My iPod shuffle ran out of podcasts to listen to just before I got to Colorado Springs. I really should have saved them as I drove across California, Nevada, Utah, and western Colorado. The scenery was enough to keep my mind occupied. There’s a division across America, running down the front range of the Rockies. Both sides get called “America the Beautiful” and I wouldn’t say that the east side is ugly; It’s just more like America the Boredomful. There aren’t many radio stations in the sparsely populated West. Driving east, the scenery runs out a state-and-a-half before the radio stations pick up. This gap is called Kansas. (To my mind, the eastern half of Colorado is just an extension of Kansas, though I’m sure if I dared to stop, the locals would correct me.) So I faced Kansas without podcasts, or CDs, cassette tapes, or 8-tracks for that matter. Fortunately, my dad reminded me of the existence of AM radio just as I entered the Great Plains.
I tried listening to Air America, but it was mostly commercials, and what content there was was disjointed and insubstantial. The rest of the AM dial is filled with religious and right-wing talk, which is actually an advantage when traversing the country. The increased blood pressure makes it difficult to fall asleep at the wheel. Thankfully the topics du jour weren’t gays or the war, or I might have had an aneurysm at the wheel—which would be worse than falling asleep. Right now they’re mostly concerned with slamming Sicko, sight unseen, and “debunking” global warming.
All the stuff we’re hearing these days about climate change—melting glaciers, higher sea levels, more intense storms, widespread drought—I first heard in 10th grade when I did a project for biology class. That was 18 years ago! I was shocked to hear a caller start ranting about how global warming is made up, and certainly not man’s fault. He criticized the liberals for not backing up their assertions with any facts. The host concurred, and explained that liberals don’t base their thinking on facts, their arguments are pure emotion. My blood was boiling.
Two days earlier, I’d listened to a Talk of the Nation podcast with several scientists representing teams who are spending a year studying the effects of climate change on Alaska. Glaciers have retreated miles. The Arctic Ocean is losing its summer sea-ice. Thousands of square miles of permafrost have melted causing forests to fall over. Normally inch-high tundra plants have turned into shrubs that stick above the snow, absorbing more sunlight, causing further heating in the spring and fall. It was also pretty clear that scientists hold back their emotions. They refuse to say how bad they think things really are because they don’t want to make assertions until the facts incontrovertibly point to those conclusions.
The AM radio host finished his fact-free emotion-laden rant and went to break with the words “Fox News Radio—Free and Balanced.” Another enraged dose of adrenalin shot into my veins. I listened to conservative and evangelical talk radio for 24 hours driving from Colorado Springs to Asheville, and I’ll be damned if I ever heard anything remotely grounded in fact. Fortunately there will be a pilot flying me to South America and I won’t need to subject myself to such deluded rhetoric (giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming it isn’t simply deceitful) to stay awake. I can just sleep my travels away and awaken somewhere with its own problems and politics that, for a while at least, I’ll be oblivious to.