Crystal Ball


Friedman’s column in the NYTimes today, Mother Nature’s Dow, was typical of his work – filled with “big” ideas, poorly thought out, emotional, enthusiastic, and totally superficial.  One commenter suggested that he was rallying the Global Warming troops in the wake of the article on Freeman Dyson, the world-famous skeptic, that appeared in the Times Magazine and the recent cold weather!  (Hot weather is always evidence of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) – cold weather is just a random variation…)  What really got me was the comments of this sort, which were many:

the skepticism toward climate change never ceases to amaze me. the weight given to climatologists who discount man-made climate change is horribly out of balance with those who are sounding the alarms (and have been for a good decade – with increasing intensity). we are witnessing earth’s change at a rapid rate. we already have irreparable damage to some ecosystems. now is not the time to be an ostrich. and the apathy of many people who do recognize this truth is deeply disappointing.

Yes, the planet is changing, it always is changing.  Yes, many ecosystems are being damaged, mostly by destruction of habitat as a result of human settlement.  And why does the increasing intensity (stridency?) of the “ones who know” mean that they are right?  Often that signals that a person is wrong!


Human Beings and Original (Environmental) Sin

Among the comments I read were many that seemed to stop just short of calling for forced population control.  Humans are a harmful virus, you see.  This is part of the “religion of environmentalism” that Dyson talks about, often sympathetically.  I noticed another example of it on walk through a nature preserve near my house.  Some trees there have metal plates with messages on them about ecology that were done by local school children.  One stated that we are destroying our source of oxygen every day by a given amount (I forget the figures.)  This was a reference, I believe, to deforestation, but were these children also apprised of the growth of oxygen producers in some areas?

Having just finished reading about Cotton Mather and his role in the Salem Witch Trials, and having my head filled with thoughts about Old Time Religion, the plaque seemed a lot like an old fashioned religious motto intended to make you feel bad and remind you of your essentially sinful nature…so you could think of this occasionally after you go back to your normal life.  Yes, walkers will see this plaque and shake their heads:  “How true – out of the mouths of babes…”  And they will climb  back into their cars (maybe a Prius) and drive away.

Let’s get real.  I make a few predictions and such:

  • Human population will continue to grow for a long time, although the rate of increase is likely to continually slow.  This population will need lots of energy.  I suspect that coal, for good or ill, is going to provide a lot of it.
  • Saving energy is good for all sorts of reasons – why waste it or anything else?  But we are not likely to be 100% energy self-sufficient here in the USA, not if we don’t want our economy to grind to a halt.  Priuses and coiled light bulbs, and more efficient homes and transit will use vastly less energy, if everyone used them now, but they don’t, and by the time they do, if they do, there will be more of us.  So at best, we can hope for a slightly decreasing rate of increase in our energy consumption in the near term.
  • Stopping population growth won’t happen, and isn’t a realistic goal for any near-term, unless we are willing to resort to a police state.  At least that would have the added benefit of putting the lid on our consumer culture so that the fewer people wouldn’t continue to consume more, but I’m not looking forward to it.
  • Everyone says nice things about “sustainability” but few really think it through.  What does it mean?  How much are we willing to NOT have as we move through the 21st century?  How thoroughly can we rework our societies, and not have massive civil unrest, in our search for clean energy?  Not much, I think.  After all the “cosmetic” green stuff is worked through, short of social breakdown or revolution, we will need more energy.  I bet coal supplies a lot of it throughout the world.  Coal can produce electricity, and electricity can replace oil.

Not too pretty, eh?

4 Responses to Crystal Ball

  1. troutsky says:

    __________________ “Nature Preserve”______________________ very lovely, that. “Social breakdown” is here now.That is what you feel. Revolution is the only possibility. And needn’t be as upsetting as you imagine it.

    By the way, there is change and then there is cHaNgE. You can change a light bulb or change your mind or change the future.

  2. lichanos says:

    Rather cryptic, your comment, Troutsky. Not sure I get it.

    Change the future..? It’s not here yet, how can we change it? It’s not cast in concrete either. It’s always “changing.”

    Revolution the only possibility..? You can forsee the future, I guess, unlike the rest of us. Only ONE possibility? And how can it NOT be upsetting and STILL be revolution?

    Social breakdown..? You’d never know it from where I sit. Not yet, anyway…

  3. Che Bob says:

    What continues to come to my mind as I reread your post is a town in Peru where the environment is so toxic, it is no longer inhabitable for human beings. Now, I’m no fan of Tom Friedman, but your accusations that his work is “enthusiastic, and emotional” are odd. Perhaps our lack of “enthusiasm” for change/revolution has something to do with where we live. Perhaps our lack of emotion about consumption has something to do with our ability to consume damn near anything.

    I think revolution will indeed be upsetting; and it will be upsetting directly proportional to where one lives (i.e. the environment) and the kind of wealth one enjoys. Distance from enthusiasm and emotion are luxuries!

    You even articulate your comfort “from where you sit” where there are no signs of social breakdown. From where you sit, there isn’t too much to get worked up about. From where you sit…

    I’m sorry, but you entire post is myopic.

  4. lichanos says:

    Che Bob:

    Poor people the world over always get, and always have gotten the short, raw end of the stick. The fact that they still are is not a sign of social breakdown but an indication of the enduring reign of injustice.

    Friedman is emotional and “enthusiastic” in the worst way in that he substitutes feeling for analysis. He “feels” strongly about these things, and he doesn’t bother to check his logic. Of course, feeling strongly is part of being human, but so is reasoning…

    I wonder if sensitive visitors to the Bolivian city of Potosi in the 17th century felt that the juxtaposition of horrid squalor and life destroying mining work with incredible luxury in the city center was a harbinger of social breakdown? It sure took a long time, didn’t it?

    Why are you not a fan of Tom’s?

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