As President of the US, Donald Trump —possessed of the launch codes — is only the second greatest threat to the continued existence of human life on the planet. The greatest threat is global warming.
As such, it is incumbent on every government to do its utmost to protect its citizens from predicted disastrous consequences of continuing unabated release of greenhouse gases. It's also a responsibility of each of us, the stewards of this wonderful world.
That's why in order to do what I can, I'm starting to read Drawdown by Paul Hawken. Drawdown is a compilation by environmental scientists, business people, policy makers of 100 solutions to prevent the impending crisis.
Global warming is a frightening proposition. And fear is often met by paralysis of will, a form of self-protection — possum-like, if you will.
But just like the fate of real possums, that paralysis can be fatal. The antidote to fear is fact. Which is why there is hope in the empowerment provided by practical solutions.
Fact as antidote to fear is a useful model for countering the fear-mongering and spreading of seductive but false impressions being disseminated around social problems generally.
Take vaping, for example. Vaping has been normalised with hardly any debate.
Stores are open and products are being sold with almost no regulatory framework. Vaping has been promoted as a means of stopping smoking. The Ministry of Health website says as much and just about recommends vaping as a smoking cessation method.
It turns out that there's no solid evidence that vaping helps stop smoking. There is evidence from the US that a third of teens who had never smoked before, did go on to use cigarettes and that smoking rates, previously in decline among teens, have actually risen.
What there is is evidence that big tobacco companies which have invested heavily in vaping companies, have been paying people with large social media followings to say that the vaping products have helped them to quit smoking cigarettes (Sunday Star-Times, January 27, 2019).
I'm hardly surprised. Altria Corporation, the world's largest tobacco company, finding decline in new smokers owing to successful anti-smoking campaigns, has been looking for other fertile ground.
Not content with the potential profit from China and Africa, the company invested US$12.5 billion ($18.1 billion) to buy a part of JUUL, the vaping company with 80 per cent market share in the US.
For millennials, smoking cigarettes has become uncool. A much older generation had their cigarette smoking promoted with slick ads like "The Marlboro Man" (who died of the effects) and the movie images of sophisticates lighting cigarettes at any auspicious occasion.
Covert salesmanship by the manufacturers of toxic substances, be they tobacco or nicotine delivery products or opioids, or alcohol, or fossil fuels have been an ongoing operation for decades.
To put some meat on the bones of these hazards, consider these US statistics. (To compare locally, simply remove the last two zeros.)
In 2018, 72,000 died from opioids, 90,000 died from alcohol (including cirrhotic illness, alcohol-related homicides, road accidents, etc), 480,000 died from tobacco-related illness (cardiac, respiratory, cancer).
While all three substances have been heavily promoted, only opioids have any medical usefulness. Strictly speaking, all these deaths depend to some degree on influenced choice and are, therefore, preventable and unnecessary.
So also is the potential destruction of our planet, home to seven billion of us. We need to arm ourselves with facts, to say "no" to the purveyors of false contentment and find better means of satisfying our needs for relief of pain and anxiety derived from our lifestyles.
And we need to learn how to make a difference in our daily lives to free ourselves from the toxicity-habit of dependence on fossil fuels and methane manufacture, in order to preserve our habitat, lest we follow the fate of the dinosaurs and provide fuel and nurture for the species (insects?) that succeed us.
We can prevent that fate but only with determined effort.
Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.