Sunday, April 23, 2006

Ecochondriacs


As a keen climatology student in the early 1970's I dutifully quoted the peer-reviewed journals in their conclusions that the planet was doomed unless industry could be stopped from emitting all those particulates and aerosols which were blocking the sun's saving warmth from penetrating the atmosphere. One scientist took pains to demonstrate that no foreseeable amount of increased CO2 would be enough to offset the fatal trend that we were on.

A generation later, that same scientist and thousands like him have embraced the opposite "consensus", and I suppose if I looked long and hard enough I could find someone claiming in a peer-reviewed paper that no amount of emission of particulates and aerosols would be enough to offset the new, opposite fatal trend.

Adapt, move or perish. Those have been mankind's choices as the world's climate has cycled between cooling and warming, as it always has. The self-righteous ecochondriacs fantasize that if others would only embrace their prescribed brand of self-denial the planet would reach climatic equilibrium for the first time ever. Self-abasing guilt-ridden consumers and opportunistic politicians seem willing to substitute this new religion for the inconvenient old one of being good stewards mindful of the ten commandments. And why not? A little sacrifice on my part, perhaps nothing more than spending an extra $5000 on a hybrid SUV which will never recoup in fuel savings the extra money that I spent, and I can feel more holy than my neighbors, and do so publicly.

The futility of our little gestures is never calculated against the sheer volume of CO2 in the carbon cycle, the uncertainty in the climate models of everyday forcings such as cloud cover, changes in vegetation and water vapour, or the increased CO2 emissions that will accompany the use of coal from the 200 new coal mines China is opening in the next 5 years. The fact that the rate of temperature change in the last 30 years matches the rate of change that preceded the mid-century cooling anomaly is ignored.

Worshipping at the altar of climate change seems to require earnestness and genuine sacrifice, but the fruits of this religion will amount to nothing more than the satisfaction of having done something purely symbolic. Requiring genuine sacrifice for merely symbolic ends isn't much of a basis for public policy.

A couple of more cold winters in Europe and eastern North America will cool the global warming zealotry. I predict it will be replaced by fears of "extreme weather", fueled by clashes between warmer air over here caused by CO2, and colder air over there caused by particulates and aerosols. All bad weather can be blamed on this phenomenon, and so it will be.

Sadly, due to other societal changes we are running out of virgins to throw into the volcano.


1 comment:

Kobayashi Maru said...

What a hidden gem this post is!! Tremendous! As a geology and environmental studies student in the early '80s, I absolutely share your sentiments. Well written and well reasoned.