Blogging, so I've learned, comes with tags. The best is you make yourself and your blog easily classifiable. You see, people want to know what they have to expect. I would recommend you state in your side bar something like 'I am an atheistic, non-smoking, anti-alcoholic, pro-abortion, anti-war, pro-string, anti-drug, pro-evolution, anti-matter, pro-blematic, unemployed neo-liberalist '. Or the like. Ah, and don't forget to clarify sexual preferences, we don't want to confuse anybody.
The advantage is, visitors don't even have to read what you write to disagree with you.
Anyway. I recently feel like subject to peer pressure, and I am afraid I will have to proclaim an opinion about global warming. I recently stumbled across these lists of
50 things you can do to reduce Global Warming
and I just found out via Lubos that the TIME magazine had a similar list in last week's issue: 51 Things you can do to save the environment.
The present global warming debate is in my eyes very ironic. Initially, I was happy to see how fast the environmental consciousness has increased in the last some years, not only in the USA. See, all these points you find on the list like: cover your pots while cooking, take a shower instead of a bath, reuse your shopping bag, recycle your waste - this is what we were taught in Kindergarten1. When I moved to the USA I was shocked, honestly, to see how little people cared about their environment. Okay, Tuscon AZ might have been an extreme case. But folks, when you go shopping then shut off the engine of your car. And yes, better insulation in housing would significantly reduce AC and heating cost, paper can be recycled, etc, etc. Now what's new about these insights?
To come back to global warming, from a scientific point of view it puzzles me how this debate is lead. The essence has become to scare people with the potential catastrophes that global warming can have. Then tell them it's their fault because of the carbon dioxide increase they cause with every fart. The problem is this entangles several points that were better treated separately.
So, let me first state an obvious fact. The world's natural oil and gas resources are not infinite. Experts may disagree whether we will run out of oil in 30 or 100 years, but that is not the point. If our present high-tech civilizations experience energy shortening, very many things will change very suddenly. This is a huge threat for the organization of the society you live in. Since there are so far insufficient preparations in case this happens, the thing to do is: save energy. These 50 points have a priori actually nothing to do with global warming, but are about energy saving. Whether or not you think global warming is real, you should save energy.
Why? You are convinced that bio fuel is the thing to do, or hydrogen, or nuclear fusion, or you are just an optimist who hopes somebody will come up with something at some point? Gee, there is a line where optimism turns into ignorance. The important thing is called Energy Return on Investment Ratio (EROIR), that is essentially the ratio between energy surplus you get and energy you have to invest Ein. The surplus is the difference between the total energy extracted Eout and the energy that you use, that is
EROEI = ΔE / Ein = (Eout - Ein) / Ein
(In many cases, instead of the EROEI the energy return ratio is used, which is just Eout/Ein).
If we want to access new energy sources, its not sufficient to ask how much can we get out. We have to ask what is the price to pay. I am not an expert on bio fuel and hydrogen powered cars and the like, but none of these technologies is presently sufficiently advanced to replace natural oil and gas, the EROEI is significantly lower.
I am not saying this is not possible. I am saying our civilization is presently not prepared to cope with a significant energy shortage. The reason why this concerns me is that you don't have to be a seer to predict what is going to happen if energy shortage hits us unprepared. Nuclear energy (fission) is a well known, easily accessible technique with a large energy return on investment. Current nuclear reactors return around 40-60 times the invested energy [source].
And then multiply that with the fact that the generation in charge when oil runs out will not be the generation that remembers Czernobyl from first hand.
To come back to the global warming. There is high confidence that average temperature on the earth's surface has been raising by about 0.8 degrees since mid of the 19th century. There are many other indicators of a climate change: differences in temperature between summer and winter, day and night, thickness of the Arctic ice, melting of mountain glaciers, frequency of extreme weather events (floods, storms), shifts in the average days of first frost in winter, first bloom of plants, the end of animal hibernation, onset of bird migrations in spring, decline in maple syrup productivity, and so on and so forth. You can discuss any one of these points if you like (I have my doubts about the maple syrup factor), but the evidence that the climate is changing is overwhelming.
Studies also show that the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere hasn't been as high as today in the last 650,000 years. The question is of course whether the one is causally connected to the other, and I am not the one to tell you that. But even if you shrug shoulders and say: we don't know, the smart thing to do is not to mess with nature if you don't know what is going to happen.
Why? Darwin has told us the fittest survive. There is a huge number of humans on that planet that fit very good into the present environment. We adapt to changes, but evolution works slowly. If we manage to change our environment faster than we can adapt to it, well, congratulations. The whole human race will get the Darwin award for removing itself from the earth's surface by natural selection. We have the power to cause significant effects on the equilibrium of our environment, and we should be very careful with what we do, or we risk consequences that might be irreversible (we can of course debate whether or not it would be a great loss if the human race vanishes from earth's surface).
Besides this, the most pressing problem today is coping with the present changes, whether you know where they come from or not. One problem that will most likely be worsened by climate change, energy shortage and growing population is illegal immigration. Poorer countries have more problems coping with these challenges; if the situation becomes a threat to survival, people take high risk to get into richer countries - can you blame them? Whether you are in North America or Europe, look at your south borders and imagine what the situation will be like in ten years. Twenty years. Thirty years.
I am afraid covering you pot while cooking is not going to significantly change this. Scaring people with scientifically shaky statements might be effective on the short run, but isn't going to help on the long run. What scares me is how imbalanced this discussion is. I wonder if it is the connectivity and information overflow of our modern world that amplifies our concerns, polarizes opinions, and grossly oversimplifies matters. It is tempting and easy to condense the causes of problems and come up with a 50 point list. Others might argue 10 commandments are sufficient.
My mum always said they missed the most important commandment: You shall not be stupid. In fact I think this is the only one we need. The rest are details.
Save Energy. And support development of alternative energy sources. Whether or not you believe global warming is caused by humans.
Don't mess with nature. As long as you don't know exactly what your actions will cause, don't disturb our environment unnecessarily, and be as little invasive as possible. Whether or not you believe global warming is caused by humans.
Don't deny. Climate changes are a fact and have consequences. We have to deal with these changes. Now. Whether or not you believe global warming is caused by humans.
So, if you want to classify me: I'm a tree hugger. I'm a pro-environment, anti-energy-waste currently sick plastic-bag-reuser who worries about the next generation. I could use a little bit of global warming though. We still have snow up here.
1: I just say "Jute statt Plastik"
TAGS: GLOBAL WARMING, TREEHUGGING, ENERGY