Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Climate Change: Reframing the Debate

Warning: The following post contains names and terms that some might find offensive like “Al Gore” and “global warming” we apologize in advance for the usage of the aforementioned terms.

Just a few minutes ago I was disagreeing with the editor of Texas Monthly on his brand spanking new blog Burkablog and it occurred to me that I should probably turn my argument into a full post.

First the article that Mr. Burka was commenting on:

Global Warming's Real Inconvenient Truth

By Robert J. Samuelson

Global warming may or may not be the great environmental crisis of the next century, but -- regardless of whether it is or isn't -- we won't do much about it. We will (I am sure) argue ferociously over it and may even, as a nation, make some fairly solemn-sounding commitments to avoid it. But the more dramatic and meaningful these commitments seem, the less likely they are to be observed. Little will be done. . . . Global warming promises to become a gushing source of national hypocrisy.''

-- This column, July 1997

Well, so it has. In three decades of columns, I've never quoted myself at length, but here it's necessary. Al Gore calls global warming an "inconvenient truth," as if merely recognizing it could put us on a path to a solution. That's an illusion. The real truth is that we don't know enough to relieve global warming, and -- barring major technological breakthroughs -- we can't do much about it. This was obvious nine years ago; it's still obvious. Let me explain.

(He crunches some numbers)

Just keeping annual greenhouse gas emissions constant means that the world must somehow offset these huge increases. There are two ways: Improve energy efficiency, or shift to energy sources with lower (or no) greenhouse emissions. Intuitively, you sense this is tough. China, for example, builds about one coal-fired power plant a week. Now a new report from the International Energy Agency in Paris shows all the difficulties (the population, economic growth and energy projections cited above come from the report).

I draw two conclusions -- one political, one practical.

No government will adopt the draconian restrictions on economic growth and personal freedom (limits on electricity usage, driving and travel) that might curb global warming. Still, politicians want to show they're "doing something." The result is grandstanding. Consider the Kyoto Protocol. It allowed countries that joined to castigate those that didn't. But it hasn't reduced carbon dioxide emissions (up about 25 percent since 1990), and many signatories didn't adopt tough enough policies to hit their 2008-2012 targets. By some estimates, Europe may overshoot by 15 percent and Japan by 25 percent.

Ambitious U.S. politicians also practice this self-serving hypocrisy. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has a global warming program. Gore counts 221 cities that have "ratified" Kyoto. Some pledge to curb their greenhouse emissions. None of these programs will reduce global warming. They're public relations exercises and -- if they impose costs -- are undesirable. (Note: on national security grounds, I favor taxing oil, but the global warming effect would be trivial.) The practical conclusion is that if global warming is a potential calamity, the only salvation is new technology.

The trouble with the global warming debate is that it has become a moral crusade when it's really an engineering problem. The inconvenient truth is that if we don't solve the engineering problem, we're helpless.

Full Article

That last paragraph is a fat load of crap.

Part of the problem is that most the people that have been explaining this problem are traditionally liberals. Meaning that they tend to look at it in a way that is limited by their idealism.

On the other hand we have many conservatives that don't believe that it is a man made problem. As a result the solutions that their political counterparts suggest are disregarded.

Some of those solutions are reduce fuel consumption, increase renewable energy production, increase biofuel production, and build cars that can run on biofuel.

We also have another problem and that is America's dependence on foreign oil. Everyone agrees its a real problem.

However it creates a secondary problem because many of the countries that oil comes from give money to terrorist groups. Everyone agrees that's a real problem too.

What are the solutions? Reduce fuel consumption, increase renewable energy production, increase biofuel production, and build cars that can run on biofuel. So...
energy dependence = funding terrorism = global warming

If you had previously made those connections you're probably not suffering from partisan myopia and deserve a frosty adult beverage of your choice.

Had liberals begun explaining the global warming problem in those terms after 9/11 how many people do you think would agree with them? Had many conservatives not put their hands over their ears every time the words “global warming” were spoken how much sooner might they have come to the above realization?

Now back to that article. Calling it an engineering problem is a gross oversimplification and also a whiny lame excuse. “I am powerless because only engineers can solve this problem.” I'm not buying it. Its a consumption problem, a foreign policy problem, and a market problem. So lets address those problems individually:

Consumption: Every American can opt to use less gas and/or electricity as well as change the types of fuel and energy they personally use. (drive less, proper car maintenance, fluorescent bulbs, sign up for your local electric companies renewable energy program etc etc etc)

Foreign Policy: Vote for candidates that can see the forest for the trees then write, call email, or fax them and vent away. (Wherever my people go I must follow, for I am their leader.)

Market: By increasing demand companies will do everything possible to create supply as fast as they can. That will also cover the engineering end of the problem.

My point is we aren't powerless. We as individuals can effect change. Liberals can combat global warming Conservatives can help make America secure and in doing so theoretically solve both problems. Then all you'll have left to argue about in this area is offshore drilling, ANWR, and drilling in national parks. (Hey, I never said this was a panacea for all energy woes.) We can work together on the same solutions for different reasons. The trick is getting the word out.

Finally while global warming may not be a moral problem indirectly funding terrorism is. If that's not a reason for bipartisan consensus nothing is. And if we can't work together as a nation to kill two serpents with one stone then maybe we deserve whatever we get.