Another big thing

Last week, in this space, I urged young people with political aspirations to weigh the advantages of making AGW – anthropogenic global warming – part of their political agendas.  

Public opinion seems finally to be moving decisively toward accepting the scientific consensus that our planet is warming, and that we humans are largely responsible for that warming.

It will take a bit longer for the urgency of the matter to sink in.  Americans who don’t expect to live more than ten or twenty more years can – if they’re selfish – choose to ignore the issue.

But their children will be forced to live in a world made increasingly unpleasant by AGW – and their grandchildren could be doomed to survive in a world which has been rendered unrecognizable and rather horrid.

These realization will come gradually – but perhaps they will come faster than most now expect.

After all, writing just last week, I didn’t know what was about to happen on Cosmos.

Neil deGrasse Tyson – the popular tribune of scientific education who hosts television’s new Cosmos – dedicated part of his show to the history of how lead was removed from our gasoline.  Lead is a serious neurotoxin, and Tyson explained how Big Oil spent millions of dollars confusing the public about this “inconvenient truth.”

That faux “scientific debate” delayed lead-free gasoline for a decade.

Tyson’s historic example of denialism will come as no surprise to those who have followed the so-called “scientific debate” over AGW.  Big Oil, Big Coal, and other powerful industrial interests are following the same playbook previously used to deny the toxic effects of leaded gasoline – which was also the playbook Big Tobacco used to deny that smoking can cause cancer and a host of other ailments of the heart and lungs.

The new Cosmos should be a powerful persuader – as it was in the days when the late Carl Sagan introduced millions and millions of Americans to “billions and billions of stars.”

The return of this legendary show – on the normally pro-business FOX network – is one of many signs that Americans are beginning to take scientific education seriously again.  And better scientific education can only benefit the policy debate over AGW – and what to do about it.

With that hopeful note, I’d like to turn to another issue with the potential to become a powerful social issue in the near future.  Once again, this is an issue which young political hopefuls – or even older ones – might do well to consider.

For some time now, members of my generation – the Baby Boomers – have been watching our aging parents deal with the indignities of physical decline and the extraordinary losses associated with various forms of dementia.

Increasing numbers of us have come to view our own eventual ends through the lens of what our parents have endured, or are enduring.  We do so at a time when we ourselves – once reluctant to trust anyone over thirty – are becoming eligible for senior prices at the cinema and “early bird” specials at participating restaurants.

Most Boomers aren’t yet willing to call themselves “old” yet, but we feel age creeping upon us.  And for many of us, the protracted final years of a parent’s life seem to portend something even worse when we near the end.

Science – often so benign – has enabled doctors to keep people alive long after many of them would have chosen peaceful release.  This scientific and medical “progress” will only grow more advanced – and thus, much worse – by the time we reach our late eighties, or nineties, or beyond.

Talking with people of my generation, I find near unanimity for the proposition that our laws should be changed to permit individuals to choose – while they still have the power to choose – to empower some trusted individual to end their lives when physical or mental decline reach a certain point.

Almost no one of my generation accepts the restrictions of the present legal structure,  which permits – at most – the withdrawal of certain active interventions in order to “let nature take its course.”

Nature has far too little to do with our present, medically-protracted way of dying.

What most of us want – and will soon begin to demand – is a carefully crafted legal framework which allows us to receive the “little black pill” – or, in my preference, a glass of the “special vintage” – when life is no longer worth living.

This issue – the right to die – has yet to reach critical mass.  But it will soon, and probably with the kind of surprising speed which has characterized the movement toward marriage equality.

Smart young politicos should talk with my generation about this.  They will likely find that there are millions of votes to be won by extending personal liberty to the choice of when to die.

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