2009-10-25

Climate Change Denier

I was just accused of being a "Climate Change Denier." I'm not. I acknowledge that the climate is changing (how could it not?). I acknowledge that human activity is quite likely driving this change, and driving it at a very dangerous rate. In fact, I'm not denying anything, other than that changing to florescent light-bulbs will make any difference. I know we're in trouble, but unlike my accusers, I've actually thought about the problem.

When I hear people prattle on about what we should do to reverse global warming, I think to myself "there goes another population denier." These people prattle on with nonsense like "we just have to reduce our carbon footprint by 20% and everything will be fine." These people need a remedial math course. Yes, global CO2 emissions must reduce, 20% is a great start, but that's 'global' emissions. These people conveniently forget that the population will hit 9 Billion or so in 50 years, so 'per-capita' emissions don't need to go down by 20%, it's 30%. Oh, and then they need to factor in that most people on earth can't lower their carbon footprint because they already use about 1/6th of our western amount, but they want more. They want to drive cars, and own refrigerators and TVs. So, their emissions are only going up, not down. Thus, our 30% now starts to get even higher, maybe even 80% or more. In my Canadian city, I keep hearing "every little bit counts." Well, not really. Really, wiping the entire population of Canada off the map, reducing our carbon footprint to 0, would reduce the world output by less than 2%. This would, at best, make a momentary blip in the global trajectory.

This trajectory towards increased carbon emissions is not going to reverse, not without some serious changes. With current technology, the only way to reduce global CO2 emissions is to either kill billions of people or force them into a carbon-neutral lifestyle through some brutal and repressive government. A government that would make the Burmese Junta seem positively caring. Pro-democracy is, at this point, pro-climate change. After all, if people are free to choose, they will expect to be treated fairly. To expect otherwise is absurd. If one person has 10 and another 90, do you really expect the person at 10 to be happy with 20? No, only 50 is fair. Now, this is okay, until you realise that there are not one of each, the ratio is more 10:1, soon to be 20:1. A fair distribution is not 50 for all, it is 15. Well, it's not 15 because we need to reduce from where we are, so it's 11 or 12. Do you think the people at 90 will be happy with 11? Let's rephrase that: do you think people at 90 will drop down to 11 without a fight? I don't think so.

Thus, I think climate change is inevitable. However, I don't see global warming as the issue, I see global cooling. I say this because we already have the technology to cool the planet; actually, we have several mechanisms. We could, for example, go the old-fashioned route, a small nuclear war. It would only take a few nukes to throw up enough dust to cool the planet down. Remember nuclear winter, that thing we were all told to be afraid of before terrorism and global warming came along? If it came right down to it, do you think the Chinese government would let millions of it's citizens drown or starve when all they would have to do is let off a series of above-ground nuclear tests. After the latest typhoon breached the city dikes and washed a million people out to sea, do you think the billion citizens that remain will give their leaders any choice? Now, this is pretty extreme but there are other technological solutions being proposed for cooling the planet down, ones that don't involve nuclear weapons. Some of these are so low-tech that relatively small nations, say Indonesia, could attempt them. Of course all of this deliberate meddling in the Earth's climate would cause problems of its own.

The biggest problem, besides our lousy track record when it comes to meddling in natural systems, is that "somebody" would have to decide just how much to cool things down. The problem with this is that there are places right now that are too hot, and I expect they would like things to be cooler than they are. So, do we decide to cool to 2009 levels, or maybe we should go a few degrees cooler, say back when the Middle East really was the Fertile Crescent instead of a desert. Who decides? Given that the majority of humanity currently lives in areas generally considered to be too hot already, I don't give northern countries much hope. Should the moral arguments against deliberate meddling in the Earth's climate be overruled, and I expect they will at some point, who will stop China, or even Indonesia, from continuing to cool below current levels. How could we stop them? War? No, that's just going to cool things down faster. Nothing can stop them; it's easier to cool the planet than warm it.

Thus, the real challenge for us northerners is to support the moral arguments against deliberate meddling in the Earth's climate. Doing so involves two things: First, we need to reduce our carbon footprint drastically, not a little bit, and quickly, not slowly. Of course, this still won't be enough. Thus, the second thing we need to do is bet on technology, a technology that might yet, as it has so many times in the past, spare us from our current Malthusian dilemma . We need to find an abundant and practical carbon-free energy source that the world can use. Then, we might be able to successfully argue against deliberate meddling in the climate. We need some kind of breakthrough technology, and we need it now. To do this, we need a massive research effort, an effort best made in the Northern countries. As odd as it may seem, the people in colder places have the most to lose from global warming.

We will not experience runaway global warming. The sea levels will not rise 20m. We will not be deluged with climate refugees from the equator. I say this not as a climate change denier, but as a realist. Long before we get to this point, those people, rather than being drowned, starved, and pushed from their homelands will do something about it, whether we want them to or not. Low-tech or high-tech, subtly or with brute force, the people holding the shitty end of the global warming stick will eventually take climate change into their own hands. They will shut down and reverse global warming. In the north, our only hope is to intercede through technology development, to make this deliberate climate meddling unnecessary. It's time to get off our butts and make that happen.

1 comment:

Canada Guy said...

Lifestyle changes are good, but they can only slow emissions growth slightly, they will not reduce emissions. Personal lifestyle changes can only have an impact of a few percent at most. We cannot ignore the other 95 percent of the problem. Some have suggested that we can forget about caps and just focus on behavioural changes, which is insane.

http://selfdestructivebastards.blogspot.com/2009/10/voluntary-lifestyle-changes.html