“Unfortunately, the U.S. media have become a positive hindrance to public understanding, reducing everything to a binary question of believers vs. deniers, good guys vs. bad guys. Here’s the sad truth: This narrative is mostly an invention of journalists. It relieves them of having to understand a complicated subject.”—Holmes Jenkins, WSJ Columnist.
I certainly don’t claim understanding regarding climate change, but I will share some thoughts from others.
Plowing through a file of clippings, I get the impression of agreement about global warming but no consensus on the seriousness of the problem. For example, Bjorn Lomborg, Danish author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist” traces alarmist reports that high seas will displace 187 million people from their homes to an unlikely prediction of what will happen if nothing is done. “We have more know-how and technology than ever to build dikes, surge barriers, dams, dunes and barriers like mangrove buffers,” he writes. Such know-how could also help U.S. coastal cities or inland towns seeking control of rivers, where “100 year floods” are happening every two years.
Our kids have been taught frightening tales of imminent climate disaster. Youth-oriented groups accost their elders with demands to take action, some bringing suits based on a theory of inter-generational equity. Greta Thumberg, an impressively sincere and articulate Swedish girl, lectures world leaders: “This is a crisis, like a fire ready to burn the house down!” and yet little changes. None of the parties to the Paris accord have come close to meeting their green pledges, and President Trump withdrew the U.S. from that accord. As much as elders would like to solve this issue, it’s enormously difficult.
Trying to get at the suspected cause of warming, pollution of hydrocarbons, enormous social changes are proposed in a Green New Deal: reduced air travel and beef consumption; wind and solar energy to replace hydrocarbons in supplying 80 percent of world needs. Rational voices say this simply cannot happen quickly. Warren Buffett, a savvy investor, is banking on shale assuming it’s going to be needed for a while. Modern people are unlikely to tolerate energy starvation if green sources are far too expensive and cannot meet the needs.
I find it difficult to get at the truth of things. Is the doomsday talk real or exaggerated? Can anyone really put a timetable on disaster? Or is it mostly guesswork? Do certain agendas play a role — more compelling stories for journalists? Capturing the largest voting bloc (millennials) with the argument: “Capitalistic activity — industrialization, cars, airplanes — caused this. Capitalism is bad, choose socialism!” It’s too simplistic — millennials love cars and flying, too. Inventors could not foresee environmental harm. Poor people can’t be faulted for wanting a higher living standard.
For sure: The third world produces immense and growing emissions. Taiwan’s transportation when I lived there 55 years ago relied mainly on bicycles and pedicabs (a “tricycle” with seats in back and a man pedaling), probably typical Asian transportation. Still, Taipei was so polluted from coal fires that blowing one’s nose produced a Kleenex of black gunk. Modernization added millions of cars to existing pollution.
Tony Blair, Britain’s former Prime Minister, said, “Yes, this is a problem to address, but it must be done in a practical manner.” Given its enormity, how? One idea: “For a fraction of the cost of the Green New Deal, we could fix the biggest piece of the climate problem by injecting particles into the air sufficient to block 1% of sunlight hitting earth…to neutralize warming of the planet.” Maybe wild-sounding ideas like that are needed! At least, they involve the entire earth. Yet what unexpected consequences could result from attempting to solve previous unexpected consequences?
The nuclear option works. It’s clean, carbon free. Sweden, from 1970-90, doubled its energy output with nuclear plants while reducing carbon emissions 50 percent. Eight states have passed laws against new nuclear plants until there is a plan for disposal of nuclear waste. Remote Yucca Mountain in Nevada is a good choice supported locally, stopped so far by politics.
I think it’s valuable to do everything we can. In our town, the Ertels are celebrating 10 years off the grid in a comfortable home where solar power and wood stoves provide energy and satellite connections provide TV and internet. Equally impressive is a huge water tank filled by gravity flow from rooftops. Yet a worldwide issue so difficult needs our best brilliant minds focused not on politics but on practical solutions.
Verna, who lives in Kerrville, worked for the U.S. Foreign Service, which took her across the globe, including to Argentina, Taiwan and Chile.