Sunday, 1 April 2012

Why You Should Be Very Depressed About Climate Change

This is a bit off topic, but for years I've been following the climate change debate. Today I came across this terrific list of "myths vs. what the science says". There are 173, total.

So that's 173 myths that nothing's really wrong, debunked.

Still, part of me wanted to cry at the earnest thoroughness of the debunkers. They even break down their answers into basic/intermediate/advanced, to suit everyone from pea-brained U.S. Senators (doesn't Jim Inhofe actually, physically look like a dinosaur?) to climate scientists who can handle advanced formulas and charts.

But it's all just spitting into the wind.

Even if the science were agreed upon by 100 percent of the population -- yes, climate change is coming if we don't restrain levels of carbon dioxide -- does anyone really think anything would change in any significant way?

One problem is, we all live on one planet, share the same air, but are governed by hundreds of different political systems. And we can't compel global cooperation. So there's a huge incentive for any one country to cheat while others cleave to aggressive carbon-dioxide lowering rules -- and that's if we ever got close to agreeing on anything substantial globally, which we won't.

Another problem is, in the U.S. (the worst of the carbon-spewers per capita), we don't do pain. We don't want our lifestyle threatened. Just look at the federal gas tax. It's been frozen at 18.4 cents per gallon for almost two decades. If you double, triple, quadruple (or more) that tax, that will change driving habits and fill up some of those one-person cars you see everywhere zooming down the freeways.

There are lots of great reasons to do this -- reduce pollution, encourage energy independence, generate revenue for a cash-strapped budget, fight global warming. Conservative economists like Greg Mankiw have gotten behind this proposal. But the average American hates the idea, so don't hold your breath.

One last problem (though there are many; this is the short list): To combat global warming, we would be asked to make real, immediate sacrifices for a hypothetical, distant problem. That just won't happen.

So what now?

If we wait too long, and the effects of global warming are as serious as we've been told, we'll just find a way to cope. If half of New York City winds up under water, we'll just adjust. Highways on stilts. Floating homes. Water taxis.

On global warming, I'm sorry: I just don't think there's anything to be optimistic about.