Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Global Warming - take 2 (lengthy)

Earlier I posted a entry about a global warming debate that had been going on between some friends via e-mail. Well, in the spirit of all good natured warfare, let's kick it up a notch.

One of the friends (the "global warming is not caused by humans" proponent), found this documentary running on British television. It's an hour long, and I do recomment you view it. The rest of this post will comment on the movie, and try to make some additional points about this debate. So if you want to take this in order, you will need to have a nice cup of tea and watch the video first.

Anyways ...

I sent my thoughts back to the friend that had recommended viewing this movie. For it largely had validated his intuition about the global warming "myth". At his suggestion, here are my thoughts, then, shared more broadly for those that might be interested ...

First, thanks for sending me the link and encouraging me to view it. It is a well-done piece of work, and it provides the needed “balance”. I’ll come back to that balance later.

The story here corresponds with much of my intuition, as it does with yours from what you’ve said. For me, the intuition comes from the realization that we are but bit-players in this evolutionary process called life. But our egos assume we are the driving force, top o’ the heap, created in God’s image, and able to dominate and rule our dominion. I don’t find that to be a healthy attitude. Also doesn’t fit real well with humility.

Let me comment on a few of the show’s themes as I recall them.

On the role of mass media. Yes, I agree that the mass media has done a lot to hype global warming. And I must confess I am a bit curious about one fact. You know my theory is that the mass media is all about conflict for conflict’s sake. Heck, they will even create conflict where none exists if needed in writing a story. But here is a situation where they could pit group against group. I’m not sure why they haven’t done that. Perhaps it is just too early. And perhaps they are still quite comfortable pitting “environmentalists” against “big business”, “capitalism”, and “progress”.

On undeveloped countries being the victims. Well, I have to tell you, I think this is a disingenuous message. I think it is there to give pro-development forces virtue and righteousness. In the (admittedly small amount of the) greenhouse debate that I’ve heard, I’ve not heard any serious suggestions of trying to hold back developing nations. Indeed, you could say that one of the prime arguments that the US and AUS made against the Kyoto Protocol was that it did nothing to restrict developing nations, who were likely to dramatically increase production of greenhouse gases in the future, and hence fuel their development, at the same time we’d be limiting our own growth and cost-effectiveness. In short, we opted out because it is we who were being more disadvantaged by the accord.

I found this (rough) quote particular interesting: "Africa has coal, and Africa has oil, but the UN is campaigning that rather than use these cheap sources of electricity, they should use solar or wind."

To me, the wealthy nations have shirked their responsibilities to lead the alternative energy movement, precisely because we are exploiting the finite fossil fuel energy sources. Responsible policies would have (and still can) produce more cost effective and viable energy sources than the limited (and increasingly costly) fossil fuels. These are complex trade-offs. Do you remember acid rain? Smog warnings? Are they not real to you? Do you believe our dependence on foreign oil plays no role in our Mid-east politics? The canary in the mineshaft came in 1972 (Arab Oil Embargo) and how have we done developing alternative energy policies? Do you think we have the technological prowess to have done that in the past 35 years? It is one area I am not so humble on our intellectual abilities. And I say shame on our policies and our politics for not making that happen.

On the point that human contribution is a negligible (and irrelevant) part of climate change. I think the key question to ask yourself then is “so what”? Assume this argument is 100% correct. Should I therefore be doing anything different tomorrow? IMHO if you answer “no” to that query, then you are just as guilty as the Global Warming mongers of misleading the public. Why? Because humans (and particularly Americans) are living non-sustainable lives. IMHO non-sustainable is irresponsible. We need to make prudent choices. About the use of natural resources (since when did they become ours?) About the use of fossil fuels (limited supply and pollution contribution). About the use of nuclear power (lengthy half-lives and no viable disposal strategy). About consumption, or better, over-consumption (Madison Avenue). Etc. Etc.

On anti-capitalism and anti-modernity. I happen to agree with [my friend's] premise that we have probably gathered a bunch of former anarchists and Marxists into the Global Warming camp that have as their primary belief that progress for the sake of progress is a bad thing. And that wealth for the sake of wealth is a bad thing. And that the divide between the haves and the have-nots is a bad thing. And hence, the argument has become a populist one, and a political one, rather than one based primarily on science.

But you know what? I’m not anti-Marxist nor anti-Capitalist. I’m not anti-anarchist nor anti-modernity. I’m not anti-poverty, nor anti-wealth. There are many important lessons we can learn from the fears and realities of each “side”. This takes me back to balance. Balance is more important, and more helpful, than choosing sides. Balance will help shape your individual decisions, and hopefully help to make them wise ones. In the end, decisions that are taken from the spirit of reducing suffering to all sentient beings will be wiser than the alternatives, certainly in the long run. And if we must consider anything to avoid selfishness, it must be the long run.

Bottom line: I enjoyed the movie. It reminds me once again how little we really understand about our world and by extension, this wondrous universe we are blessed to be a part of. It will be interesting to see if the science of this story holds up. Very neat theory that climate change is based on solar wind that diverts cosmic rays that form clouds that provide our climate.

But it reinforces to me the absurdity of becoming attached to “positions” and “opinions”. The references to religion ring true to me. Think of what we have done to our fellow man with the simple word “heretic”. One belief killing another belief — the human cost ignored as rounding error in the transaction.

If we are but ignorant beings, tricked from the womb into the fabric of maya, what possible value can battling beliefs possibly have. Let us take notice of that absurdity, and use it to propel us toward an awakening. And through such a path, gain the wisdom to deal with these issues without emotion, and with compassion for all sides.

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