The trouble with roaming around the internet while humming a little tune and not paying attention is that sometimes you end up in a sketchy neighborhood. It’s like if you’re trying to stay close to the cute guy at the party and then he goes out in the parking lot and shoots up with all his friends. So there I was, hopping from one blog to another, and all of a sudden there are all these scathing comments about Al Gore. One woman even wrote that it made her sick just to look at him. Poor Al. There was a time, first time he ran for president, that I thought he was really very handsome. He kind of bloated up and lost his eyebrows after that, but the older I get the more forgiving I am, especially about those two items.

But it was pretty clear that the animosity toward Al Gore in that neighborhood was pretty general, and pretty vehement, and it puzzled me at first. I mean, it’s not like he made us go to war or took all our money or anything. I finally realized that people don’t like Al Gore because they don’t like to be scolded, and they imagine he’s scolding them. I always thought he kept things pretty calm and civil, considering he is yelling fire in a crowded theater. And we’re in a very, very crowded theater. And the theater is on fire. I kind of picture him walking up on the stage and waving his hand a little and saying “yoo-hoo.” More plaintive than scolding, really. And all these people in the theater are peeling off their sweaters and fanning themselves and yelling down in front because all they want to do is see the show.

Most of your former presidents and vice-presidents pop off and write books and give speeches and make a ton of money, with some notable exceptions, but Al Gore, instead, is running around saying “yoo-hoo, we’re on fire.” Ordinarily you’d expect people to appreciate the warning, but all they get out of it is that Al Gore would like them to spend more for gasoline, and that makes him an asshole in their book.

Well, when we’re considering whether the road we’re on leads to extinction or endless prosperity–and we should be considering things like that–there are some good ways to weigh the evidence even without delving into the nitty-gritty scientific details. We can apply common sense, if we can remember where we left it. We can examine motives. Why would a man of means spend his retirement years trying to make gasoline more expensive? Is it just because he’s mean? Does that really make sense?

And the scientists. Why would 99% of the world’s climatologists be in agreement about the peril of man-caused climate change? Did they all get together in a secret climatologist bunker and say “I know! Let’s make some shit up and see if we can get everyone to pee their pants?” Why would they do that? Meanwhile, there is a little posse of scientists who take a contrary view, but they have really big megaphones. Who’s buying the megaphones? Is there something in it for them? Does their profit depend on the status quo?

It’s not that scientists are always right. But the nature of scientific inquiry, as opposed to commerce, is that it is subject to rigorous peer review, and sometimes a strong consensus develops. Just because the media like to condense, misrepresent, and highlight odd science news such as “Effects of Rodent Porn on Despondent Voles” doesn’t mean science as a whole is not a serious enterprise. At least, we should not reject their findings out of hand in favor of stuff that cycles through our email inbox, even if it comes with lots of capital letters and exclamation points.

Proper use of a car

We can also apply common sense to the very notion of climate change. We can hope that we aren’t in trouble because we’ve been operating the same way all our lives, forgetting that that is a very tiny amount of time, or we can step back and take a broader view. There are seven billion of us and most of us have a ridiculous amount of power. We can go all the way around the world in a matter of hours. We can turn night into day. We can climb in a little pod and zip all over the landscape without even breathing hard. For thousands of years, people have been drying their clothes in the sun and wind, but now we bake our laundry dry and don’t know what to do if we can’t. We didn’t get this power for free. We burned up tens of millions of years of stored carbon energy to get it, in just a few years, and our atmosphere is affected by it. Of course it is.

I guess I’m a scold too. But what’s my motive? Am I some kind of ascetic who thinks we shouldn’t have it easy? Hell no. Believe me, I love this shit. I can walk fifteen feet from my front door and sit down in a comfy chair in a heated vehicle listening to music and be strolling on the beach in an hour and a half. I can do this because we are pulling gobs of antique energy right out of the ground, and

there’s only so much of it, and you know what? I’m totally willing to run it all out and leave nothing for our grandchildren, leaving them no worse off than our great-grandparents, but not if it means we’re frying the place. I’ve got more consideration for them than that, and also it will suck for the salamanders.

Just this week we read that Obama’s latest anti-pollution plan is being opposed because it might add a few pennies per gallon to the price of gas. If we can’t see anything past the price of gas, we’re like children asking Daddy for a baby elephant. Go ahead and throw a tizzy if you want to, but if Daddy’s smart he’s going to take the long view, and he’s seeing endless elephant shit and a stomped house down the road. Whining about the elephant is childish, and it might be time to put away childish things.