Tuesday, October 23, 2007

California Fires

I am saddened when I see those fires in California. I also think it is a view into the future. There is no question that climate change is taking place, and at an incredibly rapid rate. Nobody knows exactly why, but I think the most reasonable explanation is a combination of effects, mostly natural cycles being terribly exacerbated by all the carbon we are pouring into the atmosphere. We have far exceeded the earth’s God-given ability for the atmosphere to clean itself. As a result, we are seeing calamitous results: polar ice caps melting, severe regional drought conditions, and those terrible wildfires. Hurricane seasons vary, but the trend is towards more disastrous hurricanes as well.

While the US has always been the bad guy when it comes to air pollution and energy usage, China is building coal-fired power plants at a rapid rate. Both China and India are polluting the air at levels that will make them worse than the US in the not too distant future. Meanwhile, we support those economies by buying their goods, which used to be made in the USA. So we have sent our jobs overseas, we are sending our treasure overseas, and now we are sending our pollution overseas. China and India couldn’t care less about the ecology, and the West does nothing about it. Why?

Looking just at US air pollution, the sad thing is that it might take a century for any changes in our behavior to start positively affecting the climate. Much as we like instant gratification, it isn’t going to happen. Of course if we had taken bold steps back in the 1970s when we had the famous oil scares and people became more ecology-conscious, things might be a lot different. But we lacked the will to act (and still do). We could have been leaders in a brave new (good) world that was freed from the shackles of petroleum, but now we will be also-rans at best, and it will cost much more to make up for lost time.

Why do I say a century for any positive effects on climate? Because it will take billions of dollars and decades for us to switch over from a petroleum-based economy to a different way of doing things. We won’t be able to build nuclear reactors and wind farms fast enough, and it will take a while for conservation to fully take effect. Then it will take decades more for carbon levels in the atmosphere to decline and the climate to be affected. One of the reasons it will take a while is because the “not in my backyard” types will bring lawsuits that will delay construction by years, if not decades. Then we still have China and India to worry about.

Overall I feel Armageddon may not be too far away, and we have only ourselves to thank. It sort of reminds me of the end of the movie “Planet of the Apes” when Charlton Heston comes across a destroyed Statue of Liberty and realizes that our civilization destroyed itself, allowing the apes to gain control of the planet. He cried out to that disappeared civilization, “Damn you!” as he pounded the ground in anguish over their foolishness. Yes, I think we will be damned, not by some angry god, but by our own foolishness.

In the immortal words of Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and it is us.”

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