Global Warming Is Serious Business
This may surprise some folks, but I believe it is possible to be both politically and economically conservative, and concerned, deeply concerned, about global warming - even passing up the more delicate nomenclature of "climate change."
Just consider the ways humans are messing up the planet: destroying rain forests, burning fossil fuels, developing coastal wetlands, polluting waters, farming with chemicals. Those are just some of the biggies.
Apart from all the measurable evidence piling up - increasing CO2 levels, melting glaciers, rising temperatures - common sense and simple observation will tell you that this is all bad and ultimately unsustainable. Pollution and global warming are two sides of the same coin.
It is true that we Americans are among the worst offenders and show little political will to do much about it. But even worse is yet to come, and not from us. Rural Chinese are moving to cities by the tens of millions. These cities typically expand by building one outer ring after another, connected by new roads for new drivers of new cars, and supplied by utilities quickly installed at the lowest possible cost.
A total of 80 percent of China's power comes from coal, with new plants opening at a breakneck pace. It is true that China is making new rules and edging toward nuclear power and renewable sources, but it is slow, enforcement is lax at best, and employment will trump environment for a long time to come.
Then there are India, Brazil, Argentina - all large countries where the political imperative is to industrialize quickly and worry about the environment later. Africa is overpopulated and destitute, with constant wars and desecration of the landscape. The world is full of people who want the benefits of our lifestyle and governments that promise to deliver it without considering the consequences.
There is a recent study in "Nature" contending that oceanic plankton levels are down 40 percent since the 1950s. Plankton has never been very high on my list of interests, but perhaps it should have been. Plankton is the bottom link in the oceans' food chain, in addition to which it produces oxygen and consumes carbon dioxide. Its decline is attributed to warming of the water's surface temperature, which inhibits the circulation of nutrients from below.
Given that degrading the environment is a problem, solutions are not simple, economically or politically. Although the issue has become one of liberals versus conservatives, it should not be. The facts are these: We can only go on in our present mode for a relatively short, finite time, because there are, somewhere, limits to the fossil fuels available.
We really can't even go that far, because it would be too destructive, and we need a backup plan in place before fossil fuels run out.
If we were charged the real cost of fossil fuels, in terms of irreplaceability and environmental damage, they would be much more expensive. In order to encourage alternate energy sources, that is the price we should pay.
We will have to live smaller lives - smaller homes, smaller cars, shorter trips, fewer gadgets. There was a recent New York Times story about a couple in Salina, Kan., who have not used air conditioning for 50 years. It was over 100 degrees when they were interviewed. They stay inside, even in the basement, or in the shade when they do go out. They use fans and don't do much when it's hot. It could happen to all of us.
Even with new energy sources and changing lifestyles, it will take a long time to calm our host planet. No one reading this will live to see it. Still, it is clear that we must become serious about the process, and soon.
There is a race going on between the development of affordable and distributable renewable energy, the consumption of all remaining fossil fuels, and the habitability of the planet. The renewable energy team simply has to win.
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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