Since climate change is in the news again, it strikes me that now might be a good time to hold forth on the subject for your edification and entertainment. After all, it worked for whatsisface over at the Times; it should work for me too. Right?
Is the present global warming trend driven by human activity? Sure. Does it track with increases in atmospheric CO2 levels? Undoubtedly. From this can we conclude that CO2 drives manmade changes in climate? Politicians and activists say yes, but the science is mixed; some blame methane, others claim that CO2 follows rather than drives warming. They’re studying it. It could take decades.
We’ll presume for the sake of discussion that CO2 and methane are the factors that drive the mechanisms that lead to climate change. Methane per percent concentration is, as I understand it, roughly eight times as impactful. Using the search “Methane And CO2 Drive Climate Change” gave me forty peer-reviewed papers. Some named other chemicals such as SO2 and low-atmosphere ozone, certain of which can have truly nasty effects. (TL;DR: It’s complicated.)
But public perception is just a simplification of this, because public perception is fed by pre-chewed pre-digested media soundbites. (Which is only natural, because the average American voter finds scientific papers boring as hell. And reads at a third grade level.) Laws are based on perception, and laws tend to concentrate on CO2 — not because methane has no impact, but because CO2 is simple.
And so we instituted a carbon tax on industry in certain countries and not in others. As a direct consequence of this tax, the air in Beijing has become unbreathable, and Chinese steel dominates the global market.
Is it any wonder that there are those who doubt the science? Is it surprising that opposition politicians are exploiting that doubt to expand their power base?
One of the best articles I read recently was about the impact of high-yield nuclear testing, particularly underground testing, on the global climate. The projection was pretty horrific, and the conclusion was that, by this point, there’s nothing we can do to stop it. It was founded in (apparently) good science and passed initial peer review — after which it was labeled “Classified” and boxed up for nearly fifty years. Now it’s considered a crackpot theory that’s decades out of date, and perhaps it is.
My point is not that we should doubt science, but instead that we should use it. Question; doubt; explore; debate!
We could use science easily to do our work for us, but we don’t. Instead we host live televised debates between the hyper-political and the over-educated, and afterward all that happens is everyone ends up feeling either confused or belittled or self-righteously correct, or maybe all three at once. Climate change? To hell with climate change! Sure, it’s happening, but for the moment it’s useless to drive policy.
You want to stop people burning coal, let’s talk about the atmosphere in Pittsburgh a century ago, when every surface was grey from the dust and you had to scrub the house morning and night. Let’s talk about the infamous London fogs during the Industrial Revolution, and the (surely unrelated!) tuberculosis epidemic of the same time. Let’s look at the skies of Beijing today: harsh, toxic, yellow, half-solid.
Science can back that. There are studies, numbers, graphs. There are pictures; in the case of Beijing, there’s live cameras. You want to stop coal mining and coal burning, posterize a picture of black lung disease.
Why do politicians care so much about climate change if it’s not effective? Because it’s not about fixing the world for these people; it never has been. The people who try to use the science — and it’s perfectly good science — to effect social change are doing so because they want political power. If they actually managed to fix things, who would ever re-elect them? But if you can look like you’re doing something, make a big song and dance routine, and at the same time paint your opponents as ignorant and deplorable — well, hell, you’ve got a formula for votes for life.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at “Coal Joe” Manchin, Democrat from West Virginia. He’s a pro-coal Democrat, if you can get your head around that. He believes in global warming and clean coal at the same time. This man has worked tirelessly to support a method of coal mining that — I shit you not — involves taking the tops off mountains and dumping them in streams to get at the sweet black dusty coal underneath.
And he’s not alone. Democrats all across Pennsylvania court the labor unions and promote clean coal. Democrats and Republicans alike do that same thing not just in Pennsylvania but from Minnesota west to the Rockies, where most of the country’s coal is mined, in Detroit and Pittsburgh where we don’t make steel anymore, and all across the country to appeal to the jobless and disaffected. They blame each other and make political hay, and all the while nothing on God’s green earth can bring the steel mills back, and we wouldn’t want ’em anyway.
Listen to me: Clean coal is a myth. There is no such thing. Anyone who tells you that you can burn coal without releasing all sorts of nasty particulates and horrific disease-causing chemicals into the air you breathe is either painfully uneducated or lying to you. Oh, maybe someday we’ll be able to do it, but not today, not tomorrow, not for decades; it’s too expensive even if we had the science — which we don’t. But nobody wants to tell the voters that, especially not the ones who lost their coal jobs under Obama.
So, what — we should vote Democrat to protect the environment? We should vote Democrat because they’re pro-science? Maybe we should vote Democrat because they’re so much less likely to be owned by Wall Street?
Like hell. There’s a few; I have hopes of Tulsi Gabbard, for example. But good people are as likely to be found on either side of the aisle: Tom Cole, Stephen Lynch, Carolyn Maloney, Will Hurd — all of them driven, hard workers for their causes and for their people. They disagree on almost everything, but they’re smart and capable and willing to serve.
The voters keep demanding an outsider, someone who isn’t part of the political establishment. And we keep electing them, from Carter to Clinton to Obama to Trump, and we keep hating what we just elected, as though there were anyone to blame but ourselves. Party is passion, party is identification — but what we really need to do is find good people, intelligent, hard workers, folks with a good stock of wisdom. If they aren’t in office, go find some and draft ’em, and to hell with party. Pick the change you want, and by God go out and make it happen!
Or you could keep going with politics as usual. March for climate change; march for equal rights; fight for your party tooth and nail. Keep giving your time and money to the same tired causes you’ve fought for all your life and hope somehow something changes this time around. And above all, vote against the Other Party, because it’s their fault, not yours.