The phrase Thornton Wilder used for the title of his play, The Skin of Our Teeth, comes from the King James Bible, Job 19:20, “My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.”
Written in 1942, less than a month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Wilder broke from established theatrical conventions and walked off with the 1943 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The Skin of Our Teeth “spoke” to its audience at the time.
Combining farce, burlesque, satire and elements of a comic strip, Wilder depicts an Everyman Family as it narrowly escapes one end-of-the-world disaster after another, from the Ice Age to flood to war. This was the message I asked our graphic designer to capture for the program book cover for the 1965 production of The Skin of Our Teeth at Arena Stage in Washington, DC where I was the publicity director.
Wilder also wrote “the whole world’s at sixes and sevens, and why the house hasn’t fallen down about our ears long ago is a miracle to me.” If he were still writing today, he would be speaking to the big one – our climate crisis.
People have different ways of comprehending the future. Climate scientists not only seek certifiable clues about the future of our environment, but compare those clues to the reality of the past. For millions of climate refugees seeking a more hospitable climate, it’s one day at a time. They don’t need “proof” that their world is at sixes and sevens. Nor does the fossil fuel industry want proof that their world is at sixes and sevens. Those are not good numbers for the bottom line.
So, that world of extraction at the expense of our environment has found a new way to fend off those pesky climate scientists by greenwashing. While spending millions on campaigns trumpeting token low carbon projects, these companies have worked to rehabilitate the environmental image of fossil fuels while continuing to expand their core businesses of oil, gas and coal.
They publicize “net-zero” ambitions and sustainability targets that rarely align with the Paris Agreement goals. They have invested in reputational advertising that shifts the conversation to action by consumers and governments, positions them as trusted partners to wider society and promotes a misleading image of the role fossil fuel companies might play in the climate solution. The role these corporations have actively played in America’s failure so far to meet the Paris Climate Agreements of 1.5°C (2.7°F) target viable has transnational repercussions.
The Paris Agreement’s long-term temperature goal was to keep the rise in mean global temperature to well below 2 °C (3.6 °F) but still above pre-industrial levels. It really wanted to limit the increase to 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) as soon as possible and to reach net-zero by the middle of the 21st century. That would be 2050.
A caveat. As someone who spends a lot of time researching and writing about the multiple challenges facing America today, I know the world has, by and large, adopted the “net zero by 2050” as its de facto climate goal. But I see two fatal flaws in the language of this goal. The first is “net zero.” The second is “by 2050.”
Net zero is a phrase the represents our fervent belief that technology will somehow suck up all that nasty CO2 while allowing we the people and the fossil fuel industry to continue business as usual. Nothing I can find tells me that this nascent technology can come close to capturing the amount of greenhouse gases from the continuing use of fossil fuels for transportation, heating and electric power production.
The second flaw, to my way of thinking, is the phrase “by 2050.” This “deadline” feels way, way in the future to me. If you are reading this as a 50-year-old person, you will be 81 come 2050, one year shy of 30 years from today. I’m guessing that many people reading this article will no longer be living in 2050. So how does a date three decades from now deliver an immediate call-to-action? If I’m not going to be around in 30 years, why worry now about what may or may not happen to our environment after I’m gone?
I believe that 2050 is a “convenient” future date that allows the fossil fuel industries to keep on keeping on with the extraction of CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases while gaslighting the general public with its greenwashing marketing campaigns.
Charles Dicken’s famous first line in his classic The Tale of Two Cities wraps up the climate conundrum with his famous first line in, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”
In what direction do you think we are heading? I believe we are living today in the world by the skin of our teeth.
John Bos writes his bi-weekly “Connecting the Dots” column for the Greenfield Recorder and is a contributing writer for Green Energy Times. He is the editor of a new children’s book After the Race. He can be reached at email@example.com.