- Apr 26, 2010
(The following was a "letter to the editor" I submitted to a progressive magazine in response to articles on global warming)
In "American Psychosis" you point to the many people who acknowledge global warming, but do not change much, if anything about their destructive lifestyles, and in "Hot Air" talk about the point of view of skeptics and deniers.
I run a certified green hauling business. I modified my delivery truck to get 30mpg (from 15mpg) and run it on 100% biodiesel made from recycled veggie oil. I also work part time supporting people who bicycle to work (at a business which runs at a loss because our main service is free). I live in a 250square foot home and use less than $5 worth of electricity most months.
I also have some background in science, including degrees in earth science and biology, and generally track down sources for claims I read.
Having read arguments on both sides, I am not convinced that humans are significantly contributing to climate change. While I admit I haven't kept up with the latest research, I have yet to see several points addressed:
1 The climate naturally goes through cycles of extremes. The current climate reflects roughly where it is expected to be. Our methods of determining past temperatures are not precise enough to tell us the rate of change over small periods of time in the past, and so it is difficult to determine if what we see today is abnormal.
2 Geologic data suggests that in past periods of climate change, temperature has always changed first, with CO2 levels changing as a result of temperature change, not the other way around. This does not necessarily indicate it is what is happening this time, but it could account for what we are seeing.
3 Climate predictions are only as good as the models they are built on, which in turn are only as good as the computers that run them. We simply do not have computers powerful enough to accurately model something as complex as the earth's climate. Last I heard, in order to reduce complexity to a manageable level, most models omit details such as water vapor (arguably the single most important variable) all together.
4 Human caused climate change is frequently referred to (particularly in liberal media sources) as having "scientific consensus". According to Pew Research center 86% of scientists concur. While 86% is clearly an overwhelming majority in a democracy, in science 14% is too large a minority to simply ignore.
But here's the thing:
It doesn't make one bit of difference if humans are contributing to global warming or not.
Whether we are causing it or not, its happening (that doesn't take predictions, just measurements - its happening)
Therefor we should prepare for it.
Even more important: independent of global warming, our lifestyles are harming the ecology of our planet. Even if an individual feels no moral reason to care about life other than humanity, it is undeniable that we are totally dependent on the environment for our own survival.
Regardless of climate change, our driving and electricity generation cause air pollution, which in turn causes cancer, asthma, acid rain and many other air quality issues. Drilling for oil and mining for coal (or uranium) causes massive destruction - when things are running as they should - never mind the occasional catastrophic accident. Vehicle manufacture itself takes an enormous amount of raw material (as well as energy) all of which must be mined/refined/transported and which carries an ecological price tag. Auto accidents are the number one killer of all Americans below 40 and remains one of the top causes of death and injury at all ages. Their is evidence that the lack of exercise associated with driving is the number one factor in the obesity epidemic. The fact that we consume far more energy than we can produce domestically puts us at risk, both politically, economically, and militarily.
All of these problems would remain if we switched to electric (or fuel cell) cars. Most would remain even if we discovered cold-fusion or some other unlimited supply of cheap energy.
And of-course all would also remain if humanity decided to combat global warming with a grand geo-engineering project.
The exclusive focus on "human-caused climate change" makes it easy for people to write off environmentalism, because the science is not, in fact, conclusive (as of yet). It also encourages the idea of using technology to "solve" the issue, with potentially unintended consequences. And it completely ignores all of the other real, urgent, indisputable problems that our lifestyle has created.
Whether it turns out humans are accelerating climate change or not, our course of action needs to be the same:
One way or another, the earth will eventually get warmer, and people need to be ready to adapt.
One way or another, the American lifestyle is destructive and unsustainable, and we need desperately to downsize our extravagances: give up the car, stop flying, eat vegetarian / organic / local, cut electricity use, buy less stuff, shop locally (when buying is necessary), waste less water, and live in locales that are naturally hospitable to humans (i.e. not the desert)
We can either focus on gradually changing those things now, voluntarily, or we can ignore them and have them changed for us in the future, in which case the change will be very unpleasant, and likely include violence.
Addressing climate change does little to address any of those issues, and where it does it is only incidental.
While I understand the good intention behind keeping environmental issues on the forefront of everyone's minds, I believe that the single-minded focus on global warming is actually counter-productive - even if it does turn out to be true.