We have spoken at length in this column about the willful refusal of the human race to do something about problems that are either too big to grasp or too distant to worry about. They tend to become, in the words of Douglas Adams, SEPs: Somebody Else’s Problems. In fact, in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, aliens use an SEP force field as a way to disguise the landing of a giant spaceship in the middle of a cricket match at Lord’s (the world’s most famous cricket stadium, for all non-Commonwealth readers — comparable to Fenway Park or Old Trafford).
According to the Hitchhiker Wiki on Wikia: “Somebody Else's Problem field, or SEP, is a cheap, easy, and staggeringly useful way of safely protecting something from unwanted eyes. It can run almost indefinitely on a flashlight/9 volt battery, and is able to do so because it utilizes a person's natural tendency to ignore things they don't easily accept, like, for example, aliens at a cricket match. Any object around which an SEP is applied will cease to be noticed, because any problems one may have understanding it (and therefore accepting its existence) become Somebody Else's. An object becomes not so much invisible as unnoticed.
“A perfect example of this would be a ship covered in an SEP field at a cricket match. A star ship taking the appearance of a large pink elephant is ideal, because you can see it, but because it is so inconceivable, your mind can't accept it. Therefore, it can't exist; thus, ignore it.
“An SEP can work in much the same way in dangerous or uninhabitable environments. Any problem which may present itself to a person inside an SEP will become Somebody Else's.
“An SEP can be seen if caught by surprise, or out of the corner of one's eye.”
So clearly, Dumbledore could have learned a lot from this when designing the Invisibility Cloak. But there is one more way to notice an SEP: if it suddenly became a YBP, or Your Burning Problem.
Speaking of burning, as unfortunate as they were, the forest fires in Colorado last year, with their savagery and scale of decimation, were a wake-up call to many deniers or doubters about the reality of global warming. Too literal (and too soon) you say? Now, Elizabeth Kolbert of The New Yorker has given us one more reason, and this one comes with a 3,000% guarantee of getting your attention: plagues. Yes, plagues. They worked in the Old Testament and they’ll work today as we move towards the Apocalypse.
In a recent article, she makes the case that as the world gets warmer, it becomes a more inviting environment for some of the world’s most deadly viruses. One example: the delightfully named but far from delightful “chikungunya” virus, native to West Africa and Asia. Named after a local tribal word for “to become contorted” for its ability to induce severe joint pain, the virus has surfaced in Italy, the Caribbean and — closer to home — Florida. She goes on to add that while this particular “virus diaspora” was more due to global trade and travel, it’s worth noting that the mosquito that carries the virus is now able to live in more places around the world. Others on the potential global disease-ambassador list? West Nile virus, dengue fever and malaria, as well as water-borne diseases like cholera.
As disturbing as this could be, there is some marketing mileage to be wrung out of it for the cause. In our attempts to alert the world to climate change, we rely all too often on the weapons of logic and argument. Perhaps we should go Biblical. Huge uncontrollable acts of nature remind us that we are not the omnipotent beings we sometimes delude ourselves into thinking we are, and humble us into actually looking for solutions and listening to good advice. After all, it wasn’t carefully constructed closing statements that got the Israelis out of Egypt. It was, among other things, locusts.