19 November 2007 00:00 [Source: ICB]
The guy from Hood River, Oregon, was convinced that climate change was entirely the responsibility of the Chinese and the Indians, along with the closure of US textile mills and car plants.
"It's about time we stopped trading with these guys," said the ship outfitter, on his way home "for good" after his first trip outside the US. He'd accepted that the "world's a big place" but concluded, "it's just that I don't want to see any more of it."
He had thought, before being assigned to work in Singapore, that the island state was part of China. And when he asked where I came from - the UK, he expressed the opinion that "there's not much in England apart from London and Scotland."
It carried on. As the next 13 hours on the flight to Los Angeles spread before me like a giant chasm in a melting glacier in Patagonia, I unwisely chose sports as perhaps an area where we could connect.
The Rugby World Cup was taking place at that time. I told him that my team - England (not part of Scotland, by the way) - was struggling. He said: "I saw that sport on cable once. Does it get many spectators?"
An estimated 4bn TV viewers and 2.4m spectators watched the event, making it a far bigger sport than American football.
I'm not making this up - honestly. Every word is true and consistent with other conversations I've had with other US accidental tourists on planes, in airport lounges and in bars.
On the way back to my home in Singapore from Los Angeles a week later, though, I met an urbane and well-traveled property developer from San Diego, California, who admitted that the US had to take the lead on climate change.
"But the world's got no chance," he said, "as long as there are guys like the one you've just told me about from Oregon."
His point was that the world's biggest consumer and thrower-away of things, from outsized gas-guzzling SUVs to an annual consumption of plastics sufficient to cover the Amazon rainforest several times over, had to take the lead on climate change.
But he added that politicians need the votes of the guys in Oregon with their pickup trucks who believe that cheap gasoline is a God-given right and that global warming is the fault of foreigners.
We agreed that there was no hope for the planet and delved into the generous quantities of free in-flight booze.
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