The Context of Global Warming

In this article by Bill McKibben in TomDispatch this week we are given a tour through the deceptions that the disbelievers in anthropogenic global warming are practicing. They are doing an "OJ Defense" against scientists and their science. They are concentrating on the cracks that will appear in any human enterprise, and they are creating a haystack into which they have put "needles" of suspicion. Of course they are ignoring the more salient facts that glaciers are disappearing, the fabled Northwest Passage is opening, that weather is erratic on a world-wide basis. So why? Why are otherwise intelligent people lining up behind the banner of denial?

The reasons range from economic to religious. The economic reasons are obvious: Exxon Mobil does not want to become a footnote in the history of mankind. They want to dominate the economic landscape as they do now. Coal interests are similar. Automobile manufacturers, paper mills, and thousands of industries are affected. Politicians owned by these are easily understood; they are nothing but alternative means for expressing the greed of companies and institutions the activities of which have precipitated and accelerate anthropogenic global warming.

As for the common man who is wholeheartedly into the denial, his economic interest is to keep a system in place that provides him a job and his children jobs. The ironies begin to emerge when we bring up children, though. You should not be surprised that apocalypic views of human history are part of the denial process, part of the deferral of responsibility, accepting the idea that no matter what there will be an apocalypse and so nothing really matters.

In Genesis in the Old Testament you will find that Man has been given dominion over the animals and over the land. This is the root base of the religious view of anthropogenic global warming. One form of the denial is that God would not allow mankind to exercise his dominion to a disadvantage of the planet. Another form, the more prevalent, is that He is large, but we are small, so our activities will count for little on a planetary scale. In fact the psychology of this has been reduced to slogans that accuse those who face facts and accept responsibility of hubris! That they are so full of themselves that they believe individual activities have a global effect!

One of the things we know about human beings is that they do not really understand numbers. A billion people is fundamentally incomprehensible to the average man or woman. Actually, a thousand is about as far as most imaginations reach for making tangible an abstract number. So when there are 7 billion people on the planet and innumerable cattle munching way producing belches (yes, it happens more at that end of the cow than the other) of methane (which is 4 times as effective as a green house gas), the equation is too complicated for most people and they give up. More than that, they succumb to the idea that things must in fact be simpler, so complicated things must be wrong.

The politics of all of this is interesting. Obama playing the Middle Game is automatically subscribing to half or more of the irrational ideas people have. It is clearly a time for someone with spine to stand up and lead, but that person has not yet emerged ... much to our own discredit. To lead means to take an unaccustomed path and to make changes by sheer force of will that cannot be easily undone. That's what we need. Instead we get sleasy lawyers playing the OJ game with the public imagination!



Copenhagen: Emissions Levels

The New York Times has some interesting graphical material relating to emissions. A related article notes that the first decade of the 21st century has been the hottest ever, suggesting that unusual cooling where Sarah Palin lives is the result of other, perhaps non-atmospheric, phenomena!



Two Divergent Thoughts on Copenhagen

Copenhagen is a very nice city. I took a U.S. Navy ship there when I was ship's navigator. The interesting thing about that trip was the fact that Danish and Dutch and German coastal waters of the North Sea are so completely fouled by explosive mines from WWI and WWII that all shipping had to pass through mine-swept channels. The situation is much the same for the Baltic literals, too. To say that the approaches to Copenhagen this week are guarded by mine fields is a couple orders of magnitude too na´ve. The global warming talks are very likely to disappoint half or more of the the planet's people who understand what is happening to our atmosphere ... largely because of human industrial activities ... and even more largely because of feedforward effects releasing methane (four times worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas) as northern permafrost areas thaw.

The press is full of things to say, but I was struck by the differences of opinion on the same side of the basic argument. One, by Nobel prize-winning economist and latter-day columnist for the New York Times, Paul Krugman, takes a far more optimistic view of the situation than the other, by Bill McKibben of Middlebury College in Vermont, an early warning source well-known to the cognocenti of global warming and the Obama administration.

Personally, I had a moment of great sadness and despair after reading McKibben and so Krugman's thoughts this morning were something of an antidote. I think Krugman is probably less likely to be vindicated by the history we are making this week and over the next forty or so years. The "skin of our teeth" paradigm is too strong, even though it is almost irrelevant to situations like this.

Human beings live in a rate of consciousness that does not, indeed cannot, easily entertain slow-moving processes. We respond well to changed environmental circumstances, but never in our experience has the change (not even the most recent ice ages) has the whole world been the theater of change. The history we are writing now may not have any readers at all, for we have not yet taken the steps necessary to avert a catastrophic self-fullfilling and irreversable process of warming that will utterly devastate animal and plant life on this planet. Copenhagen is not just another meeting of nations. It is one of our last chances, perhaps the very last one before accelerating warming sets in.



Global Warming Delay

Well, not really. The delay is in negotiations about Global Warming. Nearly everything else seems to be pointing toward accelerations of global warming indicators with the attendant climate change. The mid-Atlantic, for instance, experienced the rare confluence of a nor'easter and a tropical storm this week, leaving residents of the Chesapeake Bay area with a preview of coming attractions.

Do not despair, though. When world leaders see that the talks are not likely to produce the results they want, they prudently back off the expectations rather than seed the world's peoples with cynicism. I, for one, am happy they are delaying. The good folk of Copenhagen will lose some trade and demonstrators, of course, but Mr. Calderon's capital city might be able to make up the difference in NAFTA disappointments, which (having lived close to I-35—the NAFTA Highway—is no skin off my nose. Mexican trucks and drivers are nothing to crow about, Mr. C.

Frankly, I would like to hear more about the hydrogen sulfide solution being promoted by a beleaguered few. I watched a video (but I cannot locate it ever since) suggesting that mimicking volcanic sun blocker gases not only is a proven "technology," but does not require seven billion human beings to radically change their ways and trillions of dollars expense to their economies that capping CO2 emissions would require. It almost sounds too good to be true ... and probably is. Fooling around with the atmosphere could have unanticipated consequences, and for one thing international law is largely unprepared to deal with damages suffered to achieve the greater gain of thwarting global warming.


Copyright © 2006-2010, James R. Brett.