Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Last Chance to Save the World!

Or, more aptly titled, "Those who fear change, should not study Geophysical Fluid Dynamics!" I will leave the topic after this, as my message is quite clear. Assuming you can plow through the rambling musings of my various posts on the topic. No guarantee in that. So, again, the current climate is a result of many features of the past climate. Some features are recent, some features very long time scale. Some features are geologic in nature, hence epic periodicity. I will restate myself quite clearly. If anthropogenic forces have changed recent climatic conditions, it is not provable yet. Even when we do have conclusive proof of anthropogenic impact (which will happen given growing populations and waste products), the change that we will see then could not be predicted now. This is not the same problem as dumping pesticides in a river, or strip mining, or whatever. The concept of environmental damage is far more subjective when it comes to global climate change. Global climate change is not dioxin in the water or carcinogens in a cigarette.

No one can conclusively state what is a better or worse climate for mankind. Even disasters, when they happen, as horrible as they are, have long term benefits. However, if they can be prevented, that is a great success for man. But there is no impending disaster we can predict concerning global climate change. We are just as likely to all be wiped out by a errant comet. Why is there no cultural fear of that? It has happened before, and unlike a ice age, or other climate change, happens very rapidly. Why constant fear of climate change? Is it simply collective guilt?

Some people will not accept healthy skepticism (the backbone of real science), no matter what the actual facts relate. This is a social phenomena, not a scientific one. There is a philosophy that believes man's very existence is destructive. Well, that is true. It is a Christian principal. For us to have life, something else must die (the top of the food chain is like that). But, wanton waste and destruction is not good stewardship. What conversation would you have with God? Can you ask Him what He would want most of all? More believers, more people able to live better lives and help each other? Or is God concerned with a pristine environment most of all? Noah and the flood should tell us something of God's thinking.

Apparently God was willing to destroy plants, animals, and people as punishment for their rejection of God. He then made a covenant with Noah. Very interesting stuff. With this in mind what should a Christian do about global climate change? First, have faith that God will provide for you the things necessary for survival. Trust Him, worship Him, love one another, take care of widows and orphans. Then try to be a good steward of the land. There is a lot to get right before you start worrying about buying another Chevy Suburban. So what does good stewardship mean? If it means make the land productive, that is good. Does it mean preserve the earth in a primordial state of cave man utopia? Some would believe such.

One thing is certain, we should try to not create harmful environments as we expand. Clearly that means balancing growth with cleanliness. And local and regional environs are definitely impacted by industrialization. The global climate will be impacted as well, and may be already. But what is acceptable, and what is a threat? Is nuclear energy acceptable? Not to some. Is a new landfill acceptable? Not to some. Is increased use of petrochemicals acceptable? Again, there are many who do not believe that is the correct path. But each of these has a societal benefit, and is arguably better for our modern existence than current alternatives. If there is no new landfill, dangerous and unhealthy conditions will be created in areas near high populations. If there is no new nuclear energy, more coal plants will be created to meet energy needs. And for societies use of geologic petroleum, it is irreplaceable at this point in time.

We will need to create renewable sources of petroleum. It will be a major challenge for us, and one we can meet. There is cause for concern as well. History has a number of examples of civilizations that failed to adapt and faded away. Fertile lands were irrigated with saline waters to many times, the land became unusable. Forests were utilized for fuel, and in some places, completely disappeared to this day. We will need to create technology that overcomes the limited source of cheap energy. And we may need to begin to study how to mediate our global impact if possible. All good things to pursue.

In contrast to these positive steps, there is the political morass previously discussed. There is no global enforcement of environmental laws yet. And oil is the fuel of developing nations. Without it, they will not join the western world. In contrast, some would rather see the industrialized countries shrink. This is a philosophical divide as well as inherent national competition. Another part of the divide is the economic issue.

I find it asinine when presumed 'experts' can only come up with one solution to increased demand, higher taxes. And then to claim that oil is highly subsidized in the same breath! If it is so subsidized, remove the so called subsidies and find out what the real market will support. I could just as well claim all Canadian production of anything is highly subsidized, as they have national health care, as opposed to products made in the U.S. And most 'subsidies' cited are reductions in tax rates. Gee, a lower tax rate equals a subsidy? Isn't that the same thing as a reduction in the rate of growth being a 'cut' in spending? This is the real problem, many may think they understand economics, but can not grasp the most basic smokescreen of rhetoric.

Then to claim that the oil companies are responsible for billions of dollars in pollution, caused by the end user, is equally nefarious. The same people are screaming about high gasoline prices being caused by the oil companies. Lets see, increased regulation, more spending on cleaner processes, increased price. That seems fairly clear. Then increase the price of oil, increase the demand for gas, make building a new refinery unprofitable, and you get today's price at the pump. What would bring down the price of gas? More refineries, domestic oil drilling, reduced taxation. Clearly beneficial on a national level. Yet it will not happen because of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the unpredictable nature of global climate change.

In my perspective, this is indicative of ignorance and the global citizen mentality. But on the timescale of generations, very little damage to our societies expansion. Most western economies are past the point where petroleum costs and access constitute one of the principal governors of growth. A greater fear is the recent popularization of socialist principals throughout the world. Want something that will surely lead to human suffering? Embrace socialism.

I will personally welcome the increased funding in my area of research. My goal is to see the energy budget for the ocean closed within reasonable error in the next decade. That may sound off topic, but it isn't. We do not know were all the energy goes yet, and until we do, no ocean model will be useful for prediction. Without a accurate ocean model, no coupled atmosphere ocean model will be accurate. And if you can't get that right, you can not predict the climate. We might be able to make predictions in twenty years or so, barring some major breakthrough. And at that point, we may have technologies and energy sources to make a cleaner environment globally. It is something to attain to. In the meantime, saner heads should be supported.

The history of environmental fear tactics is sordid, and when it comes to global climate change, the MO is identical. Our real policy, worldwide, should be to dump billions of dollars into public and private research into marketable energy distribution and creation. Think of twenty years ago, when a lithium ion battery powering a pocket sized cell phone for days was science fiction. We can do the same with the automobile, though it may take thirty years. And to provide all our energy needs, we will need to think big, but it is possible to accomplish.

I will stop boring everyone with meandering thoughts on the environment now, but if I get inspired in the future, plug your ears. Please consider rejecting socialistic tendency before worrying about global climate change. That should be our real nemesis, along with it's evil sibling communism.

2 comments:

Tokyo Tom said...

Gee, Carlos, even if the world's not heating up, it sure seems that you are. This post has you attacking a whole lot of your personal bogeymen rather than the arguments I'm making. It sounds like it may be helpful if I step back and tell you a little more where I'm coming from.

The issue of climate change is NOT the "last chance to save the world" - we will have continuing chances, but like on other matters, our position continues to decay. Perhaps its not the best topic to be discussing, if we want to get on the same wave-length.

I am not a socialist who's trying to impose a world government; in fact I think that in many ways our government is too big as it is and a key to many of our problems. I come from a conservative/libertarian background and have studied a fair degree of economics, biology, physical sciences and cognitive psychology. Recently I have been posting at Mises.org, which is a website of libertarian economists who HATE government. I share with them the idea that it is the private economy that is the engine for growth, and the government screws that up by over-regulating, sucking up more and more revenues, trying to direct the economy and becoming a place to which scoundrels are attracted, either to buy favorable laws or resources from the government (to the disadvantage of others) or to be one of those selling such favors. The government should mainly stick to protecting individual property rights and freedoms, which are the key underpinnings for a strong and innovative economy.

However, I part ways with those guys to some degree because I recognize that (1) there are some problems that the private market does not resolve and (2) since the government has become large, environmentalists act just like their better funded corporate adversarieis in trying to influence governmental decisions. Problem 2 would go away, and I would agree with you about enviros being a bother, IF the government would slim down and step out of the way on lots of matters, and just let private parties work out thier disputes. But the truth is is that the government is there, and it has its thumb on the scale in two ways - one, it likes to get bigger, which invites mischief, and two, corporations are in a much better position to cause mischief than the enviros. One of the key ways in which corporations get away with things, and leave society holding the bag, is that the investors of corporations have limited liability, and can walk away from the damage their companies do, for example, when the company turns out to have no assets to pay for enviropnmental problems they cause. All of the Superfund site messes are just one small example, along with the hundreds of millions state and federal governments are spending one a few small messes left behind by mining companies in Montana.

My broad view is that while the private market does great in solving problems and improving welfare where all propoerty is clearly owned and can be effectivelyt defended, that leaves out a significant area, where resources are unowned or ineffectively "publicly" owned, or where it is practically impossible for individuals/groups to manage the resources they officially own against disruptions by persons who are difficult to identify or to sue.

It is the recognition of these difficulties that has led to governmental environmental regulation - regulation that is predictibly plagued by inefficiencies, but has nonetheless proven since the early 70s to have been of tremendous net benefit in the US and did NOT strangle our economy or force us into socialism.

In the big picture, the situation is similar gloablly, but more complicated by ramapant corruption, theft and lack of effective laws in the third world, and by ineffective regulation of resources that cross boundaries or lie outside of boundaries. For all of these resources - which are not effectively managed - we simply have open, unpoliced races to take and liquidate such resources before others can. As a result, those wonderful market mechanisms that are such a generator of growth in the US and other countries simply don't work (except that they perhaps allow US institutions to be more efficient than competitors in in winning the race).

And in all of this, in the big picture outside of well-managed countries with the rule of law, nature and important ecosystems are the losers in a classic "tragedy of the commons". Fisheries are destroyed, because no one own the fishery. Tropical reefs are destroyed by silting, dynamiting and cyanide, because no one owns them. Tropical forests are destroyed, because no one owns them (or the natives can't defend them). Invasive species are inadvertently released and rum rampant, because no one has any liability with respect to them. The same is true of all engangered species - cows aren't endangered, but hundreds of millions of bison and passenger pigeons were, as were nearly of the comercially hunted whales and fur-bearing seals, because nobody owned them.

And the predictible march of history, as humans have developed new and sophisticated technology, is that more and more of nature is thus taken, freely, since no one owns it.

I see climate change as a similar issue which is just even more difficult to deal with - but for some, this is too big to get their head around, since the evidence is not staring them in the face, or they worry about governmental over-regulation, or the fairness of leaving China out, or what-have-you.

My argument on all of these issues is that since we understand the insitutional underpinnings of these problems, we have an obligation to our future (and to our Creator who set us over His glorious creation, if you're a God-fearing man) to try to solve such problems, so we don't just simply willy-nilly consume the unowned resources of the world.

I believe in personal responsibility, and that societies function best that encourage and demand personal responsibility. But in cases where resources are "free", the competeitve race with others creates destructive incentives for irresponsibility and against unilateral responsibility. We should try to be aware of the destructive cases of institutional failure, and try to fix them. It is irresponsible not to.

I see the "enviros" as like an indicator species - they may have the solution all wrong, but there usually IS a problem. The problem may be simply governmental ownership and manangement, such as over the federal lands, which are very poorly managed and typically for the benefit of large corporations/campaign contributors. But in other cases, it would be helpful if the government played a role in trying to improve the clarity and enforceability of private propoerty rights, and in regulating where it is very difficult to have a private market.

Mine is hardly a communist or even socialist position, and you can hardly accuse the evangelicals and Catholics who take strong positions on solving environmental problems as being communists.

Regards,

TT

Carlos said...

Oh, I'm not attacking you, just writing with the intent of edutainment. I didn't peg you as a liberal socialist to start with, goodness knows I've had enough exposure to that philosophy! I wouldn't call the misrepresentation of scientific results "personal bogeyman", but we can differ in our opinion on that. The choice of sarcastic rhetoric is for humors sake, not the reality of challenges that face humanity. However, you seen to come at this consistently with a pessimistic outlook, with statements like "our position continues to decay..." That is opinion as well, when it comes to global climate change. I repeat, not specific pollution problems, where we can quantify the societal impact.

Could not agree with yo more on small scale economics, get the government out, watch the garden grow! And if anything would get me on the green parade, it would be the possible breakup of big oil companies on the grounds of missing competition. Now, you take a stand on regional pollution issues, and I am in pretty close agreement. The federal government is there to protect us from wanton destruction of our environment, and some of that has already happened, with the taxpayer left to foot the bill. That still does not address the issue of global climate change. Now, you could take the contrairian perspective on the actual science, and claim that since we do not know what will happen, if it is happening (or when), we should stop all activities that affect the global climate. I'm ok with that, it stay honest to the science, and expresses a viable perspective. But that is not the situation unfortunately.

Again, you point out regional environmental regulation. And I am in agreement with you. Catalytic converters, emissions standards, CAFE, water quality control, plus many other regulations and advances have been implemented without major economic impact. But, there is no incentive worldwide to do the same, until each individual nation experiences the same environmental degradation. As you correctly state, no one owns the whole earth, yet. But there are those who wish they could rule the world. And, we are similar. We would like to see the whole world under democratic rule. Historically, democracies rarely war, and for the most part coexist in peaceful competition. Although some would claim they peacefully exploit the rest of the world.

I encourage progress in establishing the 'ownership' of resources. Yet wars have been fought for less. I would even be in agreement with global standards of emissions, if it were implementable. At this point in time, it is not possible. Yes we can try, but its unlikely in the near future. I don't think its a case of "...the evidence is not staring them in the face..." The "evidence" is blasted through the media every day. It is a big issue, and we will face it, but the solution to the 'global climate change' part is not accessible.

Just for fun, if we did find out tomorrow that man has pushed the global environment into a dramatic change, what could the world do? Even if you could somehow force everyone to abide by some standard, who would decide what was fair? Wars were fought over mush less... Now, in the future, there will be a necessity for such global control. That is what was intended by the now failing UN. Especially as regards to the last generation's global threat, nuclear holocaust. Even now we see the ability to enforce nuclear non-proliferation eroding. Is that not a more pressing threat? I can scientifically prove that society (and the environment) will be negatively impacted by the use of nuclear weapons.

It interesting that you bring up my 'accusation' concerning socialism. I intend no personal labeling. It's rhetoric, and certainly not intended against a specific entity. However, the origin of socialism is solidly in the Christian camp. The first successful socialists in this country were Christian Socialists. And I believe that many current Christians are duped into supporting liberal socialist policies simply out of ignorance and the concept of 'fairness'. Anyone, whether they are a believer or not, can be swayed by emotional arguments. And when it comes to the specifics of global climate change, there is far more emotion than fact. Again, separate national, regional, and local pollution examples. Furthermore, I am still not discounting global pollution, as that clearly exists. Some of the best tracers in the ocean are the fallout from nuclear testing. That is global pollution. I am definitely against it.

Anyhow, what do you think the future of global environmental regulation is? I believe it should begin in regional agreements, not from global treaties. Direct neighbors tend to respect agreements, and have more success. If all countries eventually did the same, it would be a global network of regulation. But, that is not the agenda of most enviros....

Thanks for your continued fun dialog. Don't take offense regarding the 'inflamitory' statements, that's what this blog is about! Rant away!