Monday, May 20, 2013

The Only Priority -- Climate Change

Why are we all on earth any different from the Titanic?

We are all together headed toward a common fate, albeit with different levels of comfort along the way.  In fact, we on Earth are even more isolated than they were on the Titanic.  We are as confident as they were in the indestructibility of our world, in our case because we have always been safe so why would it change?  They were assured they were safe, despite iceberg sightings, because the Titanic was unsinkable.

From that perspective, as we go about out daily lives with concerns for winding down wars, instituting a new health care system, fixing economics, we are rearranging the deck chairs, because just as the Titanic was sailing toward an iceberg and discounting the danger because they were unsinkable, we are sailing toward climate change, aka global warming, aka a disaster that will disrupt severely the world as we know it.

Why don’t we pay more attention?  Why is it number 17 or something on the concerns of Americans?  Are we the proverbial frogs in the gradually heating water which will be boiled slowly?

Jared Diamond observed in Collapse that humans arriving on a previously uninhabited island will kill and make extinct all the large animals and some of the small ones, and cut down all the trees, and thus establish their own demise or devolution into abject poverty.  Why are more modern humans on the island named Earth any different?  In contrast to the islanders, we have modern science which can foretell our demise or devolution.  But the bulk of mankind does not listen.  The ignorant and the selfish – the 90% -- generally just deny.  The science is bad, they think, or the doomsayers discount the power of innovation.  Well, the science isn’t bad, it’s good.  Innovation can’t come fast enough because of the lag in changing greenhouse gases; there is no vacuum cleaner for carbon dioxide, and there will not likely be one anytime soon, especially as population continues to increase and deforestation continues. 

The United States needs to take responsibility.  The advanced countries made the mess and we should clean it up.  But we won’t.  Nor will the aggressive behemoth called China.  It is a sad day when such ignorance and selfishness triumphs.  But there it is. 

I don’t know what I can do individually, certainly nothing significant, and I make my negative contribution as I fly here and there in airplanes.  But what would the difference be if I stopped?  I’m not a saint, but probably we should try to go solar, turn off some appliances in the Hawaii house while we’re not there.  “Raise awareness.”

Obama is smart, although not scientific and certainly not much of a leader of a country let alone the world.  But where the hell is he?  At the very least he could “raise awareness,” do his executive actions, and make the case for the long term – and it’s not even so long term at this point.

Jennifer Granholm has a great and innovative plan, not that it would save us, but it’s something – do a Race to the Top for states to innovate in clean energy, using corporate profit repatriation as a source of funding:  She presented it to a group of us the other night, but it was not going to politically popular with Republicans.  And when she presented it to the Obama Administration she was pooh-poohed, it seems.

I just read yesterday in Tom Friedman’s column about the size of Syrian families – 16 children is not unusual.  In the 70’s and 80’s health care improved but the practice of having large families so that some survived has not yet relented.  (I learned about this ironic phenomenon of health improvement leading to more population and subsequent increased impoverishment in medical school, in our public health club – it wasn’t important enough to present to the general class, I guess.)  Adjustment takes time, and there are thus many more souls on our small planet to run out of water, food, and probably firewood – although not coal perhaps.  Nothing makes people more desperate and angry and violent than hunger.

The dystopian future continues to beckon.

Budd Shenkin


  1. Budd - if Climate Change is the worry - and I think it is as I live on the coast of NC 40 mi inland at an elevation of 8 ft - then the President needs to facilitate Nuclear power more than "Clean Coal". I really do not understand people who describe themselves as "environmentalists" but can't promote nuclear power. We would kill the planet before we'd give up air conditioning and it is tough to do A/C in the humid South with solar panels.... It does not matter if the half life of some fuels is 40,000 years if we can't make it 500. Just think how much carbon would have been avoided if we had focused on nuclear instead of adding ethanol to gas! Bad LUC!
    -Graham Barden

  2. Graham - I agree with you, for the nth time. But disposition of waste has to be dealt with, proper operation in a non-Chernoble and non-Three Mile Island and non-Fukushima way, and cost of new facilities. I've just come upon a website to watch for climate change science - I'm hoping to become better informed by following it.


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