Any serious attempt to counter the effects of global warming will have serious consequences, including drastic increases in the price of energy. And the consequences of such increases could be far more devastating than anything global warming might (and I must emphasize the word "might") do.
I think the terms of the whole debate need to be reconsidered, because the real issue is not whether or not g. w. is caused by nature or by humans -- the "mea culpa" factor -- but whether or not we can actually do anything about it that won't be worse than the perceived threat itself.
Sure, it looks very much like g. w. is the result of human activity over the last century and a half. If we want to blame ourselves we have good reason. But the mistakes of the past were made precisely because we were reacting to certain perceived problems and ignoring others, which is exactly what we may be doing now.
A drastic increase in the price of energy worldwide -- and the enormous pressures that would have on the most vulnerable among us on the planet, including not only the possibility that many now living on the margins could actually freeze and/or starve to death but also the huge rise in unemployment that would result -- would in itself be a major disaster, possibly of epic proportions. There has already been a serious food shortage precipitated by short sighted efforts to produce Ethanol. The diversion of farmers and farmland to the production of this and other biofuels has been disastrous, seriously raising the price of certain essential foods for many of the most vulnerable people in the world. Biofuels of this type are clearly NOT the answer. Biofuels of some other type might be -- eventually. But the rush to make drastic changes based on a panic induced by Al Gore in chicken-little mode is not the way to solve the problem.
I'm not saying there is no problem, nor would I claim that certain matters don't deserve our urgent attention. Pollution of our air and water is certainly an urgent problem. Development of energy sources to replace fossil fuels, which will eventually run out, is also a serious problem -- though at the moment less urgent. But the notion, fostered by Gore and the "scientists" foolishly supporting him, that we absolutely must drop everything and concentrate on eliminating any and all carbon producing power sources NOW before it is TOO LATE is NOT the answer. I'll add that the scientists supporting Gore's position are primarily geologists, meteorologists, etc., but not economists. They may be qualified to evaluate the question of whether or not the Earth is getting warmer, if this is caused by humans or not, and whether carbon is the culprit. But they are not in a position to evaluate what impact any effort to drastically change course, in an effort to reverse a trend that is probably irreversible in any case, will have on our economy -- and the lives of the billions of people now struggling to survive on the planet.
Even if we were to somehow stop the production of greenhouse gases tomorrow, that would not bring back the melted glaciers - and the ones now melting would continue to melt, meaning the seas would continue to rise, regardless. Nothing we can do now can prevent some really drastic things from happening climatewise over the next 100 to 200 years. But an over-reaction to this perceived problem is almost guaranteed to produce a man made disaster we'd have to face in the immediate future.
The good news about g. w. is that it is a very slow, very gradual process we can prepare for. There are a great many things we can do over the next 50 years or so, to relocate people, build dikes (the Dutch did it, why not the New Yorkers or the Florideans), etc. If certain parts of the world will become uninhabitable, others (such as large areas of Canada, Greenland, etc.) will move in the opposite direction. The United States opened up the west via the homestead act -- Canada could do the same with its vast and largely uninhabited northern territories, due, apparently, for a major warmup.
The ONLY way to effectively start to bring down the level of greenhouse gases in the forseeable future is to go whole hog with nuclear power. All sorts of people who would have never dreamed of advocating such a move are now considering it. And, given time, maybe it's possible that we could some day find a way to build such plants in a truly fail-safe manner. But Al Gore insists we have no time and have to act NOW! True, he's not calling for nuclear power as a solution. But more and more people are starting to take it very seriously, since it appears to be the only viable option if we want to turn things around on a dime, as Gore insists we absolutely MUST do.
Currently the old and very dangerous Indian Point nuclear power plant, dangerously near New York City is being looked at, since it is due for re-commisioning. In a world without all the hysteria invoked by Al Gore, it would probably be decommisioned in the interests of safety, and some sort of coal-fired technology considered as an alternative. In the present climate, however, that's not likely to happen. All indications are that the old plant will be recommisioned despite the very real dangers of a serious accident. And if there is a serious Chernobyl type breakdown there, the lives of millions could be effectively destroyed, a consequence far worse than anything global warming would do for the next 50 years at least.
Humankind has adapted in all sorts of ways to all sorts of environmental challenges and as I see it we have a very good chance of adapting to this one -- especially because it is coming at us with all the speed and alacrity of a Galapagos tortoise. It's huge -- but slow. We do have world enough and time to deal with it. We would NOT have world enough and time to deal with the sort of crisis that would be produced by serious increases in the cost of energy and food or a major accident at a nuclear power plant.
Don't get me wrong. We are probably responsible for global warming. But the lesson to be learned from that is: less hubris, less effort to bend mother nature to our will. More common sense, more of an effort to look ahead, calmly assess what we are faced with -- and deal with it.
In the introduction to his NY Times Blog, dotearth, Andrew Revkin, a strong Gore supporter, warns us that "By 2050 or so, the world population is expected to reach nine billion, essentially adding two Chinas to the number of people alive today." The implication being that unless we do something now about global warming, the planet will not be able to sustain a population of this size. This projection is presented as though it were inevitable and irreversible. It is not. Like Global Warming, it is the result of human actions, but unlike Global Warming, effective action CAN be taken to ameliorate it. Yet, for reasons that are political, ideological, what have you, but mainly thanks to the efforts of Al Gore, nothing is being said about this population explosion, and no serious largescale attempts (outside of China) are being made to forestall it -- instead, all eyes are on Global Warming.
No matter how effective we might be in eliminating carbon from the atmosphere, the effects of that might not be meaningful for another 100 years, at least. Meanwhile, the sort of extreme efforts needed to reverse the trend could have devastating effects on human life in the next 10 to 20 years, by diverting attention and funding away from much more urgent concerns — such as the uncontrolled population crisis.
Consider this. If we were to find a way to feed everyone on earth and cure all their illnesses, and did nothing to control population expansion, then our efforts would have been in vain, because within a generation we would have at least quadrupled the number of mouths to feed. This is the problem we should be focusing on, because it is the size of the Earth's population and its alarming growth that is far and away the most serious problem to be faced in the years to come.
As I see it, Global Warming is for real, but it is also so difficult to control and so costly, that any serious effort to ameliorate it in any meaningful way could literally wreck the world economy, with devastating consequences for hundreds of millions of people in the poorest areas.On the other hand, an all out effort to control population expansion could be dramatically successful with far less risk and cost. If world population could be brought under control, the effects of global warming would be, as as Revkin suggests, far less drastic.
What Gore and his followers have forgotten is an important concept called “ecology” — which ought not be understood as limited to the “natural” environment alone. What ecology teaches us is that a great many factors must be taken into consideration when planning, because certain things have a way of affecting certain other things, and in ways that are often very difficult to predict. There is a balance in nature, true. But there is also, and now especially, a balance between the “natural” environment — and the human environment, including something usually referred to as “the economy” (stupid!). If we march full steam ahead to “fix” the one, and neglect the impact of our actions on the other — we could be producing a man-made disaster far greater — and more immediate — than the many environmental crises (global warming is only one) we’ve already produced.