Monday, February 04, 2008

Seeing The Forest for the Green

As the "green" movement hype pushes to fever pitch, I have observed some wonderful human behavior that mocks rational thinking and demotes reason to a second class citizen.

I am a centrist in a way. Some of my convictions may seem to fall far from the middle to one side or the other, though I make my own platform based on the best information I can get combined with my own values and perspective.

I am often stunned by the views on the political right surrounding global warming. I also think some of their claims about hype are entirely valid, though they do not remove the reality we are facing.

First, what stuns me. Sometimes I hear an attitude of "counter arguing" global warming claims. A common one is "the sun is actually warming up, see how all the other planets are warming". This is usually said as if the conclusion can then be "see? we don't have to do anything...I can continue to live in a self-centric bubble and not care what happens to other people...everyone else is living like I do and anyway, Jesus will end the world long before anything we can do."

This thought pattern is eminently debunk-able and really beyond rational thinking. The Sun is naturally the most important source of warmth for the planets. This does not negate the solid "greenhouse effect" science of Carbon Dioxide, Methane and other molecules. If Solar warming is increasing (which is still the subject of some debate among scientists) then this only serves to intensify the greenhouse effect. The warming itself IS cause by the Sun (excluding geothermal warming), and the human greenhouse gas impact is what makes that a serious problem for climate change. Even without an increase in Solar warming levels, the greenhouse effect would continually warm our planet by trapping the more and more heat over time. Additional Solar warming only exacerbates the green house effect. It doesn't excuse mankind.

Therefore, We still have a problem to which we largely contributed.

Naturally, the ability of the atmosphere to keep heat is a wonderful thing at certain levels. This helps us make it through nights and winters. The problem is the runaway increase in temperatures caused by the presence of greenhouse gases in too much abundance. Our portion of that only adds to what the Earth naturally emits from volcanoes, fires or decomposing vegetation. The Earth also has natural sinks for CO2 like plant growth or the sea. By absorbing so many carbon molecules, The sea maybe be becoming more acidic than we'd like it to be. A process that will eventually end the life of some species.

Clearly warming is happening. Climate change is happening. Sea level rise is happening. Though it may seem it happens more slowly than we felt it might, given the urgency put forward by Al Gore, we have to remember that the warming can be additive and even exponential.

Now to the Conservative criticism that the Left is full of hype.

Conservatives do have a point when left wing celebrities pay lip service to the global warming and sea level rise problems while flying around the world, driving SUV's and purchasing beach front property that surely will be underwater soon if they keep living that way. I speak as if my smaller carbon foot print is not part of the problem. It all adds up.

I think this "hypocrisy" argument holds water, but that does not correct the problem of global warming from human emissions.

I have replaced all but one bulb (I kept the dimmer light) in my place with compact fluorescent bulbs:

This makes me feel great, but look at this:

My estimated carbon footprint:

Electrical use related emissions = 2 tons/year
Automotive related emissions = 8 tons/year
Natural Gas emissions = 2 tons/year

My compact fluorescent bulbs MIGHT reduce my electrical usage at home by maybe .4 tons per year.

Including Natural Gas, my Car and Electricity I am at about 12 tons/year. I install a bunch of bulbs and I am at 11.6 tons. Have I gone green? Perhaps a tiny bit.

Even so, is the CF bulb over hyped? It does cost greenhouse emissions just to manufacture and ship these bulbs. They can be heavier than the old bulbs, but they draw a lot less power and last longer. In the end, the mass purchase of these bulbs could reduce the need to manufacture the old kind, thereby not netting much increase on the "making and shipping" side of things. They do use less power and that means lower CO2 and mercury emissions (from coal fired power plants). Let's overlook the mercury they contain themselves. If all light bulbs became fluorescents the carbon impact of lighting would be reduced. But personally feeling much greener for having done it, is a bit over-hyped. It still made sense to do it.

This can all be counteracted by the dramatic growth of population in other countries. We are all in the same biosphere, so their emissions play a zero sum game with ours. If all the millions of incandescent light bulbs not sold to me get sold to the third world because the incandescent bulbs are cheaper...what have I really done for the environment?

Simply transferring American over-consumption to other nations does not reduce emissions at all.

Apparently, we should all be vegan monks who live in silent darkness and walk everywhere.

It must be tough to an animal lover when saving the world means not only refusing to eat the cows, but culling all the cattle as well.

Sometimes you can get the impression that people think it's always other people's over-consumption that is the cause of their own inconvenience. Some act as if it is other people's over-breeding, other people's showers that are too long or thermostats that are too high. If all the poorer people could just live a more meager and lowly existence, then the jet-setting, fine dining life of luxury could continue, uninterrupted, for those who have it.

Tree planting is another common myth-laden issue. Trees will mostly return their CO2 to the atmosphere when they eventually rot and burn. They are at best a temporary sink to buy time. Even if they stay as beams in a house, they will be prepped and treated with greenhouse gas emitting processes and they have to be shipped from where they grew to where they are used. Trees are nice, they are not "THE" answer.

Ultimately, it will take a lot of changes. Maybe the bulbs are in the right spirit and other similar reductions can help. All of my effort, even if I convinced 150,000 friends, will of course be wiped out on Super Bowl Sunday. Even though they try to reduce emissions, it is overshadowed by the huge cost in greenhouse emissions holding the event generates. I don't think we should cancel all that is fun, though real solutions that have a meaningful impact are yet to arrive.


No comments: