Wednesday, February 13, 2013

To Address Climate Change, We Will Have to Cheat

Last evening was the third edition of "Watch John Boehner Squirm," also known as the 2013 State of the Union Address. And among other things, President Obama talked about climate change:
But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.  (Applause.)  Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend.  But the fact is the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15.  Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods -- all are now more frequent and more intense.  We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence.  Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science -- and act before it’s too late.  (Applause.) (Source: White House)
Inexplicably, much of the audience - mostly comprised of Members of Congress - applauded instead of the far more rational response: bursting into raucous laughter.

Now, first of isn't something in which you do or do not "believe." Either you accept reality or you don't. There's not a lot of gray area. But that's beside the point. The real point is that everyone there - the President included - knows full well that Congress will not act. Consider the remainder of the segment about climate change (before the President segued into the much less controversial topic of energy production):
Now, the good news is we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth.  I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.  But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.  (Applause.)  I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.  
(Source: White House
If you missed it, you might want to watch the address again just to see Senator McCain squirm when the President name-checked him. But that's just incidentally amusing. The real comedy is when he calls on Congress to do something they absolutely will not do, and then promises to take actions that will surely result in lawsuits, cries of "socialism!" and a parade of proposed legislation to curtail the powers of the Executive Branch. Does anyone actually believe that Congress's corporate masters - chief among them the beneficiaries of the status quo - will allow their pawns to do anything about climate change? 

Author and activist Bill McKibben wanted the President to be a lot more forceful, and - as expected - he was disappointed. Mr. McKibben wanted the President to declare the Keystone XL pipeline DOA. He didn't mention it - and he wasn't going to, because he's almost assuredly going to approve the pipeline. He knows that if the pipeline doesn't run through the USA, TransCanada will just find other ways to transport the tar sands oil. He knows that there is absolutely nothing he can do to prevent the tar sands from being exploited. 

And more importantly, the American people are never going to significantly change their lifestyles to address climate change. We take action around the margins - insulation, energy efficient light bulbs, recycling. But you're never going to persuade the American people - or anyone else, for that matter - to give up their four bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath houses and leave the suburbs for new, energy-efficient city apartments. You're never going to get people to give up their SUVs or heavy-duty trucks. Outgoing Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is convinced that in twenty years, we'll all be driving hybrids or all-electric vehicles - and when confronted with the possibility that he's looking forward to a day that may never come - how many of us can afford a new car, let alone an expensive hybrid? - he sticks to his proverbial guns. (Heroic nonsense like that reinforces the commonly-held view that folks in Washington, DC have no idea what it's like to live in the real world.)

I'm not a fan of climate change. It frightens me. I don't like feeling so hopeless about it, but such is life. The way I see it, the only hope we have is to "cheat" - geoengineering. It's often derided - "strange, outlandish, and dangerous," a "cheap short-cut," etc. People wring their hands about how dangerous it might be. They ponder "unintended consequences" and insist that we go with "what we know will work." 

In an ideal world, I would endorse handling climate change in the "right way": wind, solar, insulation, energy efficiency, carbon sequestration. But I live in the real world, where I am reasonably certain that we are never, ever going to handle climate change in the "right way." Oil, gas, and coal companies will not stop digging and drilling until they've wrung every last speck / drop out of the Earth. And they will not allow their vassals in Congress - or in other world governments - to stop their gravy train. 

We're going to have to "cheat" to have much hope for the future. The sooner we accept that, the better off we'll be.


  1. I disagree. There are more than a few who know that Mr. Obama's pledge to curtail climate change is lip service. Many people are opting to choose better lifestyles, and everyone is aware of the corruption in Washington.

    What remains to be changed - the key lynch pin if you like - is the absurd belief that we can keep thinking of society in the same absurd frameworks that have directed us for thousands of years. It is becoming increasingly obvious (to everyone on the planet) that we are living in a global society, and those Congressional "vassals" are running scared, as they are now out of excuses.

    1. Oh, they've still got the "one-world government socialism UN black helicopters sovereignty" card to play, and that one still seems to work.

  2. Addendum...some interesting related reading I just ran across.