Year 3, Month 9, Day 4: Naked Self-Interest Edition

Another Canadian paper, the Melfort Journal (where? Here.) runs a version of the David Suzuki article used for yesterday’s letter:

Faced with the evidence, many deniers have started to admit that global warming is real, but argue that humans have little or nothing to do with it. Muller’s study was just one of many to demolish that theory.

Our climate has always changed, and natural variation is part of that. But scientists have long known that carbon dioxide and other gases trap heat in the atmosphere. Recent warming is occurring at an unprecedented rate that corresponds to burning fossil fuels. According to NASA, global average temperatures have been rising significantly since the 1970s, “with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years.” North America just experienced the hottest July on record, and the first seven months of 2012 were the warmest, on average, in more than 100 years.

This evidence has caused some deniers to change their tune again. Yes, the Earth is warming, they say, but whether it’s from natural or human causes, we can’t do anything about it, so we might as well continue with business as usual, maybe employing technological fixes to help us adapt.

The truth is, as most of us know, that global warming is real and humans are major contributors, mainly because we wastefully burn fossil fuels. We also know solutions lie in energy conservation, shifting to renewable sources, and changing our patterns of energy and fuel use, for example, by improving public transit and moving away from personal vehicles.

Scientists have been warning about global warming for decades. It’s too late to stop it now, but we can lessen its severity and impacts. The side benefits are numerous: less pollution and environmental destruction, better human health, stronger and more diversified economies, and a likely reduction in global conflicts fuelled by the rapacious drive to exploit finite resources.

We can all work to reduce our individual impacts. But we must also convince our political and business leaders that it’s time to put people – especially our children, grandchildren, and generations yet to come – before profits.

I was glad enough that Muller changed his mind a bit, but he’s not being much help in the aftermath. Sent August 29:

Yes, Richard Muller, once a “skeptic,” is raising eyebrows among political conservatives with his recent conversion to the accepted consensus on global climate change. The erstwhile doubter finally laid his reservations to rest with his own Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study, confirming that the planet is warming significantly and that humans are responsible. But it’s still a good idea to keep adding a pinch of salt to Dr. Muller’s public statements, even as his research brings him in line with the climatological wisdom of the 1990s.

Muller’s enthusiastic advocacy of natural gas as an alternative energy source demonstrates that exceptional intellectual powers offer no protection from self-delusion. Natural gas is only cheap when you don’t count externalities like huge infrastructural costs for delivery and extraction technology, and the virtual certainty of groundwater contamination in the aftermath of the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process. Once all these factors are accounted for, it’s neither cheap nor clean, contributing almost as much to greenhouse emissions as do oil and coal.

While it may displease the arch-conservative Koch brothers (Richard Muller’s sponsors), the truth is simple: to survive and prosper in the coming centuries, the world’s civilizations must shift as rapidly as possible to renewable sources of energy. There is no time left to waste.

Warren Senders

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