Monday, December 14, 2009

Of Hot Air And Changing Climates

It's a little late to chime in on the subject of climate change, but since I do this primarily to vent opinions and notions and not because of any deluded belief about making a vast difference, it hardly matters that this would have been more timely a few weeks or even a few years ago.

As with most issues, I fall between no clearly set boundaries and hold to few if any absolutes...we have plenty of partisans who can handle that task just fine without my assistance. I have plenty of venom to spew in both directions, and it's well deserved, since both factions in the climate debate are dominated by spin-doctors and buzzword purveyors who routinely avoid facts the way allergic diners avoid peanuts. I'd just like to cut through the fog of BS that clouds the air around the subject, just for my own peace of mind.

Let's begin with my complaints about the Global Warming True Believers (with a brief reminder that I have just as many problems with the other side, the Conspiracy/Denier Drones, shortly to follow).

Global warming is a phrase loaded with less than subtle meaning, which has been jackhammered into the public subconscious as an image of a dark future involving a swampy, tropical earth, riddled with mosquitos and disease, with most of our borders altered by rising water until the population of the earth is limited to tiny outposts on the tips of mountains. The doomsayers of global warming are many, but what wounds their cause is their own choice of advertising, which is the deceitful and wildly inaccurate portrayal of global warming as a purely man-made, reversible situation primarily driven by CO2 emissions.

Even at the surface level, this simplified version of events which has been packaged and marketed to the developed and underdeveloped world alike is so laughably riddled with holes that Swiss cheese looks at it in envy. Even in the scientific models used for prediction, there are efforts made to calculate for naturally occuring variables (volcanic output, solar activity etc)...but this goes unmentioned because it would unnecessarily confuse the poor, stupid people of earth, and the situation is so dire and important that a convenient white lie or two is excusable.

Naturally, I beg to differ. I'm just contrary that way.

There are both natural AND man made contributary factors at play, and lying about it, even for a theoretically good cause, only diminishes people's respect and trust for the institutions and individual scientists involved, as well as for science in general. While the deniers are lambasted for using junk science and hyperbole instead of hard facts, the painful truth is that there would be very few deniers if the advocates of climate change had chosen a more honest and direct route by which to inform people of coming changes.

Further, CO2 is being targeted as the primary emission in need of restriction, and the means of restriction is so ludicrous that almost defies imagining...unless you happen to be one of the lobbyists who cooked up a market for intangible 'carbon credits' that will make a few people very rich while allowing major polluters to buy their way out of being regulated. CO2 is the least of the pollutants that we should be worrying about, but remains the much ballyhooed source of all ills. Is it any wonder that a sizable block of U.S. citizens have no faith in the concept of global warming, when abundant evidence in certain areas of the United States indicates that either nothing is measurably changing, or that the few blips of change on the radar over the last decade seem explainable via means other than doomsday scenarios?

Again, it comes down the the openly disingenuous stance taken by people who ought to know better. If the bulk of the scientific community can be so easily gulled into backing an ad campaign built by swindlers marketing an ineffectual and contemptible concept that ignores the real need for preparation, then how can they expect the trust and respect of the general public?

Before I move to the deniers, let me explain a few observable and measurable phenomena that can't be whisked under the rug for the sake of convenience. These are the issues that link to the heart of the matter, and they are the things that both sides ought to be thinking about more carefully.

There is a Northwest Passage opening in the Arctic Sea. It isn't subject to debate. The entire Northern hemisphere is jockeying for control of newly accessible mineral rights and for control of once non-navigable waters. Governments do not hire herds of international and maritime law experts because they need to bluff the rest of us. They are moving to make their cases in courts around the world, in the Hague and elsewhere, to establish claims that will reap financial rewards for generations. The ice is melting...and it isn't coming back the way it once did.

If you know anyone who has visited the Swiss Alps or who lives in a place where they are in close contact with glaciers (and some of us do), the number of glaciers shrinking quickly vastly outweighs the number that are spreading. There are anomolies, and this is undeniable, but that only distracts from the fact that people with a wooden stake and a tape measure can count the difference between one years ice cover and the next...and around the world the results keep coming back in the negative overall. You can't spin the people who live there, they've watched the changes that have accumulated in just a couple of decades, and they can do the math on their own.

The permafrost soil of northern Russia is turning into muck. Paved roads and building foundations are sinking, oil and gas extraction efforts are complicated by this with every passing spring, and no one on the ground there is in doubt that it's a little noteworthy when ground that has been frozen since mammoths walked the earth starts turning into soup. It isn't just a fictional complaint and a handy photo op for the Left, it's a mess that costs money and resources to compensate for, and it's nothing to laugh about if you're in a business that sees the bottom line shrinking because of rising costs from equipment damage and vehicular wear and tear.

Ocean salinity really is dropping, with freshwater melt and runoff ever so slightly changing both the level of acidity and the salinity of the ocean. Skeptics are sometimes accurate, when they mention that the change has been very, very small, but then the same skeptics quickly hustle on before anyone brings up high school level science class material and mentions that when dealing with millions upon millions of gallons of water, even a change of 0.001% is sufficient to shift patterns of evaporation and alter rainfall dramatically.

Low lying islands really are losing ground, displacing populations and making it clear that, in certain areas, just an inch or two of water makes an enormous difference. Doesn't mean much for Idaho, but if you live on a coral atoll in the Pacific, things are looking pretty grim. More relevant to the U.S., parts of the coastal South are already experiencing increased saltwater intrusion into freshwater wells. In areas with high concentrations of population, losing even a few percentage points off of available water supplies means citywide shortages and rationing. Ask Atlanta, Georgia and the smaller towns on its ouskirts. Drought isn't a rare spell of bad luck, it's a way of life with a few pleasant breaks when the rainfall is just right.

The concept of micro-climates goes almost unmentioned in the press. It's a little too complicated for the average reader, or so they must think, since they're the ones sticking to the party line and leaving out the, if you'll excuse the term, "Inconvenient Truth". The earth is a collection of micro-climates, small areas that have unique individual weather patterns and atmospheric conditions, and many of these are experiencing change. Sometimes that change isn't consistent 'warming', which trashes the whole concept of 'global warming' and fuels skepticism, but once they started on the journey by picking a simple concept that could be easily communicated, they just wouldn't back off, largely for fear of being ignored entirely. Now, as they sit in gridlock, spinning wheels in Copenhagen, I hope that at least some of them look back and wonder if they were right to hitch themselves to Al Gore's snappy line of patter and familiar song and dance.

For the deniers, I can't spare enough venom for all the idiocy I've witnessed. Some believe that God Almighty is their personal Merry Maid service, and will clean up any mess that humans make, because a divine being would never let his planet be harmed by mere humans. Yeah...sure...that's why the city dump should shut down tomorrow. God will make trash, refuse and pollutants magically disappear because he loves us. He also makes my bed in the morning and does my dishes at night. Please, dump your used battery acid in your vegetable garden...God will make it disappear so your food will still be safe to eat. Don't kill the messenger, but even pre-asssuming the presence of a divine Creator, God has a long track record as a hands-off manager, and historically speaking, He hasn't been in the business of fixing our mistakes for the last two thousand years, and any God worth worshipping would expect about the same level of discipline from his flock as most of us would expect from an unruly teenager. (You break fix it. Whining will get you nowhere. Do you think your room is going to clean itself?)

Another category of idiot is needed just for the partisans that aren't really interested in any measurable data, but are drawn to the fray because the party or pundit they hate said something, which apparently completely justifies spewing froth and bile at every opportunity. The issue itself is irrelevant to them, but the opportunity to hurl barely coherent invective at their hated enemies is their life's solitary joy. There are days when I pray that Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and Barack Obama would join hands and announce publicly that they support the breathing of air and the use of lungs for dispersing oxygen to the blood, because that would be more than sufficient to drive herds of retards into gluing their noses and throats shut to defy such obvious nonsense. These are the kind of people that could be drowning neck deep in water and swear they're in the desert, as long it was an enemy of theirs who claimed there was too much rain.

Less offensive, but equally ridiculous, are the buzzword drones that sagely repeat the same lies they were spoonfed, never questioning the motivation of a think tank representative that recieves his pay because dozens of corporations spent a fortune finding ways to spin a few words that showed the most potential to stick in people's minds. Is it really so unlikely that, facing regulations that would shave a percent or two off the bottom line for a few years, corporations would use staggering amounts of cash to pump the airwaves full of contradictory noise and hope that as long as the issue was 'undecided', no one would get back to them with any solid expectations for changed behavior? I find this crowd less offensive only because innocence and naivete are excusable...up to a point. There is, however, a point at which people stop merely being accidental dupes who wrongly placed their trust, and start being responsible for choosing to stay a sucker for the long haul. If you weren't aware that corporations fund the creation of almost all think tanks, or that the think tanks provide the 'research' that coincidentally matches those parent corporations' interests, or that the hired speaker who represents them on TV or radio is hired primarily for his or her ability to put forward the information said think tank agrees with in a convincing and believable way...well...I'm not sure anyone down here can help you without divine start praying.

Enough of the deniers (I won't even go into the conspiracy theorists, because they're half right that lies are being's where they go with it from there that leaves the rational mind staggering), and back to a point worth summing up, which applies to both sides of the spectrum. You can find hacks on both sides that deserve nothing but complete contempt, and who deserve a special hell, just for sowing discord when the world needs thoughtful and decisive action.

The special hell shouldn't be reserved for those who cheerlead BS from the sidelines, the special hell should be for those who labor to bend numbers and find irrelevant anomalies to quibble over, knowing full well that this doesn't disprove that things are rapidly changing. The lobbyists and pundits who know it's just a game with a score that's scrupulously kept, politics as usual, and that the people displaced by sudden changes in their environment are far less important than keeping their political foes at loggerheads. The politicians who gladly gloss over the visible impact on the daily lives of people, because the party line doesn't allow for realism or pragmatism when partisanship is on the line. The sellout who knows that real efforts are called for, but who meekly accepts a toothless compromise because 'it's better than nothing', or 'it's a start'. These are just the souls to fill that special hell...the pied pipers that piped a merry tune all the way to destruction and chaos, because the suffering of others was somehow acceptable, as long they had enough cash to insulate themselves from the troubles that others would have to face.

What do I believe? I don't believe in any comprehensive theory of 'global warming', but I do believe that climate change is happening. The evidence isn't manufactured data from a lefty think tank or a movie with Al Gore. The evidence is in the Arctic Sea, the Alps, Greenland, Atlanta, Siberia, The Himalayas, Florida and in micro climates across the globe. The evidence is the eyes of friends who have been alive long enough to notice that these aren't incredibly gradual changes that took decades to notice, but sharp sudden changes that became noticeable within a few short years.

'Man made' or naturally occuring' is irrelevant as well. I may have a hearty distrust of corporations and a cynical certainty that their ultimate goal is always to extract profit without any reasonable responsibility for the consequences of their actions, but that doesn't change the need to focus first and foremost on how to cope with changes that might very well be disastrous...if we allow them to be that way through total inaction. Industrialization and rising population have played a part in changing the world, but the world also changes of its own accord, ignoring our pleas for stability and normalcy. Having a plan to deal with change is better than having a long argument about who flushed while we're all spiralling downward.

I hold freshwater resources to be the most important resource of the 21st, or any other century. As long as potable water is plentiful, most other problems can eventually be overcome, but if you really want to see a world gone mad, by all means, please take no actions to ensure that existing water supplies are protected and bolstered. A few countries are already pushing forward with coastal desalinization plants, but the scale is still fairly small and the process complicated and costly. Still, much better than nothing, and attempts at self sufficience are always better than waiting for the rest of world to ship water to you in little plastic bottles. I'd applaud Al Gore or Dick Cheney, if either one of them stood up and spoke comprehensively about securing potable water against future shifts of rainfall or seawater intrusion, but most of what I've heard so far has been equally pathetic bleating about whether anything is happening or not.

Sustainable food sources, diverse enough that sharp changes in temperature or rainfall (in any direction, be it more or less, hot or cold, wet or dry), instead of mono-crops that leave entire economies crumbling when the weather shifts or hiccups, would go a long way toward enhancing my confidence that change would be easily survivable with very little suffering except for a few minor changes of diet. Try to remember that in the course of recorded human history, deserts have grown out of what were once lush grasslands where endless herds grazed. Those bedraggled people on TV who hike miles to fetch water for their tiny flock of half starved cattle...are the descendants of empires that once knew overwhelming plenty. The pyramids were not built in a nation of sand and dust, they were erected near a fertile flood plain with arable cropland close at hand. Change happens, and it doesn't set appointments for our convenience. If we aren't ready to adapt quickly, we will become irrelevant.

That covers food and water, and shelter makes up the last of the important triangle of human necessity. Shoring up vulnerable coastlines may well be staggeringly costly, but there are certain areas where it wouldn't take a left wing nutjob's overblown prediction of a twenty foot wave to wreak would only take a few creeping inches over half a decade to transform a modern community into a swamp. It doesn't take wild eyed, hysterical rants about worst case scenarios to make real estate an issue, because it is an issue, especially to the millions of people dwelling near or directly on coastlines in this country alone. It really shouldn't take that much of a struggle to agree on a level of encroachment that is generally regarded as unacceptable, and keep plans for the preservation of coastlines at the ready until we draw too close to that level. The operative words are 'shouldn't be', but until people detach themselves from the politics and start operating on principle and observable fact...we still have problems.

Just to round things out lets throw in power as well, and I really don't care what kind. It would be wonderful if we had solar power and wind power and wave power all worked out in advance and ready to roll in plenty of time for hasty change, but since that doesn't seem especially likely, the pragmatist in me wants the cushion of knowing that current sources of energy, be they fossil-based or otherwise, are properly protected, with suitable contingency plans made to compensate for disruption. It would be uncomfortable in the extreme to find yourself moving to higher ground, well fed, water handy and a place to stay waiting for you...but no light handy that doesn't involve burning wood or animal fat.

Maybe it sounds crass and vaguely exploitative, but clarity of purpose can seem that way in a world where clarity is scarce. The goal should be simple: to make those adjustments which are necessary in order to allow the greatest number of people possible to transition smoothly through periods of change to their environment, with as little human suffering as possible along the way.

The blame game can come after the fact. If nothing happens in the next twenty years and everything returns to familiar seasonal averages from decades past...hey, great! We can hold a party and use 'green economy' fans as pinatas! On the other hand, if seawater drives you out of your beachfront condo...and it isn't even storm season, you should be able to request a free voucher to rabbit punch Rush Limbaugh until your arms get tired (assuming of course that he hasn't OD'd or just plain exploded by then). What really matters is that we have firm, workable plans in place and ready for implimentation, giving us the ability to prosper and thrive in an uncertain future. Playing the blame game first, as we're doing now, would almost be excusable, if it wasn't just an exercise in trying to pin the price tag for a planet-wide game of financial three-card monty on the loser. Whether it's the blame game or the 'global warming' game, in the end, the loser winds up being everyone who isn't hauling a few million bucks around to cover the cost of a comfortable life.

Cutting 'emissions' sounds all well and good, but CO2 be damned, I'd sleep easier if we just managed to keep the heavy metals and petro-residues from saturating every neighborhood and every store shelf. Maybe it's just a gut instinct, and this isn't backed by any personally observed facts, but I've got a strong suspicion that cancer wouldn't be half so prevalent in this new century if we could be bothered to outlaw just the substances we already know beyond doubt to be lethally poisonous and carcinogenic...and when I say outlaw, I don't mean politely request that companies properly dispose of the leftovers after using the forbidden substances anyway, I mean outlaw, complete with lengthy sentences to the kind of prison where you don't quibble with your cellmate over who gets to use the squash court Wednesday afternoon, but generally spend each day praying that you aren't shanked during a mealtime dispute.

It ends with the word 'priorities', because those are what vanished in the din as soon as each side's Pied Pipers started playing. One side marched off ditzily, 'visualizing whirled peas', when they could have been concentrating on concrete steps to get rid of 100% deadly, kill-you-if-you-breath-it, genuine poisons...and lowering other emissions as a bonus byproduct of an ironclad cause, while the other side marched off the deep end to defend the status quo, on behalf of people who have plenty enough cash to survive the inevitable end of said status quo, all the while happily forgetting that when the stink hits the fan...those same wealthy folks who paid to provide people with ready made doubts and distractions won't be sharing their umbrella with the clods they used as cannon fodder to buy themselves a few more years of unhindered profits.

Stop listening to the pied pipers, and you might suddenly be able to see the priorities.