Happy Thought For Today: Global Terror vs. Global Warming
Seth Cooper over at the Guns and Butter Blog takes issue with Al Gore’s statement that “on a long-term global basis, global warming [and not terrorism] is the most serious problem we are facing.” Here is most of his post:
I disagree with Gore. On a long-term basis, we are faced with a far more serious threat by a global network of radical utopian terrorists who are carrying out a declared and actual war of terrorism against the civilized nations of the world. Through acts of horrific violence, they have launched reprehensible attacks upon the defenders of freedom and upon innocent civilians in hopes of imposing a worldwide, repressive theocratic regime.
Does anyone actually think that public pronouncements like Gore's help to further our struggle against global terrorism?
Well, I don’t know if anyone actually paid much attention to Gore’s statement, so I can’t be sure if it had any real impact; but to the extent that messages like this do get out and are taken seriously, then yes – I think they do help us fight global (and local) terrorism.
Terrorism is a form of psychological warfare. Its goal is to attract attention to its perpetrators and their cause, and to disrupt the targeted society. By maximizing the threat of terrorism, we quite effectively play into the terrorists’ hands by increasing our level of fear; we adopt the terrorists’ agenda in place of our own. When we make terrorism out to be the biggest threat to our civilization – or, for example, refer to suicide bombers as “genocide bombers” – we are telling the terrorists that they are succeeding, and giving them every reason to continue and escalate their attacks. (I prefer to call suicide bombers “human bombs” or “walking bombs”, by the way – but that’s another post.)
I believe (and I’m joined here by some pretty high-powered experts on the subject) that one of the best things we can do to counter terrorism is to put it into perspective and not let it disrupt our normal lives. One of my favorite ways of doing this is to compare deaths due to terrorism with deaths due to traffic accidents: In Israel, one of the world’s leading terrorist targets, at least 500 people per year are killed in traffic accidents, and a much larger number are injured. Even in the worst years of the current “Intifada”, fewer than half that many were killed by terrorists; this year the ratio will be much more lopsided in favor of automotive death. So if I’m not frightened (or not very frightened) of driving to work every morning, why should I be frightened of terrorists?
I don’t pretend to be an expert on global warming; and I’m not sure that even the experts are all that certain as to what will and won’t happen over the next decades. But from what I’ve read, there are legitimate reasons for concern: We might well see large-scale flooding of low-lying countries (some of which, like Bangladesh, are quite populous); crop failures (particularly in places like India and Africa); huge population migrations which could easily turn violent; and other dramatic, massive disruptions. Potentially, we could be talking about the death of millions of people, or even of many millions. Compare that to the numbers killed by terrorists: a few thousand victims even in a bad year. Of course, some of those killed by terrorists are citizens of Western countries, while those who will suffer the most from global warming are poor Third World residents; but that isn’t supposed to matter, is it?
Of course, there are lots of complicating factors in comparing global terrorism to global warming; I don’t think that such a comparison is all that meaningful, or that it can be made with mathematically precise results. And factors like nuclear-armed terrorists would certainly alter the equation! But the fact remains that – to the extent that the comparison has any real meaning – Al Gore’s “pronouncement” looks pretty accurate to me.