The caption on Time magazine's current cover has me rubbing my eyes in joyous disbelief. It reads: Gay Marriage Already Won: The Supreme Court hasn't made up its mind -- but America has. The cover story declares that, no matter what the Supreme Court decides, the public finally accepted the idea of gay marriage.
I speak as an old (age 75) gay man who thought he'd seen it all, but I never expected to see progress take the form of an avalanche. What explains this momentous change? The answer is the simplest thing in the world: the direct personal experience of individuals.
It turns out, not surprisingly, that almost everyone knows someone who is gay -- a family member, a friend, or a coworker. In the past most gay people felt compelled to hide their true identity from straight people. But then, lo and behold, gay people started coming out -- by the millions!
These countless acts of courage made it difficult for straight people to deny the humanity of gays and lesbians. To do so they'd have to question their own humanity. And, thank goodness, most people are fundamentally decent, which is all it takes for a profound change of heart.
What a grand reward for all those who had the guts to step into the sunlight and declare openly "I am what I am." So now we are experiencing the beginning of the end of the war over gay marriage. Hurrah!
Now, prepare to take a giant step with me.
I speak as a former community organizer who helped bring -- way back in the late 1960s -- the environmental movement into existence. After many years of frustration over society's failure to combat catastrophic climate change, I now see progress on this score too. I predict that soon society will start tackling climate change with the seriousness the challenge deserves.
What makes me think this? The direct personal experience of individuals.
For millions of Americans climate reality is now overtaking climate denial and threatens to bury it. I make this observation sorrowfully, for what's instructing us is great suffering or the prospect of it, not reason and hope. But that seems to be our lot.
Was Hurricane Sandy the tipping point? Maybe, maybe not. But count on it, the tipping point is not far off. Sandy is not the last word in climate change-induced natural disasters. After the next one -- or the one after that -- or the one after that -- all the climate denying arguments will be demolished.
You don't have to take my word for it. Ask the residents of southeastern Louisiana who've been hit in recent years by Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike, Lee and Isaac. How many wildfires does it take for citizens of the Rocky Mountain states to add two and two? How long must a drought last before Texans recognize something is afoot? How much routine coastal flooding will it take before Norfolk, Virginia's climate-denying Congressman Scott Rigell (R-VA 2) sees the light -- or is turned out of office by worried constituents?
People are not dumb. Rest assured, as the climate crisis intensifies, the deniers will be washed up on the battered shore along with the rest of the flotsam and jetsam.
In our time, as never before, direct personal experience permits people to contravene what they've been told to think by convention or authority. And they can dissent with relative ease because in the Information Age they can readily find confirmation and affirmation for their change of heart. It used to be that individuals who had a cathartic personal experience might fear to reveal it or act on it because they might be alone in experiencing it. No more!
The beginning of the end of the war over climate denial is in sight, and not a minute too soon.