I’ve just chanced upon Will’s ‘vlog’ post (it was a video embedded into a blog post – what else am I to call it?). It’s a bit old – I take time to chance upon things. So, the world is coming to an end because we are selfish and excessive in our use of energy. Apparently.
Officially, I like to refer to myself as a sceptic and positivist – I follow the doctrine that speculation on ultimate causes or origins is futile and believe in the system of obtaining knowledge through systematic doubt and continual testing. Thus my stance on global warming is neither that of the maniac eco-warrior nor that of the inexorable cynic. However whatever the case it’s always important to take a multifaceted analysis of any situation and think outside the box (to use the old cliché), instead of dogmatically pursuing a mere single thread which exists as a relatively insignificant decoration on a thick quilt of intrinsically interwoven issues.
An aspect of the entire oil and global warming debate which is often overlooked or perhaps deliberately ignored is the economic and political aspect of it. If you think about it, nowadays oil is equivalent to power. This is very much an economic phenomenon projected onto the plane of political power in which Middle-eastern countries and Russia are at liberty to exploit their massive amounts of black gold, an unfortunate precedent which can be and in fact is unashamedly translated into a disproportionate amount of undeserved political influence. I’m sure I’m not alone in my (personal, biased and subjective) dislike of the idea of all this scarcity power being in the hands of the countries which happen to have all this oil and gas; I’d hate to see America and Britain on their knees begging Putin (we all know he’s still wearing the trousers over there) or some militant religious extremist group for a few barrels of oil. In other words this political leverage is all about the scarcity power of oil. This constitutes my primary reason for supporting a long-term move to abandon oil and other fossil fuels as a source of energy: oil is a commodity on which the world is increasingly reliant and whose natural residence is apparently countries which unnervingly frequently end up in political turmoil (I think it’s fair to say) so my personal opinion is that it seems after a little consideration a fairly bad idea to build the world up around it. I’m therefore a great fan of alternative, particularly renewable ways of producing power which don’t involve the use of such a messily obtained substance.
Returning to the argument considered by most eco-warriors, I think Will is in part absolutely right (please ignore my seemingly nonsensical juxtaposition of words) about the warming aspect of, global, err, warming – whether it be us or pixies or cosmological factors who/which are at fault, there exists quite unequivocally a problem and it undeniably requires attention. However, personally undecided about the verity of the claims about the anthropogenity (neologism I believe, but a good one) of global warming, I’d argue an engineering solution rather than a human / social / lifestyle one is needed here – a protective rather than preventative solution. The Earth’s atmosphere is simply so complex that few people can claim to understand its workings in any great detail, let alone work towards an accurate model of cause and effect; by my logic it follows intuitively that any attempt to tackle a perceived cause may well be in vain if not deleterious (for example the questionable proposal of filling the atmosphere with sulphur dioxide) – far more propitious a solution would be simply to be pragmatic and do what we know we can do: consider methods of protection against predicted conditions which can themselves be more reliably extrapolated than an attempt of analysis on dubious and often erroneous data.
In fact, even if it were true that humans were the cause of the earth’s positive temperature gradient (against time), I’d be willing to bet that any attempt to reverse the trend would be futile, be it too little, too late, or both. A single word sums up the impossibility of the task of reducing Carbon emissions: China. As some may know, I blame China for many things, including milk, red tape and Communism; in this case though I feel it would be unjustified to blame her, even if her factories were indeed the cause of such future strife and suffering. Allow me to elucidate my uncharacteristically sympathetic attitude towards the developing world. I’m one of those cynics who believe the world, or at least the majority of it – certainly the influential parts of it – are driven by two main wants: money and power. In addition, everyone knows that just about everything runs off electricty. No business could function without it: transport, computers, buildings and manufacturing all slurp up vast quantities of electricity. So if money is everything and everything is electricity, there’s a lot to be said for electricity in money terms. China was blessed with unfair amounts of coal naturally available to the country, making coal a cheap source of energy. Chinese businesses (probably with the help of the government) merely exploited this by building coal power stations en masse, something the West would undoubtedly have done in the past, and which it would probably still do today. We got damn close with ‘drill baby drill’. China’s population situation is also geared towards high energy consumption: it doesn’t take a great leap of faith to conclude that 1.3 billion people squashed into 9.6 million square kilometres will require more than a few wind farms to power, and at the time China began developing at its unprecedented and scarily rapid rate (around when I was born) nuclear power was still very much an experiment and the world was still reeling from Chernobyl; the only way to supply power affordably to such a large population with so little space was to use cheap and cheerful methods: fossil fuels. So is it fair to blame China for making use of her natural resources partially out of necessity? I certainly don’t think so.
So returning to the problem of global warming, it seems unlikely that China will wilfully do anything about her carbon emissions. Meanwhile, even if both the UK and US manage the 2050 target (I’m sure it used to be 2012…), the effect will be minimal, to say the least, even if it is true that global warming is our fault. My argument about protection rather than prevention seems to make sense.
So why don’t I join environment committee? In fact, there are several reasons, but the main problem for me is that the committee stands for something which I don’t: working off the assumption that global warming is by definition anthropogenic, it seems to work primarily to reduce Carbon emissions, a measure which I consider ineffective at best, and simply wrong at worst, and the fact that some of its aims happen to coincide with my personal ambitions for the world, e.g. renewable power, isn’t enough to convince me to join. Regardless, I still wish them luck in whatever they do; I’m good friends with one of the main figures in the society and am confident that he has good intentions and indirectly or otherwise yearns for a future unreliant on oil, and therefore also on the Middle East.