Climate Change–Or Not


In recent weeks I’ve seen at least three articles denying even the possibility of man-made climate change in pretty bitter tones. The occasion seems to have been the Paris climate talks, which were denounced as useless. I’m not a scientist, and haven’t studied the data closely, but the idea has always seemed plausible to me. After all, we have been using both coal and oil in large quantities for most of the last two hundred years, which I don’t think the ecology was built to deal with.
At the same time we’ve been doing an awful lot of logging. Cutting down forests in the Amazon (only the most famous example) doesn’t seem like the smartest thing to do when plant life turns carbon dioxide into oxygen. Life on this planet breathes, and vegetable life is an important part of that cycle. Altering it is dangerous.
It is known, but apparently not very widely, that too much CO2 is bad for the human organism. Pulmonary acidosis I think might be analogous to what what carbon pollution in particular is doing to the world.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) is one condition that can bring that sort of acidosis on (there are other kinds too). COPD damages the lungs so that they can’t expel enough CO2, which then builds up in the lungs and the rest of the body. This can cause a lowering of the pH balance so there’s too much acid in the body, as opposed to bicarbonate, which balances acid. The condition isn’t easy to diagnose, because it can cause a variety of symptoms: chest pain, palpitations, headache, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, plus lethargy, stupor, coma, and ventricular tachycardia (the most dangerous kind) in particularly acute acidosis. Chronic acidosis can cause weight gain, muscle weakness, bone and joint pain. Eventually it can cause osteoporosis and fractures, too. Not being able to expel CO2 via the lungs is one way acid can build up. Another is when the kidneys are too damaged to expel it that way. I suggest, without being able to prove, that phenomena, sometimes labeled as climate change, sometimes probably not noticed, are linked to changes caused by pollutants of various sorts in the world’s ecological system. We don’t know everything about ecology, but we know that when wrong substances are introduced into mechanical systems, they cause them to work poorly. The result can be the kind of error characterized by, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
I suggest that what is called climate change is part of a wider problem of pollution. Ending CO2 emissions would be a good start, but wouldn’t by itself restore the world’s ecology. Besides emissions, we produce too much non-biodegradable trash, which interferes with the communities of organisms from the microscopic to the largest on which we depend for our own lives, though we don’t act as if we know that. By treating everything in the world as resources for our use, we cause species extinctions, which lowers the amount of biodiversity. And we rarely know ahead of time what the loss of any species is going to cause. But if we lose a lot of species, I don’t think the results are going to be good for us or the rest of the organic world.
Wendell Berry, both a writer and farmer, has suggested that our present exploitative attitude towards the world began with the European discovery of the New World. It must have seemed inexhaustible to them, and they immediately began to exploit it. The Spanish were most interested in gold and silver. Early North American settlers were interested in tobacco as a way to make their fortunes. The Industrial Revolution opened a cornucopia of ways to exploit natural resources, and expanded the unexpected consequences. People through much of the twentieth century complained about pollution and environmental degradation, though I doubt many of them foresaw that carbon emissions were going to be as important as many of us now see them to be.
Of course it would be much more convenient if none of the above were true. If we poison ourselves, advertently or inadvertently, we are doing so in the name of convenience. Cars and other forms of transport are convenient, so we continue to build them and use fossil fuels to power them. Plastics are convenient, and we use them in most things we make. They are also nonbiodegradable, and clutter many parts of the world, interfering with nature’s functioning. Artificial fertilizers and insecticides are convenient, even though they may be killing the bees that fertilize our vegetable food. Few people want real fundamental change. It would be inconvenient, even if it might head off catastrophe. Humans prefer not to believe what is inconvenient.
Which is why Cal Thomas’s characterization in a recent column of belief in climate change as similar to belief in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy is perplexing. Mr. Claus and the tooth fairy are things children find wonderful. Who finds the idea of climate change wonderful? Making the changes we would need to make to combat it would cause profound dislocations, which would be convenient to few people, if any. I would prefer to believe that there’s no danger of ecological catastrophe waiting for us in the near future, but am afraid that’s unrealistic. I wish I could believe it were not.
Mr. Thomas’s line is familiar from pronouncements of other conservatives: climate change is a phony doctrine being shoved down our throats. He quotes one company as saying the Earth’s temperature hasn’t increased in almost 19 years, which he adds, is a record. Another source reports that last year was the hottest since we began recording such things. Who are we to believe? Since few of us are willing to be objective, no doubt it will be the politicians with whom we happen to agree.
I suggest that pollution has already been shoved down our throats for a long time, and that most people would prefer it were not. The people in favor of pollution are those who create it, and object to having to clean up their mess. Climate change, and what would have to be done to combat it, would be profoundly inconvenient for them in particular, but for the rest of us too.
Mr. Thomas goes on to say that money and power are associated with climate change orthodoxy. More money and power than have been and still are associated with the production of fossil fuels? The coal and oil companies are entrenched special interests. Their profits must dwarf those of companies producing sustainable power, which haven’t had a chance to become entrenched yet.
Do climate change believers try to suppress the views of deniers? Suppression isn’t the right way to address the issue, but the deniers certainly try to discredit (I think they would suppress if they could) what some claim to be about 97% agreement among the world’s scientists. Perhaps that figure is inaccurate, but if it’s at all close it seems unlikely so many scientists would engage in such a conspiracy. Considering the profits coal and oil companies have to lose, I don’t find conspiracy on their part to be unbelievable. Conservatives have built an alternate establishment to purvey their version of the news because they don’t like the mainstream one, in which they make fun of anyone who doesn’t share their beliefs. So naturally they accuse others of doing the same thing.
Mr. Thomas ends his column by asking why developed countries should stifle their growth potential by embracing the false doctrine of climate change, and suggests there’s no realistic answer. Let me suggest one.
This planet is vastly overpopulated. It’s a large place, but finite. It could be comfortable for an estimated two billion of us. We have about seven billion now, and it may be closer to nine. There simply are not the resources to continue economic growth in the form we have up to this point. Not unless we acquire resources from outside this planet, which seems highly unlikely. Much more likely is to dig more deeply and more dirtily for the resources we think we need, as well as starting wars to take resources away from the countries who have them. Such wars would exacerbate terrorism, and such mining would exacerbate pollution. Neither seems like a good direction to go.


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