Climate Chained

31 12 2015


The 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris was a rousing success. Everyone agrees we need to tackle the effects of Climate Change and wrestle them to the thawing ground like a matador lancing a bull. It can be done! It must be done! We are heroes of our day! Hey, did anyone see the guy with that tray of fois gras?

I’m still amazed by the almost universal abstention of reason in Climate Change discourse. And if you are wondering why I keep capitalizing the C’s in the name, it’s because the subject has been deified beyond mere science and has taken the shape of the holy chalice in which it resides. One doesn’t debate Climate Change, nor does one consider Climate Change. No, we are all meant to believe in Climate Change.

I believe in climate change. I first learned the basics in grade school. There was an ice age. There were likely many ice ages, on a schedule of roughly one every fifteen thousand years. I also learned that there is generally a warming trend a few hundred years before each ice age. The last one happened without a single Range Rover in sight. So if climate changes all by itself, how do we know whether we are contributing to the theoretical trend upwards of global temperatures?

We know that we have been pumping an enormous amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the past eighty years, and that this carbon load may contribute to a “greenhouse effect” that may trap heat and may cause ocean temperatures to rise which in turn may alter the ocean currents and the heat exchanges in such a way that weather patterns may be effected, and ice caps may melt away, and many other potential problems may rise like a tsunami of doom.

Or, the climate might be changing as it always does on a schedule that has existed long before we had calendars on which to pin it. So why are we talking about reducing global temperatures, as though we have a choice? Why are we asking our politicians to do the impossible?

I suspect it’s because we’re all feeling guilty about wrecking the planet and our politicians are the ones we’ve elected to represent our collective self-loathing and to carry out the sort of desperate economic policies that effectively amount to self-harm, like moody teenagers cutting themselves while writing poetry to the strains of their meaningless, existential anxieties.

We certainly can’t be committing to temperature change for any rational reasons. Given what we know about the past behavior of the global climate, ice ages, et al, it stands to reason that no matter what we do we have about as much chance of changing the temperature as we do of preventing the next big earthquake.

I suppose it’s possible that we’re fixated on the worthless metric of temperature for the very reason that it is indeed a worthless metric. Like the sullen rejoinder that we didn’t ask to be born, perhaps we as a species need an equally petulant response to the threats in our midst. Instead of tackling our problems like adults, we just scream at the top of our lungs and slam the door in the face of rational discourse.

In keeping with petulant responses, it seems whenever anyone erects the banner of skepticism they are labeled a “Climate Change denier”. This is a useful rhetorical method for anyone who doesn’t like to be disagreed with. It has been a very effective tool of the Church for many centuries, and many an apostate has been burned at the stake, ironically adding to our already precipitous carbon load.

I don’t mind being hated for my lack of beliefs, but I don’t like being accused of not thinking clearly by anyone who clearly isn’t thinking clearly. Assigning our success or failure as stewards of the environment to the reversal of global temperatures is irresponsible in the extreme. It diminishes the very practical concerns of the environment and replaces them with a rabidly anti-intellectual belief system that fails to provide any sort of useful solution.

A single human can do all sorts of useful things to help limit their impact on the environment. They can, by choice, recycle properly, consume less packaging, drive less or carpool more, consume less electricity, eat fewer hamburgers, on and on. Governments can enforce environmental regulations known to have a real, measurable positive impact such as reducing toxins leeching into lakes and rivers, reducing noxious gases into our atmosphere, or ensuring every effort is made to protect ecosystems wherever feasible. What no human nor government can do is change the temperature up or down on purpose.

Whatever happened to our previous environmental concerns? Acid rain; the ozone layer; toxic pollution in our lakes, rivers and oceans; deforestation; loss of wildlife habitat; the innumerable other noxious gases that we send into the atmosphere in addition to carbon dioxide? Where is the UN Conference to deal with the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is contributed to by many nations, requiring a multilateral and multinational response?

Why are we not tackling the issue of gross over-consumption? We throw away our smartphones every two years. We drink coffee made by machines such as the Tassimo and the Keurig which require non-recyclable plastic containers for every cup consumed. We run televisions and computers that consume electricity even when they aren’t in use. We have a fetish for cheap computing but don’t question the environmental impact of mining the heavy metals required for chip manufacturing. The yellow cloud in China is directly related to the West’s insatiable appetite for electronics that remain cheap because of the lack of environmental protections and labor standards in that country.

But hey, that’s not our problem. We’re nice. We believe in Climate Change. We voted for a nice new government that believes what we believe. Never mind the more pressing and practical concerns like air and water pollution, excessive plastics in landfills, loss of species’ habitat, mindless consumption, etc, etc, etc. We voted with our hearts and now we know we’ll be safe because Paris and because the UN, and because two degrees centigrade by 2050. And anyone who doesn’t agree is just a bully and hates baby seals and drives a Hummer and loves guns and probably has a tiny penis.

Behold the Age of Reason.




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