Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hot Err

Okay, Nation... I've heard just about all I can stand about the climate change issue, although I know I'll be hearing about it for the rest of my days.

On the heels of the Copenhagen conference, I figured I'd save everyone the time and trouble of holding another one of these gab-fests, and solve the issue right now.

So, here we go - the FINAL WORD on the climate change issue. There's no need for further debate.


If you don't think the climate is changing, you're an idiot.

If you think human industry can destroy the planet, you're just as big an idiot.

Everyone with me so far?

Let's review to this point...

The climate is changing. It is. Deniers will throw on a smirk whenever the mercury hits a new low and snarkily state to the nearest media-type "well, so much for global warming!" - but here's the thing: Nobody has called it global warming in 15 years. The reason nobody has called it that in 15 years, is because we now know the issue is far, far more complex than a simplistic "the world is getting warmer, everywhere" type of statement. It hasn't been "global warming" since Young MC was putting out cassette tapes. Clinging to the old, inaccurate, simplistic term formerly used to describe an infinitely complex system is a hallmark of a simple mind. FYI.

We're constantly learning new things about our planet, and the creatures that call it home. Not that long ago, we used to tell people to climb trees when being chased by a bear. Turns out, black bears can climb trees, and grizzly bears can just knock them over. We used to stock rivers with non-indigenous species of fish - and just about wiped out the Bull Trout in the process. We started putting out forest fires in this part of the world a hundred years ago - which has left us vulnerable to huge infernos and the Mountain Pine Beetle. Our understanding evolves, and our ideas have to evolve with it.

That's an important point: Our IDEAS have to evolve. Not our beliefs. We shouldn't HOLD scientific beliefs - that's why even the most accepted scientific laws - gravity, for example - are referred to as "theories" - because until our understanding of the universe is perfect, there is always room for improvement. Beliefs deny the evolution of understanding as accepted facts change, and turn a current understanding into an absolute and static one. Or, to borrow a quote from one of my favourite movies:

"I just think it's better to have an idea. You can change an idea; changing a belief is trickier. People die for it, people kill for it."
- Rufus, the 13th Apostle ("DOGMA")

We'll talk more about the science in a bit.

Human beings can not destroy this planet.

Greenpeace, take note.

We can pollute the air, we can dump toxic waste into our rivers and oceans, we can contaminate the topsoil - and yet, the Earth will be fine. Life will find a way to continue - it always does. Life will find a way to survive, and thrive, just as it has through countless mass extinctions in the past several billion years.

The problem is, we won't be here to see it. Because we humans will, without a change to the way in which we exist within our environments, likely cause our own extinction. With the Romans, it was lead plumbing, which poisoned the people, led to decreased intelligence in generation after generation, and ultimately contributed to the downfall of the mightiest empire the world had ever known. Now, though, we've evolved past the point where we're simply polluting locally, causing the local residents some problems - our pollution is global in scope, its effect will be felt by our entire population, and so too must the solution be global.

I'm talking about solutions, not gimmicks. Giving money to poor countries to pay for our environmental sins isn't a solution - it's a way to ease our guilty collective conscience. We need to take all that money we're using to purchase our environmental indulgences from the church of public opinion, and we need to give it to our best scientists, and we need to find better ways to feed, clothe, shelter and power our societies - and make those results available across the globe. Do you think anyone in Vietnam is going to care that the local power plant is hydro-electric rather than coal-fired, purchased with money paid by guilty Britons, while acid rain is falling from the sky because of heavy industry in China or India, who get off the hook as "developing nations" under most international environmental treaties?

Canada could turn off the lights tomorrow, go completely into the stone ages industrially, send every red cent in the treasury to Kuala Lampur, and it would not make one damn bit of difference to the issue of global climate change. The sooner we get that through our heads, the sooner we can talk about real solutions instead of symbolic gestures.

Are we causing climate change? Maybe. Maybe not. Are we making it worse? PROBABLY - but not definitely. But those doubting the ability of Twitter to get salient points across in 140 characters or less should consider this gem:

"Let's suppose climate change is a myth. Does that make pollution, over-consumption of fuel and unsustainable communities permissible?"
- Chris Henderson

Whether or not we're causing this problem is not as relevant as the opportunity that it gives us, to eschew ostentatious consumption in favour of a more sustainable lifestyle, not just for future generations, but for OURS - this isn't an issue we can just tell our kids they'll have to make sacrifices in order to deal with, this is an issue that WE can start making sacrifices to deal with, and set an example.

The Greatest Generation didn't blink when faced with an unenviable position - they didn't decide to wait for their children to grow up and do something about it. They went. As so many of them leave us every day, 70 years later, the very least we can do is show those who remain that we learned from their example what it meant to make sacrifices for the greater good - and for our own good, too.

The last word on our ability to destroy this planet goes to perhaps the greatest philosopher of the 20th century. He's got a bit of a potty mouth, so don't turn your speakers on at work, and get the kids out of the room.

Alright, so we've dealt with (read: enraged the supporters of) the 2 biggest myths of the ridiculous back-and-forth that is the climate change debate. To re-cap:

1. The climate is changing, although we're not 100% certain why.

2. We're not a threat to the Earth - we're a threat to ourselves and some of the other species on the planet.

These are facts, and anyone who wants to argue about them will lose.

Now, we hear a lot about "Greenhouse Gases" going into, and coming out of, the Copenhagen conference. So, let's deal with the next big argument in that vein:

Carbon dioxide is not pollution. It's plant food.

Carbon dioxide isn't bad for the planet. It's just not. Without it, plants can't grow, which means herbivores can't eat or breathe, which means I don't get my steak - or my oxygen. So, CO2 is GOOD, right?

Well, HALF right.

CO2 is good, so long as there are plants to consume it.

The CO2 output from the planet's surface over the past thousand years has increased dramatically. Heavy industry, internal combustion engines, the increase in human population, Rush Limbaugh - all of them are recent developments that have increased the amount of CO2 being released into the atmosphere.

CO2 is NOT pollution.

This is where deforestation becomes an issue, though. With fewer trees and plants around to ingest that CO2, taking it out of the atmosphere and replacing it with oxygen, the CO2 drifts around in the atmosphere and contributes to the Greenhouse effect - which increases the temperature in parts of the world, while reducing it in others. At its most extreme, the Greenhouse effect results in Venus-like conditions - not at all comfortable.

We are nowhere NEAR Venus-like conditions. And CO2 is not pollution.

But if you think the only thing coming out of your tail-pipe when you let your engine idle for 30 minutes in the mall parking lot because "it's cold outside" is CO2, you need to have your head examined.

Weather and temperature changes, some of them drastic, are occurring.

The problem is, we've only been at this "science" thing, or anything resembling it, for a few hundred years. As a species, we've only had 10,000 or so years to notice what's been going on around us. Pretending to be able to recognize patterns that can give us a reasonable understanding of "regular" global weather based on our recorded scientific observations to this point is akin to watching Todd Bertuzzi take a face-off and claiming to understand hockey.

So we don't know what's "normal". That makes it hard to know if what we're experiencing is "abnormal", which is sort of the first step to determining if we're responsible for causing the abnormalities - which may or may not be happening.

What we DO know is that polar ice is melting, some parts of the world are getting colder, ocean currents are getting wonky, and we're getting more extreme weather events than we were getting decades ago. All of this is a change from what we're used to - and therefore, deniers, the climate, as far as we're concerned, is changing.

Whether it's changing the way it normally has, for billions of years, or it's changing in a unique way, possibly due to human influence, is not known. Using 10,000 years out of 4 billion for observation and prediction is like electing a national government based on a show of hands in the smoking section of your local Denny's.

To think that, at this point, we have the knowledge to "fix" this is arrogance personified. This MIGHT be normal. IF it's not, it MIGHT not be our fault. IF it is our fault, we MIGHT be able to do something about it. And IF we can do something about it, we MIGHT be able to figure out what the RIGHT thing is to do. But there are a lot of uncertainties there.

Science is supposed to help us clear up those uncertainties, right?

Wrong. The role of science, much like the role of the artist or court musician in medieval Europe, has become "to validate his benefactor".

Now, let's be 100% clear on this: If I am a brilliant scientist, with 20 years of education in my area of expertise, one of the top, if not THE top, scientific mind in my field - I deserve to get paid. VERY well paid. If my mind is improving the lives of others, and my knowledge and work is making other people millions of dollars, then I should be paid at least as much as a 3rd-line centre in the NHL.

The problem is, these scientists find themselves naturally leaning towards coming up with results that justify their continued employment. You don't often hear the words, in any language, "in my learned opinion, this problem is solved, and you can fire me and stop paying me $5 million per year."

The scientists on both sides of the environmental divide are guilty of this. I'm not saying they're fudging numbers, or purposely distorting facts... but, when you're hired by a lobby group or corporation that clearly has a certain expectation for a result, and you're extremely well-paid to do your work, at some point (if even subconsciously) you're going to start hoping that you get results that will satisfy your employer.

Of course, it doesn't help matters any that most of the best scientific minds in this field have been scooped up by one side or the other in the debate, to either "prove that climate change is real and caused by humans" or to "prove that climate change is a myth, and humans are just wonderful and should buy SUV's". I think a big part of my problem with this comes from my perhaps naive hope that there shouldn't BE 2 "sides" to the argument, because that presupposes that people have already made up their minds, and are looking to cherry-pick data to prove their presumptions.

This is far, though, from the first scientific field to be high-jacked by private financial interests. Remember when medical science was focused on research on how to cure debilitating and deadly diseases?

Remember THIS guy?

Q - "Who owns to patent to the (Salk) vaccine?"
Salk - "There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?"

Nowadays, the brilliant medical minds are all funded by private interests, and looking for ways to help you live with your condition. Not to CURE you - heavens, no. If you're cured, once and for all, we can only get money from you once.

In fairness to the doctors and scientists, they're controlled as much by market forces as any of the rest of us. If you've got the medical knowledge to cure cancer, but Pfizer offers you $10,000,000.00 per year to develop a treatment (not a cure, mind you) for male pattern baldness, what are you going to take? Decades of toiling in anonymity and squalor, hoping for your break-through and the immortality that would come from a cancer cure? Or bi-coastal homes, the best lab equipment money can buy, living in the lap of luxury, GUARANTEED, to solve a problem that a drug company wants solved because there's a market for the pills?

This is described by a contemporary of our above philosopher, who (come to think of it) looks a lot like the previously-quoted Rufus, the 13th Apostle - again, put the little ones to bed, and don't listen to this at work...

And it's not just drug companies, either... most of the people who belong to lobby groups for various diseases are there for noble reasons. They had a friend or loved one struck down by the disease, they truly want to help conquer this scourge or that scourge... but there are also people who are there because it's a job. And if you cure MS tomorrow, CURE it, then they're out of a job. So when advances are made towards curing the disease, they get "their" scientists to try and find flaws in the data. They're not trying to cure the disease, they're trying to keep justifying their jobs. You'll find people like that in every walk of life. Most people who deal with pain and suffering would love nothing more than to find their jobs obsolete tomorrow... but occasionally, you'll meet a cop, or a fireman, or a doctor, for whom the job is just that - a pay cheque. In a world without crime, or fire, or disease, they're out a job - and that's as far as they'd think it through.

When we allow science to be corrupted by economic interests, it loses itself. Science is supposed to shine light into the dark places, to help us understand our world and the things that happen within it. The economization of science, then, does just the opposite: It presents the public with impossible-to-understand data, both sides presented as "inarguable, peer-reviewed truth", and asks us laypeople to choose between 2 completely contradictory packages both labelled "the way things actually are".

So we don't know what the truth is. Even the highly intelligent and brilliantly-trained people who THINK they know what the truth is, don't know what the truth is. We might be causing climate change, and we might not. CO2 is good, except when it's not. Giving money to other countries is morally satisfying, but won't fix the problem. We're over-consuming, but don't know how to stop. Even if we DO stop, it might not make a difference in terms of climate change. Climate and weather are unpredictable, and we're not sure what's going to happen, or when, or where. Our scientists have been corrupted by the market forces that keep their labs stocked and their garages full.

Merry Christmas.

What can we do, in light of all of the above?

We can try to curb our consumption. We can help other countries skip the most environmentally damaging stages of their industrial growth. We can take the blood money that would have gone to pay for our sins, and put it towards advances in science that will help us grow more crops, deforest fewer areas, and burn less fossil fuel. We can find alternatives to power our civilization that will result in fewer - or no - emissions of any kind.

Will any of this help stop climate change?

I don't know. And neither do you. And neither do the scientists who argue for your point of view, no matter how certain the language in their published findings.

What it WILL help us do, though, is to do less damage to each other, and to our own habitat.

We can stop messing in our own cage.

It might not fix things.

Then again, it might.

If all it costs us to TRY is a little personal inconvenience, then I for one am willing to try.

After all... It can't be more inconvenient than extinction.

And if global climate change - which may or may not be our fault, which we may or may not be able to do anything about - doesn't get us, than overcrowding will. Famine. Acid rain. Drought. Disease and pandemics. War over non-renewable resources. Pollution of the groundwater. Over-fishing of the oceans. BSE. BPA. HIV. Hormones in our livestock. Chronic wasting disease. Cancer.

You know... things we CAN do something about.

If we decide they matter more than male-pattern baldness and erectile dysfunction.

Death is pretty inconvenient.

Even if it makes me a bad lemming, and a poor consumer - count me in for "life".


Unknown said...

Fabulous post. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

The Wildrose Alliance has the best emissions plan for Alberta. NO PLAN. Science is inconclusive and only Danielle Smith will lead this province and ensure our industries are put first above any global warming theory.

Unknown said...

Thanks for an honest assessment of the situation. I agree with you 100%, right down to the fact that trading carbon credits seems to be one of the silliest things that we could hope to do.

Carbon taxes might work to reduce consumption, and put resources into the hands of those who can help us when/if things turn sour. But that assumes they would be paid by gluttons, and it assumes that they would be spent on things of benefit or saved for future need. Two VERY big assumptions.

I don't believe we should be punished for having the natural resources to spare, but there seems to be an obvious need for some encouragement to conserve what we have, so that immediate profit doesn't drive all decisions and cause future generation to suffer.

Enlightened Savage said...

Anon: The fact that you could read my post, in particular the first part of it, and still refer to "global warming theory" tells me all I need to know.

Enjoy your Young MC tapes. "Stone Cold Rhyming" was his best work.

Anonymous said...

Thank you sir, for putting into words what many have struggled to do. (Have you ever thought of sending this to Suzuki and Gore?) The bottom line, such as you indicated, is that there are no absolutes in these 'discussions' (not arguments). The planet has shown resiliency throughout history, both of natural and man made impacts. Certainly in my lifetime, behaviors have changed aimed at a more practical approach to the use of energy and resources. This can, should and will continue based on scientific endeavor, resulting technological advancement, education and information.

Anonymous said...

The only party that has a clear vision here is the Wildrose Alliance. NOTHING needs to be done about global warming. Period. Waste of money!

Enlightened Savage said...

Anon: The definition of a fanatic is someone who can't change his mind, and won't change the subject.

By bringing partisan politics into a discussion where it's not warranted, you're doing more harm to your party than good, by painting a picture of fanatical supporters rather than thoughtful Albertans, ready to govern.

Stop it. There are many smart people in the WAP - you're just making it painfully clear that you're not one of them.

C.Morgan said...

There has been a blitz of such brilliant postings on all sorts of blogs by a (go figure) anonymous poster who essentially always posts something stupid and then cheers on the WAP. A rather sad strategy.

That aside, I liked your posting. Covered a lot of ground.

Anonymous said...

Abolishing wasting money on anti-global warming plans is hardly "stupid". Danielle Smith has been clear on this. No other party is acting in the best interests of Alberta like this.