Monday, July 03, 2006

Columnists should lead this country

This recent passage from the wonderful today's Leonard Pitts column brought tears to my eyes:

Most of all, [global warming] made me think about a note I once received from a reader, taking me to task for not writing about the environment. I paraphrase, but the most memorable passage said essentially this:

'You are an intelligent man, yet you are not terrified. Therefore, you must not know.' The writer went on to sketch out a vision of doomsday not unlike that in Vanity Fair. It stayed with me:

'You are an intelligent man, yet you are not terrified.'

I'm not an environmentalist. My car takes unleaded. I seldom recycle. And I'd be the first to admit that the doomsday images feel absurdly alarmist. The ice caps melting? New York under water? Get real. That's not going to happen, right? How could that happen? It'll never happen.

In that, it occurs to me that I am -- we are? -- missing the signature lesson of the signature American disasters of the millennium. We often talk about Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 in terms of failures: failures of intelligence, failures of planning, failures of communication.

But these catastrophes were first and foremost failures of imagination. Did we know that a major hurricane could destroy New Orleans? Yes: It was even part of the tour guides' spiel. Did we know that terrorists wanted to bring down the World Trade Center towers? Yes: They made a credible attempt in 1993.

And what did we do with what we knew? Nothing.

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