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.