At a house I recently visited I heard two statements that, taken together, I find tremendously depressing.
1. The man thinks high-speed rail should be built connecting Portland and Boston.
2. He is "not with me" on climate change.
I'm a big supporter of public transportation. A big supporter. Which is why I am happy that there are already two bus lines and Amtrak trains connecting Portland and Boston. Adding a new system makes sense only if it meets one of the goals of public transportation.
The general reasons for mass-transit are improving the environment and reducing road congestion. The man told me that he is not worried about the environment; therefore, he is concerned primarily with convenience. And it's not the convenience of not having to drive on congested roads, since he already has three ways of doing that. No, this man, self-described as a professional and carrying himself as if he is, expects a state with a serious budget crisis to invest tens (hundreds?) of millions of dollars to make his commute maybe 30 minutes shorter. I'm having an extremely difficult time understanding how this could possibly be a priority for a State that is laying off employees by the dozens and letting its infrastructure fall apart for lack of funds. The depressing part of this is that it is not out of the realm of possibility that such an idea could be presented. In case there is any question, I will vote against such a measure every chance I get, if the only rational is additional convenience of the few.
Even more depressing is statement #2. If one flips a coin 500 times in a row it can come up heads all 500 times without that proving that the game is rigged. Statistics tells us that the unlikely is indeed possible. But statistics also tells us that past a point an event is not simply unlikely, it is virtually impossible, and after about the 50th head in a row a person who is not skeptical is not thinking at all.
So it is with the evidence of climate change. One can argue with a straight face that man has nothing to do with the changes we are experiencing, but to refuse to acknowledge as significant that 11 of the planet's 12 hottest years on record are 2001-2011 is to make one's self intentionally blind to the most inconvenient of truths.
Nor can one logically argue that the changes are having no effect we need be concerned about. I will not go into all the details of what is happening, except to point out that temperature stability on earth depends to a great degree on the reflective powers of the ice caps and glaciers. Sunlight is energy, which is heat. A percentage of sunlight hitting the ice reflects back into the atmosphere. Less ice mean less reflection, means more heat is absorbed, means more warming, means more melting. Past a point this is a path to ever increasing global warming that, based on today's technology, is not reversible. No one - not the crankiest, most in-the-pocket-of-business scientists - no one is denying that we have already lost a large mass of ice, and that the melting continues apace. And no one is arguing that an average global warming of four degrees is safe for human survivability; nor that a warming of four degrees is out of the question if the ice masses disappear. Whether our window to act is 1 year or 100 hundred may be open to debate, but that if action is possible it is needed is not in dispute. No rational person can deny that climate change is something we do need to be concerned about.
What is left for the man wanting high-speed rail? He has to agree that there has been change. Doesn't he? He has to agree that the effects of the change are potentially catastrophic. Doesn't he? So what is the basis for an intelligent person to be "not with me" on climate change? This is not someone who knows but is too weak to act - that is lamentable but humanly understandable; this is someone who refuses to know. All I can come up with is that he is more concerned about immediate personal comfort than with sustainability or comfort of others.
And I find that very, very depressing.