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20 December 2009

Climate Change and the Copenhagen Climate Conference

I've been thinking a lot about the recent attempt by the world leaders to meet and to discuss "solutions" to Global Warming. Their meetings raise my levels of skepticism and inquiry as to whether they have any idea what they are really talking about and whether this like so many government initiatives is really just another way to control people. I think when people (like Al Gore, for example) are so quick always to mention destruction and apocalyptic predictions, you too would be wise to put your BS radar on full alert.

I'm stuck on at least a couple of points.

How can CO2 be a pollutant when it is a naturally occurring gas?

When plants take in CO2, they always give away oxygen. Seems like the plants might have a very low-tech, widely available, and inexpensive solution to this problem; rather than asking for 100 billion dollars for a fund for God-knows-what, why don't we look to the plants to help us? Why does everything cost so much with these folks and who's supposed to pay for it? Well, they want the developing countries to pay. We in the west got wealthy and developed our civilizations with fossil fuels, but we want to tell the up and coming nations, you have to cut back, let your children die because we must reduce carbon emissions. That doesn't seem like a holistic solution. I'm sorry, but I think a child in Africa or India is as important as a child anywhere else. They're not going to cut back anyway. I mean would I personally suggest that they need not follow our lead of over-consumption and excess? Sure, but that's easier said then done, and really not my place to be telling them how to live anyway.

Next question: Isn't climate always changing?

Maybe our approach should be to be flexible and to adapt to the changes rather then to try to stop them from occurring, as if we could. Won't there be winners and losers in any such equation? Aren't we "smart" enough to adapt to whatever changes come our way and work with the benefits and opportunities that will also come? One thing Al Gore left out of his movie is the warming period in the middle ages. It didn't make his now famous "hockey stick" graph. Vikings once farmed in Greenland, for example, and now there is permafrost there. What caused the earth to warm then? By the way, the earth was much warmer then, and there were no great catastrophes or end of the world scenarios. What caused the earth to cool again since this is way before the human factor of carbon emissions? Could there be other factors in the warming, like the cycles of the sun? Why for that matter do other planets like mars warm and cool? How do we explain that? These are worthy questions because these leaders are asking for a huge commitment from people, and I write this because I think that effort will be terribly misguided. We should be focusing on other aspects of human behavior.

Let's face it, fossil fuels have served a great purpose to our species. Why can't we admit that? Why are we asked to feel guilty about our survival? But guilt is a huge factor here, especially for Americans. See Al Gore is a hero. He has a heroic solution to this problem. A heroic solution implies someone has been bad and needs to be rescued from themselves. We need to pay for our sins, and climate change is the reward for our misdeeds. Only if we repent and change our ways can we be saved -- otherwise destruction is assured (we deserve it, anyway). Sounds more like a preacher than policy maker. I don't think guilt serves much purpose here. I don't think acting out of as sense of self-hatred does either. I don't trust people who would appeal to my sense of shame for being alive and using resources because of that fact. One of my students recently did an exhaustive and well thought out presentation on the Chernobyl disaster - she grew up not far from there and had many family members directly affected. Let me tell you, it broke my heart. Incidentally, only two students in the class of 20 even heard of Chernobyl (!), but when I hear people advocate the use of more nuclear power plants to cut down on carbon emissions, I get a chill down my spine. I'll take fossil fuels and their problems any day of the week compared with nuclear. However, if I were to push for a transition away from fossil fuels, it would first be based on matters of war and peace and national security. A better question to ask is how is our dependence on foreign oil, for example, shaping our defense policy? Now I'm listening. War is a greater and more immediate threat to the human species than climate change. That argument is seldom mentioned except by Republicans who want to "drill here" and "drill now". Well, developing alternative energy in my mind is a more sustainable solution than drilling for oil off the Jersey coast.

How about mentioning deforestation? Isn't that a far greater threat to people than carbon emissions? Remember how the plants make oxygen from carbon dioxide? Well, let's stop destroying them. Let them do their thing -- ask them for help. I can tell you deforestation causes local and quick climate change and can destroy entire regions and populations in a very short time; we know that from the historical accounts of whole cities that seemed to vanish overnight. Why not put more emphasis on that? Do you know that cities are hotter in the summer and colder in the winter? Much of this instability if you will could very well be caused by our stressing of local ecosystems. This issue gets lost in all the reduce your carbon footprint bullshit.

What about the preservation of wetlands across the globe? The wetlands are the earth's filtration and detoxification system, so why do we allow them to be drained, filled, and develoed at such a rapid rate? This argument is also obscured by the carbon footprint scenario. There are so many other issues that get eclipsed, too. I don't work for the oil companies, but I feel this simpleminded approach, while appealing to the masses and would be hybrid car owners, works to get people's atention, it is also terribly flawed.

What about talking to the plants for that matter? Let's see what they have to say. How about communicating with the spirits of the animals, too, while we are at it, or the earth herself? Do these world leaders spend a lot of time doing that? Meditating? Praying? Asking for humility and wisdom? Asking help from God? Do they spend time with elders to see what solutions they might offer? I would first start there. The call for radical action seems very wrong to me on so many levels.

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