Friday, December 18, 2009

The Copenhagen Climate Summit

The Guardian offered great coverage of the recent, historic international conference on climate change in Copenhagen. So did the New York Times.

Al Gore made a buffoon of himself. Obama looked marginalized. Climategate brought over 1500 stolen emails to public light, some of which suggested that some variable global warming data had been manipulated. This undermined in the public sphere confidence as to whether the earth is warming at all. But, the instigators of Climategate only brought confusion, nothing clear for their part either.

China was not exactly cooperative to the process. Developing countries threatened at one point to walk out of the talks completely. It costs money to build a clear energy economy versus just burning cheap coal as fast as you can. Where are these poor nations supposed to get the money from? Burning the coal fast as possible generates wealth faster.

The earth is warming. It naturally goes through cycles of warming and cooling. We are likely going through a warming trend as we live. The science is pretty solid.

So,
the skeptics target the aspect of the global warming argument that contends that recent warming is to some extent (depending upon how extreme your position is) due to the burning of human-made fossil fuels and higher CO2 emissions in technologically advanced societies. The skeptics say human activity has little to do with the natural fluctuation of climate temperature.

I am not a scientist so I have to take the word of persons more authoritative than myself on the subject. Is it possible that the earth is warming and will continue to warm regardless of what human beings do about their CO2 emissions? It's possible. Is it possible that the warming is occurring within the context of
the highest human-induced CO2 emissions in thousands of millennia and no one really knows what the effect of a warming trend under such circumstances will be? It's possible.

I guess what I scratch my head about is that even if human beings have nothing to do with the change in climate slowly affecting the globe what exactly is the point the skeptics are making? That
human CO2 emissions should continue to grow at their historic rate, which is fast becoming parabolic? That that is a good thing?

It seems to me, admittedly an amateur at such things, that while
natural CO2 is beneficial that doesn't necessarily mean that human-made CO2 is super cool as well. Perhaps, the skeptics will prove the advocates of lower greenhouse gas emissions wrong. That the earth will warm regardless of what humanity does. But, does that mean we should make no efforts to reduce emissions?

Are the skeptics making a point that we should do nothing?

The worst thing that can happen if we side with the advocates for reductions in CO2 emissions is that we can burn fuels more efficiently, more cleanly, and we can pursue alternative fuels to transportation and manufacturing more immediately, rather than sit back and just wait for the world to
run out of oil in a few decades and deplete all our coal in another 200 years or so.

The global environmental movement has never looked so inept. The recent, historic meeting on climate change in Copenhagen was almost a black comedy in the tradition of Paddy Chayefsky, only most of the dialog was worse.

All this talk of the conference being a “good beginning” is hopeful. It is true that some small measures were agreed upon and that the whole concept of getting the world together to debate a worldwide concern is worthy (you have to start somewhere). Those who had hoped for more were predictably disappointed. But, it was unlikely to be otherwise.

For years, I have discussed with my friends the fact that as China and India develop economically they will want to do what the West did during their industrial revolution. They will want to burn cheap coal as inexpensively as possible (which means little money for pollution controls) so that they can grow their economies as quickly as possible – as the Western World has done since the 1800’s.

The inevitable result is that, regardless of how much America and Europe reduce carbon emissions that may or may not be significantly contributing to global warming, any lessening of the human burden of emission on the environment would be more than offset by the growth in Asia. That is, CO2 emissions are likely to continue to rise exponentially while the world fumbles through the politics of it all.

But, for me, the central question remains what is the point that the skeptics of the human contribution to global warming want to make? Since it might not matter and the earth might continue to warm anyway then humanity shouldn’t be burdened with having to make deal with carbon emissions at all?

I’ll be very clear. I am opposed to any perspective that advances human industriousness and the overall human “footprint” over the requirements of a sustained and viable natural environment. Human activity on this planet should not be a blank check. Human beings should not be free to do whatever they wish to the air and water and trees and land.

The environment of the planet has an intrinsic value beyond human existence. It is more important than any human endeavor. It is wrong to continue to elevate above the environment itself every human desire for exploitation of the planet’s resources and human inefficiencies that result in pollution and unnatural increase of natural elements such as CO2.

From my perspective the marginalized results of the conference are not the point. The point is I think we should do something over nothing. I think the skeptics, even if they are right scientifically (which they aren’t), are all wrong to think that even if the human contribution to global warming is inconsequential then we have no need to concern ourselves. The costs of more efficient use of resources are well worth the resulting change in our filthy habits as a species.

So, the real message of Copenhagen is confusion. It doesn’t matter if humans are contributing to global warming or not. What matters is that we change the way we think about generating wealth as a species and its affect on the environment. That can in no way be a bad thing. The skeptics are intellectually and morally empty, a beggar for the jingle of change.

The incompetence exhibited by the international community in Copenhagen doesn’t change this fact.


So, now we move on the next question. Will Copenhagen succeed under Obama where Kyoto failed for Clinton? Healthcare and global warming really unite these two administrations separated by Dubya. A comparison worthy of note.

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