Sunday, September 18, 2005

Nobody's Fault But Mine

The latest scientific estimates about the causes and effects of global warming are largely choir-preaching, because they're from scientists, who are only valuable to self-styled conservatives when they've been rented by Exxon or Philip Morris.

The number of hurricanes in the most powerful categories — like Katrina and Andrew — has increased sharply over the past few decades, according to a new analysis sure to stir debate over whether global warming is worsening these deadly storms.

While studies have not found an overall increase in tropical systems worldwide, the number of storms reaching categories 4 and 5 grew from about 11 per year in the 1970s to 18 per year since 1990, according to a report in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

Peter J. Webster of the Georgia Institute of Technology said it's the warm water vapor from the oceans that drives tropical storms, and as the water gets warmer the amount of evaporation increases, providing more fuel for the tempests. Between 1970 and 2004 the average sea surface temperature in the tropics rose nearly 1°F.

Co-author Greg Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research said the researchers can't say rising sea-surface temperatures caused Hurricane Katrina. But their study shows the potential for more Katrina-like events to occur, he said.

Without something concrete, I tend to waffle toward agnosticism on the subject of global warming. The earth has cycles and rhythms that do not at all conform to our systems of perceiving and measuring time. We haven't been recording and analyzing this data very long, relatively speaking.

Also scientists, even apolitical ones, are not entirely immune from the academic pressures inherent in their fields of discipline. Research in myriad areas is constantly undertaken, and even less-than-successful results may end up getting published in vague fashion, just so that the next time the scientist's university comes up for a grant or a donation, there's one more thing to point to.

Frequently this takes the form of rather more benign idiocies -- one week eggs and salt are good for you, the next week they're the devil's playthings. My rough guesstimate is that they, like most foodstuffs, are good in moderation. (We just have no concept of that word anymore, in practically any conceivable area of discipline.) The problem for the professional scientist is that such an estimation takes no time, costs no money, and kills no mice. Bored, broke scientists end up getting rented by political whackos like the "Discovery Institute", which is neither of those things, trying to convince morons that Noah had dinosaurs on his ark.

So let's just say that while global warming certainly sounds plausible, even likely, I am not part of the crowd which murmurs in unison that Bush enviro policies "caused" Hurricane Katrina through systematic benign neglect.

But let's play devil's advocate here. Let's say that the signs pointed to by all the evidence is real, factual, and very clearly delineated. Let's say that global warming is very real, and is directly caused by America's overdependence on automobiles and fossil fuels. How is this Bush's fault?

First of all, Clinton/Gore are the ones who initially halted CAFE standards in the 90's. The automakers convinced them that their competitive edge could only be maintained by starting the SUV trend amongst soccer moms. So Clinton/Gore capitulated on fuel efficiency standards.

Then you have the Kyoto Protocol, which was voted down 95-0 during the Clinton administration. I don't know offhand who abstained, and it's really not important -- the fact is that it got squashed across the board, and not just by Republicans. The reason for that is that it imposes much harsher standards on more industrialized countries than it does on burgeoning polluters like Brazil and India. People can debate the "fairness" of it all they want; the fact is that US representatives are there to see to the interests of US citizens, not Brazilians. Implementing Kyoto as is would cost a lot more American jobs, and kill off what's left of the American manufacturing sector.

But finally, the place to assess the lion's share of the blame is with Americans. Not only do we insist on driving and commuting, but we persist in doing it in gargantuan fuck-you-mobiles. Yes, I know you drive a Prius, and I myself commute in a lowly Honda Accord. But in the aggregate, the SUV marketing ploy worked a bit too well, to where people who didn't even want them were getting them just out of self-defense.

We want to eat our cake and still have it; our sense of sheer entitlement to have it all, as many ways as we like, has never abated. You would think that fighting a war at least in part for access to scarce oil reserves would serve as a signal to conserve, but if anything, the opposite consumption paradigm runs full-tilt, in the face of all logic and common sense.

And Bush knows this full well. Of course he's a toady to the despoilers and polluters and the extraction industry; he's never pretended otherwise. But even if he were the next Theodore Roosevelt, we wouldn't let him be that. We want our toys, and we want to pretend that there are no externalities. Conservation is for suckers.

So if Bush caused Katrina, then we caused it as well, through selfishness, through inattention, through a me-me-me attitude toward our consumption pattern and our interconnectedness with the rest of the world.

The chickens are coming home to roost soon enough. While we've been holding our dicks bringing the gifts of fractious theocracy and ethnic strife to Iraq, China has been both encircling us and economically enslaving us. They have oil extraction contracts around the world, by cultivating relationships with countries we either can't deal with (Sudan, Iran, Venezuela) or friends who are sending signals that they're kinda sick of our shit (Canada). They have done all this while simultaneously amassing a hedge fund out of our T-bills. They will consolidate their resources for the next few years, and then there will be some sort of overture on their part over the re-incorporation of Taiwan.

And then we will be faced with a horrendous choice -- honoring our commitment to defend Taiwan, or honoring our commitment to our own citizens to provide a stable economy.

I have a feeling that they'll have to pry our Hummers from our cold, dead hands.


vonKreedon said...

You are of course right, Bush did not cause Katrina and the Bush policies have not made us more vulnerable to Global Warming related catastrophes. OTOH, the Bush policies are making us more vulnerable in the future through a steadfast refusal to contemplate that maybe loosing some jobs, or more optimistically dislocating jobs from on sector to another, is maybe better for the country long term than loosing NO and Manhattan, not to mention the global impact of loosing Shanghai, Jakarta, and most of Bangladesh.

Yes, there are global cycles of heating/cooling, and we may currently be in a natural heating cycle. But the greenhouse effect is also indisputable and it is equally indisputable that we humans have been spewing such gases into the atmosphere in mass quantities since the coal burning boom of the early industrial revolution. So, we better hope that we are not in a natural warming trend because we are certainly in the midst of a man-made greenhouse effect and we need to slam the brakes on this or else.

The US and other industrialized nations absolutely should be the ones doing the most braking. We produce the most gases and have the most resources to apply on the brakes without destroying our economy. The technologies that we would develop if we put ourselves to the task would then migrate to the developing countries over time. But we need to get started and not look back and point out that Slick Willy didn't get anything more done either.

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