it is still not too late to act. We as a people have already taken on and successfully dealt with many crises, that at one time would have seemed insurmountable: eliminating Jim Crow and segregation laws, freeing the slaves, allowing women to vote and landing on the moon, among others. He writes that we can unite as a people and indeed as the world–to take on this challenge of protecting our planet and that we must do so now. Saving the earth cannot wait.

Image — A Positive Image

I think a major mistake, perhaps the biggest mistake, of organized humanism over the last few decades has been the failure to build a positive image of humanism and nontheism in the public mindset. Few Americans even know what humanism is, and even fewer choose to identify as humanists. Whatever we call ourselves, eventually our non-supernaturalism will become the focus of our identity in the minds of others. As a result, our culture demonizes nonbelief, whether under the title of atheism, agnosticism, Humanism, Religious Humanism or secular humanism. Why is this?

Organized humanism should not point to the religious right or any other segment of society in placing blame for the poor state of affairs, because “image management” is our own responsibility, and we have been dropping the ball for decades. It appears that, somewhere along the line, those responsible for the ship of humanism decided that organized humanism should be a “club” for elite intellectuals, rather than a “movement” to change society by spreading humanism itself in the wider culture-a near-fatal mistake, and we live with the results today.

I’m not suggesting that we should brazenly assert an in-your-face kind of humanism/atheism, but we can’t hide from our core identity, nor from the accompanying views. Even demonized terms such as “atheism” and “secular humanism” can be rehabilitated, in our culture, by making tactful image management a major priority. If it is done well, the public will eventually realize that nonbelievers are decent, ordinary people, sometimes even working for noble causes, such as cures for cancer. It’s a delicate job, but not an impossible one.

Internecine squabbling over words is non-productive. Clearly, the answer to our demonization is not to hide from the humanist/atheist identity. Rather, the answer is to work on improving the public image of those identities.

–Mel Lipman
President of the American Humanist Association
Published by Human Interest
Humanist Association of Greater Sacramento

President’s Message

The Summer Social on August 10 was a resounding success. Thanks to all Board members for their contributions in making this happen. Good wine and good conversation flowed freely (thanks to Flo and Rolf for the former, and all attendees for the latter). A special thanks to Rolf for providing us with quality entertainment in the form of singer/keyboardist Glenn Lanham. Of special note was the Board’s recognition of Rolf for his many years of committed service to the Humanists of Utah. Rolf was presented with a check to one of his favorite charities, The Gandhi Alliance, which works to eliminate landmines throughout the world.

This time next year, the Summer Social will likely look a bit different. Tentatively we will have a potluck picnic at the home of John and Wanda Young, as a change in scenery. Of course more information will follow as we approach this time next year.

The successes keep coming. I am pleased to report that our first ever “Video Night” was very well received. Thirteen interested humanists took over Bob and Julie Mayhew’s living room for an evening to view Heart of the Beholder. When the Board first began discussing holding a Video Night, we thought that perhaps it could be held on a quarterly basis. However, due to the strong interest of those in attendance, another Video Night will be scheduled sooner, with the specifics to follow in a subsequent newsletter. If you would like to volunteer your home as a viewing room or have a video suggestion, just let me know. Thanks to everyone who made this first event such a success, and a special thanks to Bob and Julie for the use of their home and the great popcorn.

I had the opportunity to see the Al Gore documentary on global warming An Inconvenient Truth recently, and encourage all of you to go see it if you haven’t yet already. This month’s Discussion Group reviewed another Al Gore piece, “The Moment of Truth,” an article from the May 2006 issue of Vanity Fair. The magazine calls global warming “a threat graver than terrorism” and when you see An Inconvenient Truth, you may agree. Never has the planet been so endangered, and the (urgent) call to save it must be answered by all of us, no matter what our political party or religious belief.

In closing, I would like to thank those of you who have heeded the plea for volunteers to help set up at the General Meeting. All of us on the Board are truly appreciative of those committed members who came to set up tables and chairs, and to help with refreshments. We are always looking for such helpers, and will appreciate any assistance in these areas that you can give.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

American Theocracy

~Book Review~

Quotes from introduction of this book written by Kevin Phillips:

“…the White House is courting end-times theologians and electorates for whom the holy lands are already a battleground of Christian destiny. Both pursuits, oil and biblical expectations, require a dissimulation in Washington that undercuts the U.S. tradition of commitment to the role of an informed electorate.”

“…During the 1970’s and part of the 1980’s, I agreed with the predominating Republican argument that ‘secular’ liberals, by badly misjudging the depth and importance of religion in the United States, had given conservatives a powerful and legitimate electoral opportunity.”

–Flo Wineriter

Democracy Now

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