PRESS EDITORIAL: The few, the wrong, the influential

Joe Heller, the Wisconsin-born University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduate whose brilliant political cartoons were published in Ozaukee Press years before his work appeared in the New York Times and USA Today, skewered two deserving targets in last week’s Press Opinion page cartoon: anti-vaxxers and climate-change deniers.

Heller’s amusing yet cutting art was a comment on the minority of Americans who reject fact, science and common sense with negative impact on the lives of the better informed and more sensible majority.

Most Americans understand the need—for their protection and that of their community—to be vaccinated against Covid-19. This has been established by numerous opinion polls and the fact that about 65% of the population has been vaccinated. Yet those who refuse vaccination are numerous and, in their resistance, influential enough to keep the goal of controlling the spread of the virus and its deadly variants out of reach.

In terms of the pandemic, Americans may be the most fortunate people on Earth. While millions elsewhere have little or no vaccine and limited means to be immunized by what is available, the U.S. has enough vaccine and a comprehensive network of providers of free vaccinations to protect the entire population.

That precious benefit is going unused by many, with the result that new Covid infections in this country number thousands daily and hundreds of people die of the preventable disease each day. Of those deaths, 99.5% occur among the unvaccinated.

Poignant reports of family members grieving over the death of a grandparent, parent or spouse who stubbornly refused vaccination are standard fare on television news programs, but the impact of this needless suffering goes beyond personal tragedy.

In states with low vaccination rates, ICUs are filled with Covid patients on ventilators, physicians and nurses are stressed and emotionally battered, economic recovery is threatened by sickened workers and renewed restrictions and mutations of the virus are allowed to thrive, potentially enabling the emergence of a variant resistant to current vaccines.

Climate change may seem a less worrisome menace because its worst consequences are more distant, but it offers a parallel example of a minority in denial impeding progress against an existential threat.

The reality that global warming caused by human behavior threatens the world has progressed from well-founded scientific theory to documented fact based on evidence that is plain for everyone to see. A planet that is heating up even faster than the most alarmed climate-change worriers had predicted is throwing world weather systems into disarray at the expense of the suffering of its inhabitants.

People in some regions of the U.S. are forced to bear unprecedented and near intolerable heat and the fear of wildfires, while others deal with storms that are more frequent, damaging and life threatening than those of the past.

The Great Lakes region has been insulated from much of the climate-change weather violence elsewhere on the continent, but now warming is being blamed for the never-before-seen rise in the Lake Michigan water level of six feet in just the past seven years, which has caused hundreds of millions of dollars in shoreline damage; more extreme and more damaging lake level swings are expected.

Surveys show a majority of Americans believe climate-change is a clear and present danger and support efforts to limit the fossil-fuel emissions that turn the atmosphere into an overheated greenhouse. But that has not deterred the faction that dismisses climate change as tree-hugger fantasy that threatens Americans’ liberty to carry on lives of comfortable consumption unfettered by the inconvenience of adapting to clean energy sources.

Minorities refusing to accept conventional wisdom are nothing new, and the influences that fuel the rejection of the truths of the coronavirus pandemic and climate change are not going away.

The enlightened majority’s defense is to choose leaders at all levels of government who value science and evidence and resist the temptation to bask in the adulation of those in the thrall of bizarre conspiracy theories holding that vaccination is a government-engineered threat to the health and freedom of Americans and that climate-change is an anti-capitalist hoax perpetrated by socialists.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494
 

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