One of the rules I’ve given myself in beginning this blog is “no profanity, blasphemy, etc.” No cussing. I’ve bent that rule at least once in a quote, but today going to break it.
I wonder if we could use frequency of four-letter words -- when there are better words -- as a kind of index of social danger. As peril approaches, and we find ourselves trapped, contributing to the peril, or at least unable to do the things that would let us avoid it, maybe we reflexively use offensive language to signal a need for change. And it may be that our ideas about the peril and its etiology are nuanced beyond the ability of our everyday vocabularies to describe them quickly. Rough language becomes a kind of shorthand, and its vague connection with our real meaning lets it take on the nuance we can’t communicate otherwise. You know what I mean.
I’m not going to actually call anybody a pussy. My best friends -- not just some of my best friends, my best friends -- have pussies, and I’ve watched one of them give birth. The notion that there’s a connection between female Homo sapiens and deficiencies of courage, strength, and moral will is almost one hundred eighty degrees mistaken.
I might use the word chicken. If there’s a thesaurus of non-standard American English, the two, and yellow, are listed as synonyms, but synonyms often have different nuances or harmonics. A chicken, or somebody who’s yellow, is merely timid. I’m talking about useless, preening people whose fear makes them behave perversely, who have a reckless disregard for the truth, who corrupt themselves rather than face the work of understanding and wrestling with difficulty, people with vague identities, but a lot of fussy self interest.
Of course I’m talking about Minnesota’s Republican gubernatorial candidates.
According to a 9/16, Tim Pugmire story on Minnesota Public Radio, eight of nine declared Republican candidates for governor said “they view global warming science as an unproven theory that should no longer drive state policy.” (Odd man out was perennial candidate, Leslie Davies, but why is he a Republican?).
State Sen. Mike Jungbauer of East Bethel claimed to be the number-one global warming denier in Minnesota. He said, "Global Warming and Climate Change in Minnesota, this is pure unadulterated B.S. It's time somebody spoke out."
What a person deficient in courage, strength, and moral will.
My favorite, though less confrontational, was House Minority Leader, and former Majority whip, Marty Seifert. Sifert is a former teacher and academic administrator, and confirms prejudices I’ve held about those profession since grade school. Seifert said, "I mean the weather changes certainly, but at the end of the day I don't believe that there's this man-made global warming that's destroying the planet and the like," Seifert said. "I've read the research and so forth, and I think people are going to have various opinions on it.”
What a person of... Wait, let’s take a closer look at a pronouncement of one of our more prominent and ambitious elected representatives.
“I mean the weather changes certainly...” Like the wind, Marty?
“...I don’t believe there’s this man-made global warming that’s destroying the planet and the like.” He’s answering questions at the State Fair, and thinking on his feet, so we could Marty a little slack if we were so disposed, but I’m not. Are you? Is he saying doesn’t believe in global warming, or in human influence on the weather, or that it’s dangerous? Saying “that’s destroying the planet” is putting words in environmentalists’ mouths. The world will continue in spite of our worst efforts. We will continue, but the less congenially (and honorably). Which I guess is what he means by “the like.” “The like” is already a fact, what with desertification, resource and chaos wars, extinctions, melting glaciers, intensified drought and monsoons, etcetera, etcetera.
“I’ve read the research and so forth...” All of it? Imagine Representative Seifert burning the midnight oil, making sure that even the most hare-brained of notions gets a fair hearing in the Minnesota legislature. And so forth.
“...I think people are going to have various opinions on it.” Who cares, Marty? What’s the truth?
Now we can say it. What a person deficient in courage, strength, and moral will.
Interestingly, current, Republican, Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty, who would like to succeed Barack Obama to the White House in 2012, has back-pedaled from his previous concern about climate change, since MPR story aired.
You can’t prove anything, even gravity, but here’s the argument for a connection between climate change and human effect on the atmosphere.
The idea is that energy comes into the atmosphere as ultraviolet light (UV). It warms the stuff the Earth is made of by making molecules move. The Earth then radiates some of the energy as infrared light (IR). Longer-wave IR can’t get out of the atmosphere, and warms the planet. If there were no atmosphere, everything would get out and the temperature would range hundreds of degrees as the world turned. If there were a very dense atmosphere, the temperature would always be very hot. Carbon dioxide thickens the atmosphere, making the atmosphere hold onto more energy.
Carbon dioxide only makes up a fraction of one percent of the atmosphere, a tiny enough part that human industry can change it significantly. Researchers in Hawaii -- a place remote from large concentrations of industry -- measured an increase from 315 parts per million (PPM) to 330 PPM between 1958 and 1970, or five percent. Other researchers established a link between industrial combustion and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, going back to the mid-nineteenth century. Measurements at the Hawaiian site are now at 387 PPM, or twenty-three percent. Pre-industrial levels varied, but it would be fair to say they were around 280 PPM. That means an increase of thirty-eight percent.
Meanwhile, temperatures have risen. We can observe events like ice melting, seasons’ changing at unexpected times, catastrophic storms. What would have happened if we hadn’t been here to build factories power plants and cars? Wallace Broecker of the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory used ice cores from Greenland glaciers to chart historical temperature cycles going back eight hundred years. extending the trends he found in the ice, the world should have warmed until about 1940, then cooled quickly. What happened was the described warming to 1940, a slight temperature drop until 1970, then the rise we argue about.
One objection has been that we have not measured a change in the temperature of the atmosphere. Researchers early in this century predicted that the energy that we would expect to heat the atmosphere would, instead, expand it. They found their expected increase in the height of the tropause, and published the results in the July 25, 2003 issue of Science.
Theoretically there’s a link between carbon in the atmosphere and global climate change. Jean-Baptiste Fourier described the relationship and called it the “greenhouse effect” in 1827. In the 1850s John Tundall measured carbon dioxide’s absorption of IR, and hypothesized a relation between lowered carbon dioxide levels and ice ages. Ice cores, and sediment samples from the ocean floor have told us that there is a geological-historical connection between carbon dioxide and climate.
There are other explanations for the fact of climate change. Change in solar activity is related geologically-historically to climate change, as well as changes in carbon dioxide. This could be because of more energy getting to us from the sun, or because solar radiation reduces the amount of cosmic radiation entering the atmosphere (cosmic radiation’s promoting the production of clouds, which would screen out some of the UV).
What it comes down to for me is this: It is reasonable to suppose that six billion people’s burning coal and oil, and churning out who-knows-what other carbon gases could affect the climate in unexpected and dangerous ways. What it would take to stop further damage, if this is the case, is exactly what we should be doing as stewards of the world’s natural capital.
Economist, E. F. Schumacher wrote, in Small Is Beautiful, “The illusion of unlimited powers, nourished by astonishing scientific and technological achievements, has produced the concurrent illusion of having solved the problem of production. The latter illusion is based on the failure to distinguish between income and capital where this distinction matters most. Every economist and businessman is familiar with the distinction, and applies it conscientiously and with considerable subtlety to all economic matters -- except where it really matters: namely, the irreplaceable capital which man has not made, but has simply found, and without which he can do nothing.”