The Really Inconveinent Truth

Fareed Zakaria had an interesting piece in the Washington Post this week (also Newsweek apparently): Global Warming: Get Used To It.

No one likes to talk about adapting to global warming because it seems defeatist. But the result is that, as we debate the meta-theories about global warming, we’re increasingly unprepared to deal with its consequences. Whether or not CO2 emissions are triggering certain reactions in the atmosphere, we can see that sea levels are rising. What are we going to do about it?

Let’s adapt.

I get so frustrated when people propose that they are making a difference by driving a Prius…  it’s still fueled 100% by gasoline — until it starts charging from the electric-grid or starts giving >100% better fuel economy, it’s really just an expensive plastic car that grants the driver an air of environmental superiority.  Meh.

Or as Robert Samuelson writes in We Have No Global Warming Solution:

Don’t be fooled. The dirty secret about global warming is this: We have no solution. About 80 percent of the world’s energy comes from fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), the main sources of man-made greenhouse gases. Energy use sustains economic growth, which — in all modern societies — buttresses political and social stability. Until we can replace fossil fuels, or find practical ways to capture their emissions, governments will not sanction the deep energy cuts that would truly affect global warming.

Considering this reality, you should treat the pious exhortations to “do something” with skepticism, disbelief or contempt. These pronouncements are (take your pick) naive, self-interested, misinformed, stupid or dishonest. Politicians mainly want to be seen as reducing global warming when they’re not. Companies want to polish their images and exploit markets created by new environmental regulations.

Word.  It seems like nothing private business does is good enough unless it is approved by the government and endorsed by the Sierra Club, despite the fact that our cars and power plants have never been cleaner.  You want to see a dirty coal plant — look at China (who will be building 2200 in the next 10 years — that’s probably 2199 more than will be built in the US in the same timeframe).  Of course, China isn’t bound by Kyoto (which the US Senate, including John Kerry, voted against preemptively).  Why didn’t the Democrats include a Kyoto resolution in their first 100 hours?  Because it wouldn’t pass, and they’d be exposed for the hypocrites that they are (see Byrd-Hagel).

I recently read a proposal that could reduce the global temperature by 1.0 degree Celcius by spreading some particulate in the upper atmosphere, reflecting a tiny bit more solar energy each year.  That would make up for the last 100 years of global warming (0.7 degrees) and provide a bit of a buffer for the next decade.  It would cost somewhere in the range of 10’s of millions of dollars, versus 100’s of billions to implement all the traditional initiatives to stop global warming.  ExxonMobil could fund this effort with one fiscal quarter’s profits; it wouldn’t require billions of people to change their everyday habits and standards of living.

If such a plan had a high probability of working, shouldn’t we consider it?  Thoughts?

Reason on Global Warming

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9 Comments

Filed under angry, global warming, rant

9 responses to “The Really Inconveinent Truth

  1. Bryan

    Mmmm… Oh sorry, I was just finishing off some polar bear burgers and penguin shish-ka-bobs while reading your post. Seriously though, I am completely unaware of the particulate proposal but am seriously intrigued. If you have a link or info could you send it my way?

  2. Doing nothing is as idiotic as doing something for the wrong reasons. What we could be doing is increasing funding and research for renewables, and creating tax breaks for renewable installations to better compete with fossil fuels.

    Have a look here:
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3693390434834825253
    for the kind of things we need to start funding to start to make a difference.

    Finally, private business is notoriously bad at self regulation. The only reasons are cars are clean now is to meet government regulations, not because of the decisions of enterprise.

  3. I wish I could locate the essay, but I read something a little while back about global warming as a pseudo-religion, having all the sacred cows therein.

    Regardless of the yays or nays or “how bad is it?” discussions, doesn’t it come down to each of us doing the best we can to be good stewards of God’s earth?

    (I have to chuckle at the Prius comment, though. My aunt, who lives in the great bustling metropolis of Seaford drives one. She is just so smug about it, and does mostly highway driving, therefore seeing no real cost benefit)

  4. Nolan — thanks for commenting, but I have to disagree. Or maybe I can just reframe the action — I choose to do a hundred other things with my time and money besides what environmentalists say I should do… that way I’m not doing “nothing”, I’m just doing other things rather than something for the wrong reasons.

    I’m not sure how you can defend anyone doing things — even the “right” things — for the wrong reasons. That just reeks of manipulation and elitism, doesn’t it?

    BTW, I love the idea of getting energy from waves, and if it can become viable that would be great. But I’m still against government funding the activity — they have a poor history of picking winners, and are more likely to make decisions based on politics vs objective reasoning. Why else would the Coast Guard have a huge facility in land-locked West Virginia?

    re: private business — business has proven itself great at providing what customers want. The fact that anything has to be regulated into existence (Ethanol usage, CAFE standards) is proof that only a minority of the population desires it enough for the tradeoff costs. Nobody regulated 72″ plasma TVs into existence, private business invested to develop them because there was a significant number of people that wanted to buy them.

    Actually the same may be true of clean cars (to an extent) — with only a little bit of research, I couldn’t find anything to indicate that ULEV (ulta-low emmissions vehicle) or SULEV (super-ultra) vehicles were mandated by the government — the low-emmissions ratings are used to appeal to customers. With todays enlightened consumers, private business has more of an incentive to be self-regulating, a trend I expect will continue.

  5. No, I wouldn’t defend people doing anything for the wrong reasons, which is why I neither agree we should have gone to war, nor agree with Democrats trying to cut troop levels when we need it most.

    Currently our government basically subsidizes oil and natural gas usage and development, so why shouldn’t it fund renewables? In fact, many things (such as this internet we’re using) were created out of our tax dollars. Not to say I’m against private funding, but not everything needs to have business case for it for it to be the right thing to do.

    Which brings me to the other point — If all we did was what people wanted, then we’d really be in a mess. Try letting your kids eat only things they want for a month and see what they choose. Business can be a great discriminator of good ideas, but the market often loses sight of the greater good. This is the issue the Friedman followers seem to forget. Clean cars are actually a great example. I live in California and we have the toughest air quality standards in the nation (perhaps the world). This has driven automakers to change their designs to comply. Note that no diesels are currently being sold in California as they will not pass current emissions regulations. Next year, new, cleaner models will be introduced. Why? Because the regulations are driving new technology. Not all regulations are good, or based on sound thinking, but they are not, as a whole, evil ideas from clueless liberals bent on destroying free enterprise. They are there to provide rules to the game so people can attempt to play fairly.

    As for 72″ plasma TVs, it’s funny that you mention those since a large part of the spurring of HDTV development comes from FCC mandate that broadcasters provide HD channels. Again, a regulation.

  6. Good point, though I’m not willing to cede all the credit to HDTV for driving plasma/LCD/DLP sales — even if we were stuck with standard def (SD?) and didn’t know of the glories of HDTV (and I still don’t, I have a 10 year old 27″ Trinitron) I think the big size and lightweight would be compelling for many consumers. In fact one reason I haven’t gone to HDTV is because I don’t want to deal with HDTV tuners, HDTV Tivo, and HDTV broadcast flags that have the potential to block viewable content — a nice little ‘gotcha’ that was built-in to all this digital nirvana. Besides, I’ve heard from friends that when SD signal gets sent to your HDTV (ie commercials), it’s bad enough to make you cry.

    As for your comparison of adult consumers to hungry children, I think that speaks volumes about our relative positions and I won’t try to change your mind. Clearly children need guidance — they have neither the requisite information, experience, or reasoning to make the right decisions for themselves (but even they learn pretty quick that too many soda pops will make them sick).

    I firmly believe that adults should not be treated as children. Guidance will certainly be offered by the government (trans-fats are better than butter [1980’s]… whoops, trans-fats are heart-attack-bombs [2006]…) and adults will seek guidance from people and groups they have come to trust, whether it be environmentalists or free-market advocates, and certainly friends and family. We have more sources of information today than ever before, and in general I trust people to get informed and weigh the information and make rational decisions. Its tough, trust me, with so many people proving themselves so stupid and irresponsible. By your comments, you seem to think that we need to save people from themselves. I couldn’t disagree more. In my mind, letting people sort it out for themselves is Freedom, kinda/sorta the very thing the country was founded on (‘life, liberty, pursuit of happiness’).

    When I was a child, something my parents often told me was, “life isn’t always fair”. When did that stop being the case? When did it become the government’s job to make sure everything is fair? Who decides what fair is?

    [This is fun. Thanks for the comments.]

  7. oh yeah, I’m as much against oil/farm/whatever subsidies as I am against government picking eco-technology winners. take all the money back, and return it to the taxpayers…

    seriously, if the whole Ethanol debacle has demonstrated anything, it’s that government eco-regulation is as more about winning votes in Ohio (Iowa? w/e) from corn/E86 producers than it is about the environment.

  8. Yeah, it’s a fun thread.. i’ll bite a few more times 🙂

    As for SD looking horrible on an HDTV, we recently sold our old Trinitron for an HDTV, and on ours at least SD looks about the same or better than it did before (aside from black levels, which are an LCD issue). I think most of the issues with people thinking SD looks bad on an HDTV come from either crappy HDTVs, or more likely people seeing how poor SD content looks in comparison to HD content. As for the upgrade mania, you have a good point. My not-so-good justification for getting one was that I didn’t want to lug a 100 lb TV around next time we moved (which will be soon). It’s a thin argument, but it worked 😉

    Funny you peg me as someone who thinks government should protect people from themselves, since in many ways I’m really not. People need to be given free reign to be responsible. In this sense they should be left to make their own mistakes. It’s sad to see big railings up at national parks because people are too dumb to not fall off of a cliff, but this is the case. The whole “nanny state” idea makes sense when you apply it to personal responsibility.

    Where the idea falls down is when the decisions start to affect others. Do I think motorcycle riders should be forced to wear helmets? Not really. Do I think people should be outlawed from talking on cell phones while driving? Definitely. Do investments in future technology affect everyone? Definitely. If the government is going to enact laws, should they be fair ones? Definitely. (and since we live in a pseudo-Democracy, “fair” is decided by the people we elect, for better or worse).

    As for Ethanol, I agree it’s a giveaway to big ag, and questionable science. There are many other more productive ways to spend tax dollars than that (and I was born in Iowa ;).

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