Saturday, October 28, 2006

How the Rich Think and Are Destroying the Planet

In the University of Washington Daily last Tuesday (Oct. 24) there was a rather benign story on El Nino that ended with an example of how out of touch the wealthy are, and what they really think about global crises.

The article contained a quotation from UW President Mark Emmert, one of the highest-paid academics in the country (for a brief time he was THE highest paid), about the joys of global warming. Commenting on a recent stretch of sunny Northwest weather, Emmert said in his Oct. 11 State of the University address:

"I keep telling people in atmospheric sciences, though, if this is global warming, I'm not sure I'm opposed to it. I even threatened to go buy another SUV."

Another SUV? How many does the guy have?! Emmert received a $100,000 raise recently, bringing his pay package to $718,000, so he could undoubtedly buy a whole fleet of SUVs.

Wouldn't his money be better spent, though, on helping worthy causes, including raising visiblity and concern over climate change? The problem with Emmert's little joke is not just that it's crass and dumb, nor that it isn't even funny. It's that it shows how rich guys really think, and reflects their behind-closed-doors culture of ridiculing society's pressing challenges. Emmert would probably say, Hey, it's just a joke. But the mentality behind the joke is all too serious.

As I put it in Slow Is Beautiful:

"It's the highly educated who are damaging our country. They're the ones destroying the environment, paying people minimum wage, sending us to war. University presidents no longer stand as moral beacons or learned elders — they're hired to be glad-handing fundraisers."

(Note: The UW Daily site is undergoing renovation and I could not find a link to the referenced article. In the print edition the quote appears on p. 7 in the Oct. 24 edition.)

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