Friday, December 3, 2010

Environmentalism Part 1 of 2: Carbon and Climate Change

I’m stepping onto dangerous ground here, but I’m confident that if you read this in its entirety, you will agree with me and perhaps be exposed to ideas you had not previously considered.

Man does have an effect on climate, and the burning of fossil fuels is the primary causes. There is mountains of data to support this, and to my knowledge there is zero evidence to refute it. It is a simple problem, with no solution in sight.

The reality is very easy to understand, assuming one is willing to step back from all prejudices and to divorce the political associations that Americans have come to expect. For the sake of argument, even if you’re convinced that the Earth is naturally shifting in climate or that it’s all a function of the Sun or whatever theory you cling to as the “true” reason for climate change, I ask you to pretend that man-made climate change is, at the very least, occurring in addition to these other factors (if you deny climate change is occurring at all… here’s a slinky, go play while the adults are talking).

This is one of the toughest problems mankind has ever been faced with, and it would call for an unprecedented joint effort by literally every person in every community in every country on the planet in order to be truly solved. What’s more, Americans have been so misinformed about the ramifications, that it’s unlikely this kind of consensus is even possible in the US, let alone in developing nations.

The most annoying myth (from my perspective) surrounding climate change is that it would unfairly affect the US. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, if the US were trying to force action that would slow or cease man made climate change on a global scale, it would likely be perceived as highly discriminatory.

When battling climate change, it is the poorest and smallest nations who would be hit hardest. The United States has the resources and land to begin switching over to renewable energy. Developing nations, on the other hand, are barely scraping by on meager budgets using out-dated technology. If developing nations are not given an opportunity to use cheap fossil fuels to build up their infrastructure and industry, they will potentially be trapped in the stone age. The hurdle of going from current methods of energy production (let alone from outdated equipment) to renewable energy would be insurmountable for poorer economies.

But suppose the US were willing to make the sacrifice. Suppose the US willingly chose to cut fossil fuel energy use on its own. Scratch that, add in China, because the US isn’t even the largest producer of CO2 (though we are first in CO2 produced per person, go USA!).

I would throw in Europe for the hell of it, though I’ll show later why you can’t.

What would happen if the US and China began using less oil? Better yet, what would happen if we could somehow just stop using fossil fuels altogether, overnight? Well, besides Saudi Arabia no longer being our ally, there would be a lot less fossil fuel being purchased… for a moment.

A cursory understanding of economics would remind one that if the largest purchasers of a product stop purchasing (decreased demand...), the price will plummet. So, while the US and China would cut their CO2 emissions greatly, it would make no difference at all, because poorer nations would gobble it up at reduced prices. Sure, it would be great for the world economy (except in oil, coal, and natural gas producing nations), but it would have zero effect on the environment. In fact, it would have an immediate negative effect.

The US is oft maligned for being “inefficient.” We even talk fondly of how those Native Americans used every part of the buffalo, like it’s noble to eat buffalo anus. The truth is, America is incredibly efficient, which is why we can afford to be wasteful. Our efficiency allows our products to be of high quality and low price, which in turn encourages waste. It is our wastefulness that accounts for our increased consumption. And trust me, we use every part of the buffalo… what do you think a hot dog is?

What the US needs is not a carbon-footprint movement, it needs a non-wasteful movement. Remember your dad yelling at you to close the door to the fridge, and to shut off the lights in rooms you aren’t even in, and turn that music down, dagnabbit? All that food you throw out because your eyes are bigger than your stomach, or because you’d rather make something new than eat left-overs, or melon that sits in the fridge until it goes bad… not only is it wasted food, it’s wasted energy used to transport it.

From the grower to the mmanufacturer, from the manufacturer to the distributor, from the distributor to the store, from the store to your house… honestly, American food travels more than most Americans do. And while most of our food has been on foreign soil, we have not. But I disgress…

Those who have been on foreign soil will understand why switching fossil fuel use from the US to other nations might not be a net result of zero in CO2 production. Other nations don’t have the regulations we do. Add to this the fact that they’re using equipment that is decades behind our own in many cases (think: cars running on leaded gasoline).

So, while the current largest producers of CO2 could probably get together and stem their own use, this is potentially devastating, because everyone on Earth is sharing the same atmosphere, and using the fossil fuels we have less efficiently does not help.

Then there’s the small matter of space. Well, it’s a large matter… several hundred square miles, in fact. That’s how short Europe is on land area if it wants to go renewable. Given current technology, the only ways to generate renewal energy are highly land-intensive. Wind farms need space, and we’re learning that the noise is so great from them that you probably also want a several-mile buffer zone around them to go unused. Solar power is even more land hungry and highly dependent on weather conditions, not to mention high maintenance costs.

Other means, such as water and geothermal power, are highly dependent on availability. Even where available, they would probably need to be supplemented.

Basically, Europe can’t go green until new sources of energy are developed. Nuclear power is not even a viable option due to the dense population. Something more efficient and/or safer than nuclear power would be necessary in order for Europe to eliminate the use of fossil fuels.

It also blows my mind when Americans (always on the right, because they’re being fed this fallacy on a silver platter constantly) claim that it would cost jobs to be environmental. Yeah, the building of billions of solar panels and wind turbines would totally fuck the job market… not to mention the careers in maintenance and operation that would open up.

Due to the fact that “green” energy is highly less efficient, it would create far more jobs than would be lost in the fossil fuel industry. From coal mining and oil drilling to refineries and power plants, there would be far less jobs lost than created, not only short term, but long-term. Add to this the finite nature of the fossil fuel industries… and it almost seems stupid not to do it.

Ultimately, it’s the inefficiency of renewable energy, high initial costs, and the multitude of additional salaries that turns off most energy companies and causes them to sink billions into propaganda against it. Energy companies stand to make less annually off of renewable sources than non-renewable sources.

We are faced with a problem that costs something now and won’t pay off for a long time. This makes a decision to do anything now very difficult to make, because we want instant gratification. We want to curb pollutants we can see and smell. We want to take care of the little problems immeditately, and maybe if we just ignore the big problems, they’ll resolve themselves.

Maybe. But I look at climate change as sort of like a cancer. If you notice a lump, you can just keep going about your day and pretend it’s not there. However, the reality is: the longer you wait, the worse it will get and the harder it will be to fight it. Even more discouraging is the fact that those with the power to make the decisions are predominantly of such an advanced age, they will never need to deal with the problems they are ignoring.

I leave you with this Greek proverb to consider, before I am bombarded with links claiming to prove that the temperature isn’t rising:

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.


  1. The "non-wasteful movement”

    I would go for it - in fact it is already here and I am part of it - preparedness is one aspect and the self sufficiency movement another, I participate in both.

    I love the public transport in Europe and the Ubahn systems in the bigger cities in the German speaking countries are second to none (I have seen that the Japanese systems are great, but I have not worked in that country yet).

    I never drive if I can bike or walk, I hate taxies, and travel only when needed (in my case that would be three round trips a month in the air).

    And Big Ag continues to pollute the earth selling us patented seeds resistant to chemicals and killing off the bio-diversity - how is that going to get fixed?

  2. The ridiculous thing is that this actually isn't that hard of a problem to solve, despite the army of conservative dipshits who try to paint every solution as inherently expensive and impractical.

    We already have the technologies (wind and solar) and they are growing cheaper and better by the day. It's just a matter of ending the obscene control that coal and natural gas companies have over our fascist government.

  3. Totally with you on Big Agra, Radio Bloger.


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