Thursday, November 01, 2012

climate change

i wanted to talk with you about energy (you know, because it's really important that both of you know what i think about it) but i realized that you can't really even have that conversation without talking about climate change, which is a separate although related thing.

first: climate change is real. there is a lot - and i mean a LOT- of scientific evidence to support this and also a great deal of anecdotal evidence as well. there are only two kinds of people who believe it's not happening: the willfully ignorant and the hopelessly stupid.

the issue of WHY it's happening and the related but different questions of whether anything can or should be done about it are somewhat more complex.

let's start here: geologists and paleontologists all know that the earth has at times been much, much warmer than it is now. and even in our recorded history there have been cycles of temperature change.

it is possible that our present warming trend is part of a general warming period taking place without any causation by us.

let's assume this is true. there's no real way to prove or disprove it, but let's just say it's true.

just because there's a global warming cycle going on independent of our action does not mean that we can't do things to accelerate and increase the process. just because there's a thing going on we can't stop or slow down does not mean we need to pile on and make it worse.

if i happen to have radon in my basement because i live on a granite deposit, there's no real need for me to start taking in nuclear waste.

for just a moment, let's assume bill mckibben is at least partly right. it's what i'm assuming in general, because part of what he says makes total sense to me and part of what he says still falls into the "i'm thinkin' 'bout it" category.

we know that our oceans are absorbing more and more carbon dioxide, resulting in changing ocean pH. this much is fact. we also know that rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere has a high correlation with higher global temperature. also fact. we also know quite firmly that warmer global temperatures mean more water in the atmosphere, which means less water on the ground. we KNOW that ocean levels are rising and that glaciers are melting.

we think rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not just correlated with rising temperatures, but causative. we think more water in the atmosphere will lead to more drought on land and more severe weather. there are a lot of things we THINK may happen that range from the unpleasant to the downright deadly. we think we may be on the brink of another mass extinction.

we do not know, in this (our planet's sixth mass extinction that we know about) which species will survive or if one of the surviving species will be us.

let's just assume for a minute that all that global-warming-as-a-result-of-human-carbon-emissions stuff is true.

let's assume it's true because it gets me to the next point: a significant number of people just don't care.

here's a selection from the why of that:

  • apathy
  • jesus is coming SOON and the faithful needn't be concerned
  • the consequences come too far in the future to affect me personally
  • i assume that if it was really a problem, the government would take care of it
  • i make way too much money to care about future events 
  • doing anything about it would be too inconvenient or too hard

i imagine there are other reasons not to care, but that i think covers most of the main concepts. here's the thing, though: it's a pretty sweet little planet and this is a pretty nice gig we have for ourselves in a biological niche that includes actually being able to modify our environment, what with power tools and information technology and the ability to make fire and stuff.

and the planet, of course, is in no danger. the planet will be just fine if it gets a lot warmer and we lose biodiversity and the ocean levels rise and coastal real estate markets crash because the coasts have moved. the planet will be just fine it there's no fresh water for us to drink, or if there are no clams for the clam bar anymore because the oceans are too acidic for the little buggers to make shells.

the planet will be just fine. the planet was fine before we showed up and it will be fine after we're gone.

maybe it's oversentimental to care about what the planet will be like after our own lifetime, but i prefer to think that we might extend this pretty sweet gig we've got as long as we can, and it's possible that the choices we make now about environmental change will not be reversible and we're not choosing for ourselves but for some other, future people and it will suck to be them.

so if you're going to talk about energy and "energy dependence" you can't just talk about how you're going to keep the prices of gasoline and heating oil and electricity down. you also have to talk about the environmental costs of shale oil or natural gas or wind farms or what have you and it's stupid and dangerous not to consider the separate but related possibilities.

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