Yesterday I bought gasoline for $1.89 a gallon. Again I shook my head over the unexpectedly low price, and at my own lack of foresight. Several years ago, in a discussion with my family about gas prices, I boldly pronounced ‘You will never see gas under $2 a gallon again. Those days are gone!’
But then we had the collapse of America’s financial markets, the worldwide recession, the sudden increase in domestic energy production, and other factors that completely changed the picture, and we have seen gas prices under $2 a gallon many times in recent years. I have borne considerable ribbing on this score.
I, of all people, should know better. I try not to be a pontificator, for one thing, and I am particularly averse to predictions. ‘There’s nothing more unreliable than a prediction,’ is a favorite saying of mine. Most predictions in my life I have lived to see disproved. It goes without saying that the current presidential election cycle has offered up a few examples of predictions gone awry.
So Americans are once again driving wherever they want, as much as they want, in whatever vehicle they want, all fueled by cheap gas. And as usual, while we’re happy about our freedom, we don’t consider the true cost of our excess, which is, of course, adding to the problem of climate change. And here again I think about the problem of predictions.
When we set up benchmarks, we only give naysayers ammunition to defeat us. If someone predicts that the world’s average temperature will rise to X degrees by year Y, or that the Marshall Islands will be underwater by this year, or Florida will lose 15% of its land mass by that year, or that the polar ice cap will melt this much by the end of the decade, and those things don’t in large measure come about, it hurts the cause of warning people about the problem. ‘The experts said this would happen,’ the Climate Change Deniers sneer, ‘and of course it didn’t!’ But missing certain predictions doesn’t mean that the problem doesn’t exist: it only means that it is a hugely complicated syndrome whose effects we can only hope to track and report.
It is enough to report that the coastline of the Marshall Islands is creeping steadily inward, as is the coastline of Florida; that 9 of the 10 warmest years on record have already happened in this century; even that I am sitting outside in shirtsleeves on November 1, a day that will run 10 to 15 degrees warmer than average, writing this down. I just drove from St. Louis to Columbia, a drive that takes me through many miles of wooded Missouri hills, and where there should have been a brilliant display of autumnal color, I saw only green trees fading, unable to enter their usual seasonal cycle in the persistent heat of summer. I am not an expert and I will not try to predict anything; I can only report what I see, and that frightens me enough.