J and D's Corner

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Techno-reports and the Common Man


What's This Global Warming Stuff, Anyway? 

I wasn’t sure what to title this particular rant.  What prompted the writing of it was noticing that lately (early 2006) the various media are off on another “global warming” kick.  You know, the periodic monkey see-monkey do phenomenon that has every magazine, newspaper and TV show simultaneously cranking out reports about how we are all going to die if we don’t close down everything we’re doing immediately.  National Geographic, for example, recently devoted an entire issue to the subject.  Certain officials of the State of California have actually considered adding carbon dioxide to the state’s list of noxious gasses. The People’s Republic of Santa Monica discussed passing a law against "excessive" carbon dioxide emissions within their jurisdiction and certain members of Berkley’s City Council pushed for California to ban carbon dioxide altogether (do you suppose they will stop breathing? One can only hope.) 

I don’t really have a problem with the concept that human activities are contributing to the ongoing rise in global temperatures.  What I do have a problem with is the way it is presented.  Read any article, or listen to any news reporter, and you will receive the impression that (1.) worldwide conditions never changed before human technology arrived, and (2.) the result of climatic change will be absolute disaster for every creature, plant and microbe which exists on our planet.   

People who went to school prior to the “feel-good” years, or perhaps somewhere other than California, may possess a bit of knowledge about the history of our planet and know that for over a million years global climate has been fluctuating wildly, cycling from “ice ages” to extreme tropical periods (more tropical than now) and back again on a regular basis. Temperature, sea level, and (obviously) weather patterns have swung from one extreme to another over and over again. We don’t know why, exactly, but it is obvious that at the extremes some kind of compensating natural regulatory process  reverses the swing and starts our climate back the other way.  Anything we humans are doing right now is only creating a bump in this sine-wave of change.  (For the currently favored thinking on the underlying cause of these cycles, investigate the work of Milankovitch, whose once-controversial orbital pattern-based theory has gained considerable support in recent decades.)

With this in mind, note that the global warming cult is predicting sea levels may rise as much as a foot or so over the coming century, while giving the impression that this will render much if not most of the planet uninhabitable.  What they don’t ever mention is that the sea level we live with today is the result of it having already risen over 300 feet since the middle of the last ice age.  Taken in that perspective, another foot would not seem to be all that critical, would it?   (Well, sure, if you live on an island with 2 feet of freeboard, you would be screwed, but face it, forced migration due to climate change is a given on a dynamic planet)

When they’re through with their treatment of the oncoming sea level disaster, they turn to temperature and weather.  Temperatures may increase from 2 to 6 degrees over the next hundred years or so, they project.  Deaths will soar, because people who seem to face 96 degrees with no problem can’t possibly live if it sometimes hits 102, right?  Funny, I see humans living their lives out everywhere from Barrow to Bullhead City.  And they say the change will entirely decimate everything from the forests to the birds and butterflies.  Look in vain for a suggestion that the climate in some areas will actually improve, or mention of the life forms that might benefit from the projected changes.  Never do they mention the fact that at the tropical peaks of past cycles (significantly warmer than now) there were forests and plant life and animals galore happily living in what are now the semi-barren high latitudes.   

Another basic thing you never, ever see mentioned is that our current biosphere and all living things within it are the end result of adaptation to changing conditions.  The process may appear painful to tender hearted humans, but it is now accepted that the evolution of life on our planet has always been driven by stress.  The long periods of ultra-stable conditions that occasionally prevailed in early ages bred stagnant monocultures in which specialized and virtually unchanging species dominated every ecological niche for millions of years at a stretch. Which was nice, because deposits laid down during those periods of stability set us up in oil, gas & coal. But when conditions finally did change the result was massive upheaval and death throughout the biosphere followed by a surge of new and different life.  The end of the age of dinosaurs followed by the rise of mammals is one of the more dramatic and well-known examples, but others abound throughout the global record.  (An aside comment:  It is calculated that more than 99.9% of the species that have existed on the Earth already became extinct before the rise of Man. Humanity did NOT invent extinctions!)

Not to say that we should take our own contributions to climatic alteration…and pollution in general…lightly.  I'm a great fan of clean power (updated and vastly expanded use of nuclear would be excellent, solar and wind certainly have their place, keep after the fusion grail). There is no reason we cannot and should not alter our energy technology to alleviate our massive carbon dioxide output, and at the same time ease the transition destined to be forced on us anyway by the inevitable failing of hydrocarbon resources.  But if we don’t do it voluntarily, not to worry, it will only take a little longer (and doubtless be much more painful) because when we finish off all the easily available oil it will happen automatically. 

What I DON'T support is the current "we gotta do something -anything!- right now" type of reaction, which is leading to huge expenditures in pursuit of questionable objectives using methods of uncertain efficacy. An example is the mandate for alcohol in our fuel.  As it now stands we are turning food into fuel, a bad idea in itself, using techniques that inefficiently consume huge amounts of energy and accelerate damage to the biosystem that we rely upon to survive.

I guess what I am leading to is that contrary to the view of the self-styled “ecologists” we live on a planet of constant change, and the changes always have and always will create winners and losers in the biosphere.  It is critical to remember that while we may be able to slow the RATE of change, we cannot STOP change because it is built into the planet we live on, and it behooves everyone to accept the inevitability of it.  Some life forms will adapt, some will not, some will die off and some will rise to new heights under the new conditions. Those birds and butterflies are going to have to face the music, no matter what we do. 

As far as we humans are concerned, well, with a respectful nod to the bacteria & virus crowd, I point out that we are among the most adaptable species ever to exist on Earth.  We can deal with almost any conceivable condition, and if it requires picking up whole cities and relocating, well, so what?  What else do we have to keep our societies occupied that is more important? Fight? Build and consume stuff we don’t really need? Breed ourselves into a self-created planetary hell? 

My final word on this rant is, take the long view and always, always keep everything in perspective.