Sunday, November 22, 2015

How the debate with climate change deniers misses the forest for the trees

I had an interesting debate with a climate change denier over the last few weeks. He was strident about the holes he could find in the theory on climate change. He found contradictions with the consensus on climate change. Where 97% of scientists agree that climate change is caused by humans, he found "97 articles" that challenge the consensus. But those articles were written by shills for the various carbon-based energy industries.

Maybe climate change is caused by humans, maybe it's not. There are some who still believe that there is room for debate on the issue. One thing that is not in debate: the climate is changing, and it's getting warmer. We have satellites checking air and water temps and we know that the earth is getting warmer. We know that water levels are rising. We know enough to know that we could be having an impact on the earth.

Long ago, a friend of mine once said that it is grandiosity for humans to think that their actions could have an impact on the earth's climate. We're simply too small a force to have any impact at all. I think he might have had a point 40 or 100 years ago when the there were only a billion or two of us. Now there are 7 billion. All of us are either directly or indirectly generating energy. Most of that work uses carbon as a fuel source. Wood, coal, gas and oil.

Generating energy with carbon is a dirty business. It's messy, smelly and I know I wouldn't want to work at the source myself. I've seen men covered in oil at the wells. I've seen black lung disease from coal mining and seen the miners covered in coal dust. I've seen the mess from fracking for gas. Ok, I like a fireplace in the winter, but honestly, that is one of the most inefficient ways to heat the home.

So, for the sake of argument, lets assume that the climate deniers are right. Humans just can't produce enough CO2 to warm the planet. It's true that a few volcanoes in the last 200 hundred years have burped up more CO2 than all of human history.

It's also quite possible that a super volcano in Wyoming could hurl more than 260 cubic miles of earth into the sky and cover our nation with ash. Probably within our lifetimes, such an event could put enough particulate matter into the air, reflective particulate matter, to cool the earth. And there would be much more CO2 from such an event.

So, yes, there are forces at work or potential forces that await us, that are far more powerful than us that could stop global warming or simply accelerate it. Really, we're powerless over that. But we do have power over what we choose to do.

Even if the deniers are right, I notice that they still do not talk about the dirty business of carbon. There are accidents galore with carbon energy production. Even in normal production, carbon extraction is a very dirty business. All of them foul our air, water and land.

Somehow, they can justify the CO2, but won't touch the desolate land left by fracking, mining and drilling. I've seen the pictures of an area where fracking has depleted everything and there is no life left, at least not what we think of as life. Go to any mining, fracking or drilling site and ask yourself the question: would you live there? Have you noticed that when they're done destroying the land, they all leave? Is there no remediation? Who is going to pay for it?

We do. We all do. But they keep the profits and we pay the taxes that pay for the litigation, the cleanup and the fences that keep people out.

This is the argument that deniers are propping up: we're right about the climate, but silent on the pollution.

That argument is insanity.

Even if they're right, I'd rather use solar, wind, geothermal and nuclear energy. They're all far cleaner than carbon, by a mile. Yes, they all involve mining, but compared to carbon energy production, they're not even close to the ecological devastation inflicted by carbon extraction.

Then there is the pollution from burning carbon. We see it from the refineries when they burn oil at the top of their stacks. We see the soot from the diesel trucks. No matter how hard they try, there is always something black coming out of the exhaust there. The natural gas engines are probably the cleanest on the road, as I see almost nothing from them, but they still produce pollution.

Then there is coal. It's not well known, but coal actually contains traces of radioactive elements like uranium. When we burn coal, we're releasing carbon and radioactivity into the air. There are huge piles of coal ash that we have no idea what to do with.

We're breathing that stuff when we burn carbon. All of it.

This is the argument missing from the debate. While we're focused on warming, we're missing the forest for the trees. When we're engaged in debate, we're not talking about the pollution from the carbon industry. Try talking to the deniers about it. They won't touch it. They'll gloss over it like it doesn't really matter, it's not really relevant. They will ask you to stay on topic.

But if we're going to use carbon for energy, we need to talk about all of it. Not just the global warming, we need to talk about the pollution, because the cost of that pollution is something we all pay for. We pay for it in taxes, our declining health and the beauty of the earth we inherited as a gift to us all.
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