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CARBON DIOXIDE AND DENIALISM

May 20, 2013

 

CARBON DIOXIDE AND DENIALISM

(The following is based on my own views and commentary in The Week, of May 24, 2013 edition.)

I have waited for this day for many years, and the day has come. It had to happen, given our politicizing of science amid a toxic stew of profit seeking corporations, their paid apologists, libertarians and right wing think tanks, who urge us to do nothing in what should be the number one issue of the day in every country everywhere.

There are millions more corporations than those involved in the petroleum business and billions more people than Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and other such stooge PHD faux climatologists who are dictating humanity’s response to the climate crisis to date. These are corporations and humans who have no voice in their own survival, or, if they survive, in a profoundly new and different environment. They have no voice in fashioning a response as the petroleum commissars, their apologists and IRC 501 somethings (think tanks, tea party fronts and other liberty seekers and corporate bullies) rule the day in the name of profit, perhaps irrevocably binding current humanity and its progeny to an unknowable but likely catastrophic environmental result – a result in which then erstwhile corporate bullies will share as well.

What is the big event? It is a number – 400 plus – an average daily atmospheric carbon dioxide level which we, in an unbelievable mix of apathy and greed, have finally achieved. We know by that measure that we now have more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than at any point since three million years ago. We know that global temperatures back then were about seven degrees higher, that the Arctic was ice-free, that sea levels were more than thirty feet higher, and that Earth’s climate was dramatically warmer. We will have finally found our “northwest passage” of yore and ships will have a much shorter voyage from Europe to the Orient, for instance, if Japan, Taiwan, Britain, Indonesia and other such insular states are un-submerged, otherwise habitable and still engaged in economic production of goods and services what with drastic population shifts and the like.

Al Gore rightly tells us that this number should serve as a reminder that we are headed for disaster, and points out that, every day, human beings pour “90 million tons of global warming pollution into the sky as if it were an open sewer.” (That’s almost four million tons an hour, and with a giant bump in increased population expected by 2050, and if we continue to consume carbon at any level near the present one, four million tons per hour will be a number we will fondly remember but cannot replicate.)

We know further that carbon dioxide traps heat energy, preventing it from dissipating into space and altering the complex dynamics that produce hurricanes, droughts, coastal floods, and other extreme weather. We can be certain as well that unless we alter the current trajectory, we will pass 450 or even 500 parts per million in coming decades, and perhaps sooner rather than later given population bumps.

The predictable response of the Wall Street Journal (profit above all – even life itself), via writers Harrison H. Schmitt and William Happer: Carbon dioxide is not the “dangerous pollutant” that climate-change hysterics would have us believe. Earth had as much as 3,000 ppm of carbon dioxide in past eons, and plant and animal life “flourished” in that environment. For most plants – especially wheat, rice, soybeans and cotton – and for the animals and humans that rely on them, extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere actually is a benefit. Contrary to the scare stories, more carbon dioxide may make our planet friendlier to life.

Phil Plait in Slate.com replies to such an inanity that the WSJ’s argument is “monumentally naïve” and that it in fact takes the prize for the most egregious piece of denialism yet. Yes, he agrees, higher carbon dioxide levels may help plants grow in a small greenhouse, but in the complex atmosphere of a whole planet, they would cause massive climatic disruptions. He asks categorically if it would be good if Canadian farmers could start growing pineapples? No, because in Kansas, it would mean 105-degree temperatures that would incinerate all crops.

Still others (Nick Thompson in New Yorker.com have stated that the only way to avert the coming disaster – geoengineering – that scientists may have to cool the atmosphere artificially, by shooting giant clouds of particles into the air to block sunlight, or creating machines)than can suck massive amounts of carbon dioxide out of the air. They have noted that tinkering with nature carries grave risk of unforeseen consequences, “but that it may be the only way to prevent mass calamity.”

So where are we? Are we the people of the world going to accede to the greedy wishes of profit seekers and shoot craps with our own survival (such as oxygen to breathe, survival of our progeny etc.) in order to ensure that greed trumps survival (or survival in a radically changed environment where, for instance, oxygen is for sale, by corporate-controlled producers, of course)? Oxygen will be the subject of my next blog which will be devoted to oxygen producers such as oceans and rainforests in this environmental series. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, color me yellow. I am proud to be one of the “climate change hysterics” as defined in the Wall Street Journal piece above set forth. With a 400 plus ppm count and climbing, it seems to me that hysteria is a rational choice of alternatives, rather than, for instance, apathy, which we have tried and  have learned to our dismay that it is a non-choice stalling tactic, not a policy. GERALD  E

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