On the run (or ride) from global climate change
As a worldwide scientific consensus on the issue of global warming continues to build, the community of ideological naysayers who think the earth is simply too big to be impacted by the human race is still mounting vocal resistance to the idea of anthropogenic climate change.
Dealing with denial
The most compelling objection to anthropogenic climate change is that cycles of global warming and cooling have occurred throughout earth’s history, and that current warming trends are nothing more than the product of naturally occurring warming cycles. These scientifically conservative contentions are often combined with an ideological belief that the earth’s atmosphere is simply too big to be impacted by the human race.
But that reasoning appears to be flawed. There is very hard evidence evidenced by compelling precedents from industry, transportation and agriculture that the human race does indeed have profound impacts on the earth’s environment, and at a massive scale. One of the tarsnakes of our existence is that everything we humans do seems to leave its mark in earth history, and we have discovered through tough experience environmental mistake are much harder to fix than than they are to break.
For example, we know that manmade production of air pollution and particulates produces sometimes fatal levels of air pollution, smog and acid rain.
The human race has also produced massive levels of water pollution to the point where entire river systems, lakes, bays and entire sections of the ocean floor are rendered dead from pollution and chemical siltation.
PESTICIDES, DRUGS, MERCURY AND NUCLEAR POLLUTION
Our groundwater is suffering from pesticide leaching and even influxes of hormones and pharmaceuticals while rising mercury levels, ocean acidification and nuclear pollution are all manmade environmental challenges.
A 50-YEAR BATTLE TO ENTOMB OUR TOXIC NUCLEAR REMAINS
An article TheVerge.com documents the ongoing fight over where to store nuclear waste that cannot be stored almost anywhere without risk to human beings. The article states, “Yucca, the rocky desert range on the horizon, was chosen 25 years ago as the nation’s first and only nuclear waste repository. Thus began a conflict among politicians, locals, anti-nuclear activists, government officials, and the nuclear industry. Thanks to decades of political power plays, safety debates, and scientific disagreement, Yucca has never opened. Meanwhile, nuclear power provides twenty percent of America’s electricity, with the resulting waste — about 70,000 tons of it — accumulating at 75 sites nationwide, including near major metro areas such as New York City, New Orleans, and Chicago.”
Refusal to take responsibility for environmental stewardship undermines rational discourse in business resulting in remediation efforts such as Superfund, a governmental agency specifically chartered to clean up toxic waste sites. It was established in 1980 as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, and made necessary by the massive scale and danger of toxic environmental waste.
In America the tradition of environmental protection includes national parks, regional and county forest and nature preserves. But most of those efforts began well after America removed 99.9% of its native grasslands and reaped an ugly legacy of devastating soil policies that resulted in the Dust Bowl. Entire ecosystems were destroyed in the process of prairie tilling, never to return again.
America’s environmental legacy includes destruction of millions of acres of virgin timber and conversion of formerly intact ecosystems into homogenous tree farms and corn deserts, yet those “solutions” are judged as both necessary and superior to preserving native habitats because in the short term the commercial use of land appears to benefit the human race. That is the crux of the modern environmental debate; short term versus long term use patterns as defined by near-term commercial benefits versus sustainable ecosystems.
Denial of environmental problems is many times an ideological choice, and a certain brand of literal interpretation of the Bible favors an attitude of so-called “dominion” over the earth that can (and has) been used to self-righteously justify abusive environmental practices.
Conseequently, extraction-based business interests (especially coal, oil and gas) have pursued and benefitted from a conservative alliance with religious groups that deny anthropogenic climate change on the strangely contradictory grounds that manmade climate change is… simultaneously impossible because only God can change the earth…and an unnecessary distraction because humans are supposed to use the earth as they see fit.
Forgotten somehow in this pact is the notion that original sin and the proceeding ejection of Adam and Eve were ostensibly the first sign that the human race was out of tune with God’s creation. Yet biblical literalists and extraction barons side on the issue of global warming out of perceived mutual support and possibly direct convergence in these world views. Yet, both seem to conveniently forget the critical warnings of scripture that point out the fatal flaws of pride and arrogance in how the human race interacts with the world. Perhaps it is no coincidence that both parties prefer to claim God on their side in the issue either. Speaking for God is one of the first signs of an arrogant heart and mind.
THE GULF OIL SPILL: CAUSED BY NATURE OR HUMAN BEINGS?
If we apply the conservatively extreme logic that human beings have nothing to do with the health of the earth on a grand scale, then the BP Gulf Oil spill could not have been caused by human error at a drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico.
Instead nature was responsible for the spill, or else nature under the direction of God caused millions of gallons of oil to spill out from the ocean floor into the Gulf of Mexico. Granted, natural disasters occur with some frequency on our planet. But in the Gulf oil spill example, humans actually dug a hole in the ocean floor and stuck a pipe down in it, and then broke the pipe and could not repair it, resulting in millions of gallons of oil pouring up from the guts of the earth.
And think about it: That’s essentially the same principle behind our pattern of CO2 emissions spilling into the atmosphere from human causes. Yet some claim we have nothing to do with rising Co2 levels and the pursuant warming resulting from this atmospheric change. We can either deduce by logic what is going on or we can deny the truth and effectively bury our heads in the sand.
A DEDUCTIVE CONCLUSION ABOUT ANTHROPOGENIC CLIMATE CHANGE
Based on all this prior evidence, the human race has proven emphatically that it indeed is capable of producing anthropogenic environmental change at a massive scale. Global warming is therefore not just possible but an inevitable consequence of our current path of social behavior. We’ve simply outstripped the earth’s ability to naturally handle our waste, byproducts and pollution.
Ignorance and confidence
Still, there will always be doubter and deniers and people who flat don’t care what happens to the earth. Their selfish perspective remains focused on living as they see fit, and devil take the rest. They are confident God or technology or future generations will be able to deal with the environmental damage we so obviously create in the present. That type of arrogance is addressed by none other than Mark Twain, who once said, “All it takes is ignorance and confidence, and success is sure.”
Basically the arguments against global warming used by climate change deniers closely resemble in structure and approach the methods by which creationists attempt to deny the theory of evolution as a foundation for science. Approximately 30% of Americans claim to believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible and on grounds of the Genesis creation story deny that evolution is either possible or functionally capable of producing the genetic diversity and speciation we see in the fossil record or living species today.
Beginning with a premise such as God-inspired creation to establish a truth is not quite the same as establishing a theory based on empiric evidence and then setting out to determine where that evidence points in terms of history, outcomes and the predictive value of the theory as an operationally scientific paradigm.
But the habit of mind that creates a reality and then dogmatically defends that paradigm without consideration of overwhelming facts in favor of its opposition is what marks the approach of both global warming deniers and creation theory advocates. They simply refuse to engage with reality or deny it with sufficient vehemence to raise doubt in others. And that is enough for some.
Complexity here, complexity there
There is a considerable contradiction in the fact that global warming deniers give nature all the credit for complexity in its climatic models yet the apparent partnership between creationists and climate change deniers refuses to credit evolution with power to generate complexity in nature.
This is obviously a mixed up and dysfunctional worldview, but it has plenty of supporters because the more that opponents can confuse the issue the more difficult it is to do something about it. And that’s just the way so-called conservatives like things in society. All it takes from there are some seemingly clearheaded statements (however untruthful they may be) and out of exasperation people jump on board the “simplicity” train of dim-witted populism made popular in the last 30 years by politicians and religious leaders able to exploit this dysfunctional worldview to their economic, political and dogmatic advantage.
Climate change denier and closet creationist / intelligent design supporter President George W. Bush was a huge favorite with people who both deny anthropogenic global warming and evolution. Bush singlehandedly (and simple-mindedly) set back science more than any single individual in the last 50 years of American history. He applied the same dunderheaded simplicity to education reform, producing No Child Left Behind that has crippled teacher ingenuity in public schools. His economic policies resulted in a near-Depression and his foreign policy produced unfunded wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It can be said that the foundations of his worldview, beginning with the illogic of his foundational principles of literalistic religion were crippling from the ground up, and are evidence of much that is wrong with America today, including our denial of the threat of global climate change, even though America consumes more than 25% of all the earth’s resources for a society with only 300M people.
All it takes is ignorance and confidence, and success is sure. It all started in the early 1980s when Ronald Reagan as President installed one James Watt as Secretary of the Interior. Watt never said some of the things to which he was credited in opposition to environmental preservation, but the die was cast. The conservative habit of mind became connecting Christian policies with an end-of-the world, extraction-based political ideology that won votes and delivered contracts to the big business interests whose activities were primary contributors to environmental problems.
Whether it was Watt’s actual statements or his implications that generated this attitude did not count. It lit a match that has never been extinguished. The men who followed in his footsteps continued making the God-based, End Times “leap of faith” in promoting a political and religious ideology that placed human interests far in front of overall environmental management. It turned into a culture war between conservative Christians and liberal environmentalists. The gap is only recently closing with the work of progressive Christians seeking to replace the word Dominion with stewardship.
But we can see where the argument got started in apocalyptic statements such as these from Ronald Reagan himself, who said, “You know, I turn back to your ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon, and I find myself wondering if–if we’re the generation that’s going to see them come about. I don’t know if you’ve noted any of those prophecies lately, but believe me, they certainly describe the time we’re going through.”
The question is whether Reagan would equate the potentially dire effects of global warming with Armageddon or whether he would deny its possibility in favor of policies that would promote the interests of gas and oil lobbyists would might have supported his presidency. We can only guess based on men like George W. Bush and others who cling to the Reagan legacy as the movement’s top conservative
Global climate change is a potentially significant turning point in how we implement those policies against the health of future generations.
Here we stand
97% of the world’s most credible scientists agree that manmade global warming is occurring at a rapidly increasing rate possibly because warming cycles have begun to feed back upon themselves.
The reason that fact is a concern is that while natural cycles of cooling and warming have occurred throughout Earth’s history, there is no comparative precedent for a prolonged introduction of closed loop CO2 into the atmosphere like the one now produced by the human population on earth.
If you’ve ever forgotten to put up the garage door while warming up the car, and suddenly realized that car fumes are not good for you and could even kill you, that’s exactly where we are right now with the planet Earth. We can choose to open the door with policies designed to remediate carbon gas levels and even turn off the car, or we can asphyxiate ourselves while standing flatfooted. That’s suicide.
The Opposite of killing ourselves
Developing a rational environmental perspective on global warming is, therefore, incumbent on reviewing the historical evidence for human influence on the greater global environment to determine whether there is sufficient precedent for anthropogenic influence on large scale ecosystems and climates. And having conducted that review, the challenge is to determine whether you choose a conservative or liberal view on how to address the topic of global climate change.
And here’s where the subject gets quite interesting, because if you choose a conservative view that says we should do nothing to change our ways, it actually constitutes a liberal response to the situation, which is allowing unrestricted carbon emissions to continue unabated.
But if you choose the liberal view in wanting to curb global manmade C02 emissions, you are technically trying to protect the planet in some form of conservative fashion. That is, with respect for a traditional understanding of what constitutes environmental balance.
So the simple labels “conservative” and “liberal” get flipped on their heads when it comes to global warming. To be an ideological conservative on the issue and do nothing requires a radical denial of 97% of the world’s climate scientists. That’s a contradiction in terms.
Yet to be a liberal on the issue and advocate action on the climate is a move toward conservation of the planet and its resources. The terms “conservation” and “conservative” are not typically linked. Which is actually quite a shame, and inexcusable.
Middle ground and a better atmosphere
Is there some sort of middle ground to which we must hew in order to reconcile these contradictions? From where can we derive insight to help us determine the long-term effects of our decisions one way or the other? Is it science? Or is it religion. Or somewhere in between?
One thinks of the fact that the study of physics (such as at Fermi laboratory, pictured at left) has produced terms such as The God Particle to describe the source of all matter. Are we capable of such convergence in thinking on a social scale?
What we need is a test of some kind, a litmus paper to determine the acid truth of what has already transpired, and what is likely to come. That litmus paper is already out there on the roads and in the fields all over the world.
The running and riding paradigm
Every big problem requires an icon to help explain how the situation will affect us all. Given that global climate change stands to radically alter much of the earth’s biosphere and will be a giant evolutionary experiment over much of the earth’s surface, we essentially need some lab rats to serve as control subjects during this massive climactic shift that is going on as we speak. And that’s where people who run and ride come in.
Canary in a Coalmine
If you run or ride, you are about to become a canary in the coalmine on the issue of global warming. If you think the last few summers were hot where you live, imagine what life will be like when winter never comes and summer lasts from late February through late November? If you live in Chicago the climate of the Upper Midwest could be altered drastically.
Heat and drought can radically affect the training cycles of people like those who run and ride.
The people who spend the most time outside in the sun, the wind and heat are runners, cyclists. and triathletes. We’re the ones who will know most intimately how hot it really is out there. The rest of the world may retreat inside their homes to run their air conditioners while we get up earlier and earlier to run outside.
A new class struggle
Do you get the irony there? The people who prefer to sit inside to keep cool all the time will be contributing to even more global warming while people who actually like being outdoors will suffer even more for their willingness to endure the heat. It’s a new form of class struggle, with the active and the inactive engaged in a silent wrestling match over how to best to encounter the world.
In fact, that is entirely how we got here, through a chronic case of American obsession with motorized and industrialize convenience. Its ugliest expression can be found in the many motorists who have no tolerance for cyclists or runners on roads. Road rage over road ownership is in fact a form of culture or class war in which drivers jealously threaten those who seem to impinge on their concept of ownership when it comes to roads. That jealousy will only heighten when the next level of payment for usage of cars kicks in.
Americans will finally be forced to make lifestyle changes when policies governing CO2 rationing are put in place to control output and levels of carbon gasses into the atmosphere.
But here’s the upside to those who run and ride. Those two activities may become a marketable commodity when the efficiencies offered by personal transportation are commoditized in the open market. Our insurance and compensation packages may become linked to CO2 and employees able to run or ride to work may become tradable commodities as carbon credits in the workplace
Health and the Public Option
Running and riding may also result in reduced insurance rate premiums, especially for those on the Public Option plan, which will be an inevitable need as medicine tries to come to grips with global warming’s effects, including plagues of infectious diseases resulting from emigration of insects, bacteria and airborne viruses released from tropical environments into the more heavily populated northern hemisphere.
Canaries in a Coal Mine, Part II
It is highly likely that active people will also be asked to enroll in scientific studies related to environmental stress. Those who run and ride will become valuable feedback mechanisms because of the time they spend outdoors. We’ll all be mined for information and analytic data about physical adaptions and blood response to heat and higher CO2 levels in the air. One risk is over acidification of human blood resulting from increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Some doctors suggest that all human disease is resultant from disturbance of the alkaline balance in the human body.
It is highly likely that over time due to global warming, personal fitness and heat tolerance could become a selective force in human evolution. That is, those who can best tolerate consistently high temperatures in areas strongly affected by global warming will better be able to survive the new, hotter world. The precedent for these selective pressures already exists in many parts of the world in all sorts of temperature conditions. The Inuit people have fatter eyelids that shield them from the cold. Kenyans exhibit slender long legs that enable them to release heat better to the atmosphere. The list of selective racial traits goes on and on. We like to ignore them out of political correctness and racial sensitivity, but the very real possibility exists that future races will actually need to be bred for survival purposes, especially if the climate heats up profoundly.
In that new world, runners and riders with better heat tolerance might even become breeding stock for the survival of the human race.
Last Laughs for Homo sapiens
You might chuckle and say it’s all an exaggeration, or insist that global climate change will not have enough effect to require such drastic measures for survival. But that would be a stark denial of earth history in which Homo sapiens evolved from ancestors highly dependent on climactic conditions for survival. As our intellects grew the ability to cope with heat or cold became linked to technology. The question now is whether or not technology can save us from our own inventions.
We also know that massive geological, volcanic, oceanic, tectonic and atmospheric changes occurred over great spans of time, and these often resulted in mass extinctions. So it’s pretty clear the earth does not care one way or the other which species survive. Neither do spiders or cockroaches, which have proven themselves highly adaptable to heat and stress.
Species of all types are going extinct at a fast rate these days. It happens every few hundred million years or so. Things get tipped and entire animal kingdoms get dumped into the waste heap. Humans could join the other 99% of species that have become extinct in history.
We can run and ride in real time and hope for the best, but when human hubris actually exceeds the earth’s capacity for sustainability as it did once before in the 1970s when air, water and pesticide pollution threatened the lives of so many, we can either act or deny the facts at hand. Fortunately we acted to remediate our polluted habits and the earth and its habits rebounded as a result. We even helped close the danger of the ozone hold by getting rid of chlorofluorocarbons in hair spay and other products and 25 years after the hole in the ozone layer appeared to be a dire threat, our change in habits has produced positive results.
As has been proven in cases such as the hole in the ozone layer it is possible to head off adverse, broad scale human effects on the environment.
But only if we act, and wisely. Otherwise there’s only one fact to consider in all of this: You really can’t outrun history.