Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Another Inconvenient Truth

This article in The New York Times discusses geoengineering remedies for global warming. Some scientists worry, however, "that the potential for a climate fix, even an imperfect one, would only encourage people to continue the profligate burning of fossil fuels that got the planet into trouble in the first place."

This has it backwards. The truth is, as noble as we may feel about adopting conservationist protocols, it's doubtful they can have that much effect. Even if we succeeded in slowing down or even reversing the growth of carbon emissions (and other pollutants), we'd still be putting them out at or above the rate that allegedly got us into trouble to begin with. (Anything less would probably mean a cure worse than the disease.)

There's no shame in fixing the environment to our liking. Humans (actually, all animals) have been attempting to do it forever. What do you think a house is?

So instead of fearing we won't deny ourselves enough if they fix the problem anyway, scientists should worry that the moral belief that we must get used to a new lifestyle is slowing down the development of far more important solutions to our problems.


Anonymous Lawrence King said...

I agree about 99%, because 99 out of every 100 people who want us to stop carbon dioxide are basically anti-technology.

However, if global warming truly is real and truly is bad, then there are some solutions that don't involve massive reductions of carbon emissions. See, for example, the Wikipedia page on a possible solar shade.

Now, if we built something like this, our motive to reduce carbon emissions would be less. And while I am not an environmental crazy, I think that it is safe to say that there is possible for us to dump TOO MUCH carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Global warming orthodoxy says we have done this already, and I don't know if that's true -- but it seems obvious that it is possible to dump too much of it. (See footnote # 12 of the aforementioned page, which in the interests of full disclosure, was written by me.)

I very much agree with you on two points.

(1) It is a good thing, not a bad thing, for humans to remake the environment of our planet in a way that we like.

Of course, we need to do this carefully -- we have done things with unexpected side-effects in the past.

Moreover, humans also do things that make environmental changes as side-effects. Irrigation by well-water has signficantly lowered the water-table in Nebraska. This is obviously a bad thing, which happened as a side-effect of a good thing.

(2) The massive lowering of CO2 emissions that Al Gore wants will never happen. Even if global warming is certain, this fact is even more certain. Within a few decades China alone will be putting out more CO2 than the entire world is today.

Therefore, we need more research to determine whether GW is happening, and whether it is bad. And if the answers to both turn out to be YES, we need a solution that the first world can implement without the cooperation of the third world. A solar shade may be just the ticket!

10:54 PM, November 12, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Evidence of evolution

1) "there is no global warming"
2) "If there is global warming, there is no human cause or cause or effect"
3) "global warming is a natural result of human progress. Humans should learn to like and adapt to global warming"
4) "the global warming people are crazies, tree-huggers and neo-cavemen and therefore we should aggressively oppose them at every turn"

I sense a Philip Morris minute coming any time now. ("sure , global warming might be dangerous, but it should be available for people who want it").

5:13 AM, November 13, 2007  
Blogger QueensGuy said...

LAGuy's basic point is precisely correct -- engineering our environment is a necessary skill for us to develop at a broader level. However, I question whether increased (or even flat) carbon emissions are a certain fixture of the future. I keep reading more and more about how development of hydrogen fuels is accelerating. Likely what we need is the cheapest stopgap we can build until alternative fuels become price-competitive. Lawrence King is correct that a solar shade may be the most cost-effective short-term response out there.

How's that for agreeing with everyone? Maybe I can run the DNC...

7:52 AM, November 13, 2007  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

What we need, now, is more nuclear fission plants.

1. They are the most efficient source of energy.

2. They are the least harmful to humans. Many coal miners have died from blacklung disease, but nobody died at Three Mile Island -- and more importantly, we know how to avoid a repitition of Three Mile Island.

3. They omit no CO2, and therefore they won't increase global warming.

David Friedman said that the test of whether a global warming activist has a scientific attitude or a luddite attitude is to ask them if they support more fission plants. The luddites will always oppose them, because their Baby Boomer uncle saw the Andromeda Strain back in the 1970s and has been frightened of nuclear power ever since.

7:52 PM, November 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not anti-technology, but I favor technology that helps us avoid polluting over technology that tries to clean up or counteract the pollution. Once we mess with the chemistry, reversing it is unlikely to succeed. All the "Guys" should spend a little more time cleaning house and they'll start to get that.

The problem I have with nuclear energy is the continuous creation of a dangerous poison that has to be guarded for tens of thousands of years. We haven't even had civilization as long yet in human history as this poison will last. What makes you so confident it will never be unleashed on future generations? I don't want to leave them that legacy. But if you can come up with a technology to neutralize this poison, I'll be there with you.

9:46 AM, November 14, 2007  
Blogger LAGuy said...

"I am not anti-technology, but I favor technology that helps us avoid polluting over technology that tries to clean up or counteract the pollution."

I prefer the one that'll solve our problems best, regardless of any aesthetic feelings we have about the "right" way to live.

To give a highly imperfect analogy, quitting smoking is a good idea, but if someone could come up with a pill that makes smoking perfectly harmless (even getting rid of annoying smoke for others), that would be great--probably the best solution available. Still, I bet a lot of people would be pulling out their hair, no longer able to wag their fingers at their moral inferiors who have such a nasty habit.

As for nuclear energy (which I didn't discuss originally), though I've hardly studied the issue, it seems to me at present the best alternative energy. The storage problem isn't that significant--the leftovers of what we're using now seem a lot worse. And who knows, maybe in 100 years we'll be able to use this nuclear "poison" for our own benefit.

10:40 AM, November 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reason I favor technology that helps avoid pollution is because in my estimation it is likely to work better, not out of some aesthetic preference. The get-rid-of-ill-effects-of-smoking-pill does sound great, but I don't see it on the horizon.

6:47 PM, November 15, 2007  

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