Monday, December 21, 2009

Global Whining

The following piece was originally written on 11/21/09. I decided to withdraw this then because I thought, at the time, it was too controversial to publish, and would have offended too many people. However, a few things made me reconsider:
  1. I was recently given a copy of Mother Earth News magazine by a neighbor, and they took on this exact subject, and I feel compelled to give my opinion.
  2. I was moved by a 60 Minutes piece this weekend on how the economy has hurt people in the U.S.
  3. There has been even more talk about global warming, CO2 emissions, and "carbon credits" that has made me cringe.
I apologize in advance to those I offend, and I apologize to everyone for it not being as upbeat as I would like. It isn't an upbeat topic...


I am a long-time user of The Weather Underground, a weather site that has been helpful to me since ... well, since my first personal Internet connection way back in 1993. While I do miss the good old telnet-based menu-driven interface, I have to admit that their web interface truly brings more information to the table (especially in times of severe weather). Dr. Jeff Masters was the person responsible for bringing that telnet weather interface to the world, and he's still active on The Weather Underground with weather commentary and other information.

Jeff Masters' discussion in his "WunderBlog" about an effort by a petroleum/coal industry-funded group to encourage the production of CO2 (titled, "Is more CO2 beneficial for Earth's ecosystems?") got me thinking a bit more about the whole "global warming" issue. I've been careful not to discuss this topic here too much, for several reasons:
  1. I'm far from an expert on the subject. The best I can do is repeat summaries of what I've heard, filtered through my own bullshit detector (which is not always right).
  2. Global warming is an emotionally-charged issue (dare I say, "religious?"). When people discuss global warming, it is with enormous personal conviction (on both sides of the fence) where the fate of the Earth is in the spotlight.
  3. Just as there are strong scientific studies indicating that there is a trend toward global warming, there are others that refute those studies, and there is widespread disagreement as to what may contribute to global climate change (if that is, indeed, happening) and the magnitude of that affect.
  4. Discussions about global warming draw attention away from the real problems at hand.
The reason why Jeff Masters' article grabbed my attention was that he exposed a dramatic piece of disinformation being spread, and did an excellent job of discussing just why it is, indeed, disinformation. I also appreciate any article that uses Webster's dictionary to bring meaning to emotionally-charged statements, in this case "pollutant," and that he discusses unintended consequences in-depth.

I am still unsure where I stand on the issue of "global warming." In true scholarly discussion (not industry or activist-funded propaganda), there are very good discussions and evidence supporting and refuting the idea that the Earth is getting warmer, and many reasons indicating why it could be happening. I have seen one discussion hypothesizing that the melting of the polar ice caps is due, in part, to changes in the Earth's magnetic field. Many people don't realize the role that the Earth's magnetic field plays in protecting us from the various undesired emissions from the sun. Should "global warming" be a concern? Yes. The discussion should be ongoing, as in all scientific discussion.

What I don't like is the politicizing of global warming and the idea that we can mitigate the problem by voodoo methodologies. When global climate change is discussed in the political arena it is not really about the temperature of the Earth - it is about pollution. People are not concerned about the temperature of the Earth, they are worried about how pollution is negatively impacting the Earth's ecosystem. Carbon dioxide (CO2), that stuff that comes out your mouth, your cat's mouth, a cow's mouth, and your car's exhaust pipe, is not the real problem, it is the balance of CO2 in the atmosphere that is the problem. When you stop listening to the whining that is taking place on both sides of the issue and think about the entire issue in terms of pollution and balance, then the problem becomes much more clear. Unfortunately, people in general don't like to think, so terms like global warming, carbon footprint, and carbon credits get thrown about like we know how to control the atmosphere. We can no more easily control the atmosphere than we can control the weather. What we can control is how we impact the Earth's ecosystem as a whole, and that's where we come back to pollution.

Concern about pollution is not new. As a child of the 60s and 70s I heard the term thrown about like global warming is thrown about today. There were doomsday discussions about how the Earth would be uninhabitable by the year 2000 if we didn't control pollution. Well, here it is almost 2010 and we're all very much alive. That is actually the dilemma - that pollution was politicized and now that the doomsday threats never came to being nobody knows for sure whether all the EPA controls or simple misinformation was to blame. Pollution was and still is a real problem. There is not a practical way for people to live their lives without leaving some undesirable contaminants behind. Those who feel there is are doing so by leaving the word "practical" out of the equation (they may live some of their lives in a purely sustainable fashion, but they are utilizing technology that does adversely affect the planet). Those who are in favor of letting industry police themselves with regard to pollutants are foolish, stupid, and have a very short memory. The problem is really that people produce more pollutants than the Earth and atmosphere can absorb. The problem is with balance.

The real inconvenient truth is that people don't want to change the way they are living and to look at unintended consequences. The biggest problem with the Earth's ecosystem is that there are too many people. As a species we have advanced to the point where our mortality rate is low, we have learned how to fight-off disease better than we ever have (in part to medical advances, and in part to better communication), and our standard of living is overall excellent. In any species, like insects for example, when conditions are good, that species reproduces uncontrollably and ultimately experiences a catastrophe - their ecosystem collapses (pollution) and/or their food source disappears (excessive consumption). While human beings possess the thought processes to understand this cycle, they seem to feel they are somehow exempt from that specific protocol (or they simply refuse to use their brain). The economic collapse and fallout afterward that the western world has experienced recently is a testament to the result of imbalance. What do you get when you have more people than jobs to do? What do you get when your entire economy is based on the idea of people consuming more and more products? What happens when several seemingly insignificant events causes the consumption rate to drop? All of these are examples of imbalance in action. Instead of regulating our population rate as our lifestyle improved, we increased it at an exponential rate. Instead of understanding how excessive consumption affected our economic stability and the ecology of the planet, we continued to consume uncontrollably. And what do people do when they have no more disposable income and are bored (or if they buy-into some ridiculous religious belief)? They make babies. Brilliant.

I'm not advocating that we start killing-off the population (PLEASE do not do that). I am saying that if we only think about saving the planet by reducing our CO2 emissions, then we are missing the entire lesson. If people stop having so many babies, and we can carefully and gradually bring our population down to a reasonable level (in-line with our species' development), then the Earth's ecosystem (and our economy) will start to come into balance again. Should we start being smarter about our consumption and our impact on the environment? That would definitely help speed things along, for sure. The bad news: It will probably take as long for us to fix the problems as it did for us to create them...which for us is at least 200 years or so (assuming we start now). The worse news: I don't think anyone will commit to fixing the real problem, so I wouldn't worry about that. To me, the apocalypse is a self-fulfilling prophesy, and that both revelation and judgment day will be when we, as a species, understand that we have brought the whole thing upon ourselves.

Have a wonderful day.

PS: I am hereby making this a plea for people to participate in Buy Nothing Day on November 27...although that will, according to my analysis above, contribute to total economic collapse... Sigh...

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