Monthly Archives: July 2009

How I prefer to address climate change skeptics

We are on the receiving end of a huge amount of politics and PR, and if one were to plot the ownership of major media venues they’d find they are one and the same with all the big companies that represent the status quo. Even terms like “embedded” or “in bed with” mean nothing; they are one and the same. You will not find a clear picture there.

The media will not sufficiently question how coal can ever be clean with a price tag we can still swallow.

They will not ask what we’re really paying for a gallon of gas, in terms of oil spills and their lasting damage, in terms of subsidizing its consumption through an expensive and inefficient road system, in foreign and military policy structured around keeping the oil flowing in the most profitable way. A consumer will pay for an Amtrak ticket up front with very little in taxation on the side, while the real cost of our current model remains obscured.

They will not question the basic energy waste inherent in accelerating a ton or two of metal to 70 miles per hour between traffic jams to transport a single commuter to work on a daily basis, whether that metal is a Hummer or a Prius. Amtrak will continue to be talked of in terms of its expensive waste without a level comparison to the status quo.

They will not accurately tally the consequences of burning hundreds of millions of years worth of sequestered carbon in the span of a century or two, and how that compares to the natural fluctuations in our earth’s climate, or talk about what happened in the past when natural fluctuations approached a speed or scale of our present impact on the planet. The closest natural parallel to what we’re doing came when volcanoes burned up huge coal reserves in Siberia at the end of the Permian. Actually here’s a link or two for starters.

They will not accurately portray the possibilities of renewable energy and will recycle decades-old concern about the cost-effectiveness of solar and wind energy, and act as if we don’t yet have the technology to completely consign fossil fuels to obsolescence as an energy source. It’s hard to keep a single hand on the till if just anyone can put thin-film solar panels up with some mirrors, or get electricity for a dollar per watt with a panel full of windbelts. The options on the table offer them a major part, yes, but they lose their monopoly.

They will not accurately balance the facts that yes, our sun is in a state of surprisingly minimal activity, and yes, we are seeing some surprising temperatures at the low end in an increasingly erratic and energetic weather system, and that we are at a point where we should be seeing another ice age presently. All of those are true to the best of my knowledge. We have put greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere in sufficient quantity as to disrupt all of that. The high end of the natural cycles will be all the more unkind to us with our current altered atmosphere.

They will, instead, put nice green labels on merchandise to buy under the present scheme of boom-or-bust consumption. They’ll tell you to buy a hybrid or change your bulb or in some other way spend as much money as you can on an incremental, insignificant change, and count on a marketplace full of this to deliver.

They will speak of regulations and pollution caps in terms of freedom when the loss of freedom, health, and life looms as a result of unregulated actions largely on the part of the big business whose bullhorn they are on.

Here’s how it breaks down, as I see it:

Big Oil and Big Coal know the jig is up at some point, but they are not going to willingly foot their share of the bill for restructuring our society so as not to include them. Shell’s own CEO goes on the record as sounding the alarm on climate change – nominally. This is where we get into greenwashing, and if you look at the ads and web presence of every purveyor of fossil fuels, they’re busy trying to make the most of tweaking efficiency here, putting up solar panels on a building there, scrubbing emissions somewhere, and playing upon the idea of cleaner emissions in 2030 without any idea of what sequestering carbon on a large scale looks like, or if it is even feasible.

If you look at the 60 minutes clip, just watch how that coal company CEO talks. He candidly admits all of the urgency of climate change. He clearly articulates that we need to change. He does not deny that even as he says all of this, he’s busy commissioning new coal plants for cheap (read environmental deficit spending) electricity – he can’t! He’s going to keep doing what makes money as long as he can, and expect the taxpayer to buy his company out of business, which effectively holds us and the rest of the biosphere hostage. He is a businessman, not a humanitarian.

Okay, how does this add up? Let’s play what if.

What if climate change is real? What business is going to voluntarily put itself out of business in favor of a totally new model? Why aren’t these hugely profitable companies doing more? Why would they want to? Better to stall for time, blow smoke, and make government foot the bill while hanging on to your profits, if you’re avaricious and soul-dead enough to.

What if climate change is a hoax or unrelated to human doings? Why even bother to talk about it or greenwash your company in expensive ad campaigns then? It’s not like government isn’t already around big business’ finger as the recent bailouts will show. They don’t need an excuse to take more power than they’ve got. Scientists don’t run climate models for profit or greed; that’d be measly competition.

So, we have to be aware of the big picture, and sensitized to the way that much noise will be made of cherry-picked incidents and blurbs like the above article in an attempt to actively skew our public discourse for the ongoing profits of the large and centralized companies that fancy themselves too big to fail.

Believe me, if someone wants to put money ahead of sound thinking, they don’t go into climate science.  They start by getting an MBA.

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