A Conversation About "Climate Change"

This post is about a conversation my friend Steve and I had on "climate change" that I mentioned in my post on John Doerr’s comments at Brainstorm yesterday.

My friend Steve sent me a WSJ editorial from Richard Lindzen, professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT saying that "there is no scientific consensus on global warming".

I read it and put it right next to all the counter arguments on climate change I’ve heard lately. And then sent I Steve an email saying "and what if the situation is irreparable by the time we reach consensus?"

Steve sent me back this reply which I am publishing in full with his approval.      

        there is no such thing as irreparable. the earth and the climate change  constantly. "greenland" is so named because it was green when it was explored.  the vikings had to abandon their settlements there many decades later when the  glaciers advanced and covered greenland. the ocean levels were radically  different when people walked across the bering straits. etc. we can’t freeze  time. and there never was a garden of eden… so we can’t go back  there.
         so — if there is some fundamental changes in our mother earth coming (even if  caused by CO2) well, c’est la vie. manhattan didnt exist in nature, we created  it. if we have to adapt to new climate conditions, we will. no one (no one) is  saying the earth will be uninhabitable. just that it will be different.  remember, we deal regularly — regularly — with climate disasters now —  katrina, the pacific tsunami, mount st helens, etc. there is simply no way to  create some non-turbulent, none-changing, softer or mellower eco-system.  nature is fucking brutal.  period.
         and therein lies my basic problem with so-called "moral crusaders" like al  gore. they obviously have altruistic motives, but they obviously are also  massaging their own egos (hey everybody look! i’m here to save the human  race!). and because of that, they can’t review the data or the scenarios or  even the plain everyday reality clearly and calmly: they can’t save the human  race if it doesnt need saving. and it doesn’t. which doesnt mean we shouldnt  have a meaningful debate about the possibility of global warming and make  plans accoridngly. we should. but we should approach the problem not as a  "save THE environment" issue but as a "save OUR environment" issue. no one  wants to return manhattan to a pre-human or pre-european-settlement state. but  a strict "environmentalist" approach would want to do just that. luckily,  saner and calmer heads prevail, and we instead say, hey, we love manhattan and  we’re gonna keep it, but we want it to be a balanced sustainable environment  for human beings, and maybe a few other species too (say, elm trees, a few  birds and domesticated pets) and we focus on that as a goal. not on worrying  that urban development is "bad for the environment". which of course it is,  duh. it literally destroys "nature". but we say, thats OK, because we are  focused on OUR environment, not THE environment. ditto the big cities of the  southwest. hell, there’s no natural water supply there. none. is anyone  suggesting we dismantle the colorado river aqueducts? and if not, why not? why  is the "environmentalist" and "moral crusade" so selective in their scorn?  because they are self-righteous, not righteous, and they want everybody else  to change, not themselves. (al gore flies around on private jets, vacations in  humungous homes, owns multiple homes, sends his kids to private schools, etc.)  physician, heal thyself. then maybe just maybe you can diagnose me, and the  human  race

then I said, "we didn’t make a global policy decision to start burning carbon  fuels, we just did  it. so why can’t we just decide to stop burning them?" and Steve replied:

         on the contrary, we definitely did make such a policy. the creation of the  fossil fuel business and economy was very specifically the direct result of  various governments explicit open policies, dating back centuries. after the  chimney was invented, buring fossil fuels basically became the ticket to  modern life and rising standards of living. later, in the industrial  revolution, after the steam engine was proved, the brits essentially mandated  the radical expansion of the coal industry through various grants and tax laws  and initiaves, etc. the USA Interstate Highway Act most certainly was a  government policy advocating burning fossil fuels. ditto the goverment  creation of Airbus. all of us share responsibility for these decisions and we  shouldnt pretend otherwise. nor should we be ashamed: i for one think  "westernization" and "globalization" are great things for the human race, and  have been since Themistocles thankfully smashed the Persian fleet at Salamis.  yes, its got downsides and scary risks and nasty side effects, but it also  promotes human rights, democracy, literacy, better health and longer life  spans, equal rights on racial ethno gender matters, less hunger and  deprivation, etc. fossil fuels have played a HUGE DECISIVE POSITIVE role in  that. if its time to move on from fossil fuel, so be it, lets go. we did the  erie canal, the intercontinetal railroad, TVA, the marshall plan, the  manhattan project, D-Day, apollo missions. we can work our way into the next  energy era too. let’s go! but not by flagellation and finger pointing and  "moral crusades,"  please?

Then I said, "we should stop burning fossil fuels as quickly as  possible. i wouldn’t wait for scientitsts to come to an agreement.  because it will  never  happen."

And Steve replied:         

    here i disagree wildly. scientists come to agreement all the time, when  there’s data thats well, scientific (meaning experiements that can be  repeated.) there is no scientific debate on whether AIDS exists or is a plague  that needs massive resources. there is no debate that the earth circles the  sun, etc., and scientists and governments from many nations routinely   collaborate on scientific exploration of space, e.g. the current mars  missions. there is clear consensus on cartography, ergo things like GPS works,  regardless of whose satellite is being pinged.  etc…
         arguably on the first "earth Day" in 1970, the 1960s "tune in turn on drop  out" and "dont trust anyone over 30" generation turned environmentalism from a  critically important mission into a "moral crusade" and that is just plain  replusive to me and we have been suffering the consequences ever since, the  same way it is repulsive to me that fundamentalist religious wackos think  "marriage" is a moral crusade and not an essential civil rights issue.  likeiwse i am in favor of the war in Iraq for all sorts of historical and  political and tactical reasons, but i cringe and am repulsed when i hear it  called a "moral crusade" by bush or anyone. "moral crusades" are for religious  zealots and lunatics, not rational modern humans and scientists. and as i  said, look at nuclear energy in this country. or better, look at the  management of yellowstone park. the so-called "environmentalists" have turned  a good cause into a major debacle, and arguable have harmed the environment as  a result. not sure if you love or hate michael crichton, but you can get a  sense of the yellowstone debacle  here


To me this whole conversation points out that this debate about "climate change" is a political debate filled with political baggage and a fight about words, not actions. And that is troubling to me because I think Steve and I agree about what has to be done, but not how to talk about it.