Halfway! Also, climate change

This evening I attended my 16th class of 30, so I'm a bit more than halfway. Apparently it's normal that I'm sweating way more than I used to: my body is getting better at cooling itself off. I think today I also was still digesting lunch, creating more heat inside my body. I just wish it didn't make me slide around on the rug so much.

So there's been a lot of talk about the Global Warming/Global Cooling section of the Super Freakonomics. Most recently, Jon Stewart completely botched an interview with him. Thanks, bsom, for pointing this out first.

A summary: Super Freakonomics takes the fact of global warming--that the Earth is getting warmer. It doesn't question that this is due to human actions, like burning coal for power. But what the book does then is propose that rather than cutting carbon emissions, we could--and even should--just do things like make clouds to block the sun and thus cool down the earth. He then implies that this will get us over the hump until we figure out some other cool science-y way to fix the climate! Cool! (No pun intended.)

Levitt's first mistake is to jump to the most talked-about conclusion of the majority of climatologists: the world is getting warmer due to carbon output. He doesn't question this. But this focus on the single fact of global warming, with no regard for the other pieces of out of control carbon and methane emissions, is a wholly irresponsible way to approach the problem.

Imagine global warming as the Earth's fever in response to the disease of human industry digging up all of its stored carbon and spewing it back into the atmosphere. Now, if a person has a fever, two things are true: something is causing the fever (the fever does not cause itself), and the fever is probably not the entire problem.

In the case of the Earth, the warming atmosphere is not the only problem. The increased carbon levels are causing a whole host of problems. Scary, awful problems. For one, the ocean is absorbing some of this carbon from the atmosphere. This is causing the oceans to go acidic. Acidic oceans eat away at exo- and endo-skeletons of fish. Lobster shells will get softer, eventually becoming useless. The same will happen to tuna skeletons. With enough carbon in the oceans, we'll have nothing left but jellyfish. For another, once the atmospheric carbon levels reach a certain point (I think it's carbon, and not temperature), trees will start being carbon-positive instead of carbon-negative, and no longer be helpful.

So Levitt is looking at one specific problem, and essentially treating that one symptom. Going back to my metaphor, it's like having tuberculosis and treating it with cough syrup. It's not just Steven Levitt, and now Jon Stewart, who don't get it. Many, many people would love to—and many, many do—believe that technology will save us. Well, some technologies can help, but those include things like fluorescent lights and wind turbines that will help us reduce our emissions.

When it comes to the Earth, it's possible that we will have to turn to massive geo-engineering projects to cope. But we still need to cut down on the root problem—greenhouse gas emissions—if we're ever going to survive this with any semblance of the life we know now. And most people, and even more corporations (percentage-wise at least), won't do it unless forced.

1 comment:

  1. Hubris will do us in. We lack the imagination to see the limits of imagination.

    All we can do is keep serving as witnesses and pray that folks start paying attention to what lies outside their door instead of what's on their televisions.

    Seek the truth,know the truth, find joy where you can (and there's lots to be found), and, well, work your butt off to make change and dance.