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?