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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Calhoun’s Cannons, The Bay News, Morro Bay, CA For July 5, 006


Hot Air Rising


In a recent TV interview, former vice-president Al Gore expressed optimism that the earth-changing, global-warming events depicted in his new film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” could be mitigated somewhat in order to lessen some of the worst damage because, said he, when governments finally get mobilized, things can happen very quickly.

As he spoke, this government was busy pandering to their bases for political talking points in November as party loyalists in congress spent days pushing for a Constitutional amendment . . . to ban flag burning.

While Rome and the world was actually burning up, this government was busy fiddling to prevent the incredible danger to the environment and to the social fabric of this nation caused by millions and millions of people out in the streets . . . burning Old Glory. You’ve seen them, haven’t you? You can hardly breathe from all the smoke.

Unlike our president, Mr. Gore actually is a worldly traveler, so perhaps some of his optimism comes from seeing other governments around the globe starting to mobilize, other governments who actually “got it” some time ago and who are setting policies that actually support “green” industrial and scientific innovation.

In this country, a few years ago, the Pentagon issued a report outlining the direct threat global warming will have to our own national security and to the stability and security of the world. The Pentagon aligning itself with a bunch of tree-hugging, liberal, hippie-dippy, French-looking Commies? Now that’s an event you would think would rattle this government to the core. But that report has languished while this government spent time in Congress again pandering to their bases for political talking points in November by trying to get a constitutional amendment . . . to ban gay marriage. You’ve seen them also, haven’t you? Millions of gay people getting married in the streets right next to all those flag burners? You can hardly get down the road through all the smoke and thrown rice.

Of course, Al Gore’s optimism may also come from understanding that so long as this government’s loyalty remains with its corporate masters, the only hope We the People have will be . . . We the People. But that will only happen if we wake up, pay attention, and realize that if we love our grandchildren – and I’m sure we do – then we, individually and collectively, will have to get out ahead of the curve and change the world ourselves. After all, if any of us were paying attention in this country, we should have learned one thing from the Katrina disaster: This government is out to lunch and you, dear citizen, are on your own, so good luck to you.

And it may turn out to be the supreme irony that individuals, acting alone together, are the ones who actually can move the quickest to avert disaster. How? Simple.

In a flexible, fast-responding capitalistic global economy, it all comes down to this: What we value is what we spend our money on. And it is that dollar clutched in the palm of our individual hands that has the power to change the world and change the future.

So, what’s it to be? Gas guzzler or gas sipper? Incandescent light bulbs or compact fluorescents? Tax subsidized greenhouse-gas-producing energy or tax subsidized non-polluting renewable energy? The list is only as limited as our imaginations.

Industries and innovation always follow the money; governments and global movements always follow the money; the future always follows the money. And guess who has the money? What we buy today is truly a case of Pay It Forward, a choice each of us can make that may turn out to be the most precious gift we can give ourselves: The difference between life and death for our grandchildren.

7 comments:

*PG-13 said...

Thanks for plugging An Inconvenient Truth again. You, I and many others believe this topic can't be plugged enough. Get used to it people. If you're not sick of hearing about global warming - and, far more importantly, SOLUTIONS FOR global warming - then we're sunk. Literally. Shan't have to think about sewers no more.

If you haven't seen An Inconvenient Truth yet I encourage you to see it. Not that it is a particularly great film. Or that it says anything you might not already know. It even galled me that I had to go to a theatre and pay money to see it. This - and other similar content - should have been proffered as 'news' content on broadcast television years ago and should be as much a part of our evening TV diet as Iraq and Antique Roadshow. To have to pay to see it in a theatre reeks of South Africa, circa 1967. Still, it is a must see. Yeah, it is just a stylized presentation of Gore's PowerPoint lecture - which doesn't necessarily detract from its value - but it is far more a scientific analysis than 'liberal' proselytising although some will no doubt always see it as such right up to the very end. The one thing I took away from it is ...... how really little time there is before it will be too late. I'm fairly up-to-speed on much of this and I was thinking we had a little more time than we do. It may well already be too late. I had read, listened to and watched many reviews and other commentaries about An Inconvient Truth and thought I pretty much knew what was going to be pitched. I think the idea of a tipping point is discussed much more outside the movie than in it. The concept of a tipping point may have social, political and scientific value but the image in my mind after watching the movie was not so much a tipping point as the world carreening headlong and off-balance towards a precipice a la Wiley E. Coyote. In wich case the tipping point doesn't happen until he runs off the cliff. Whereupon he realizes he has already run off the cliff and is suspended - momentarily, quizzically, fatefully - in mid-air before he falls to the canyon floor. Now that's a tipping point. Sadly, outside of cartoons, that doesn't make for good theatre or helpful political commentary and action. Still, what other choices are there?

Ann> In a flexible, fast-responding capitalistic global economy, it all comes down to this: What we value is what we spend our money on. And it is that dollar clutched in the palm of our individual hands that has the power to change the world and change the future. So, what’s it to be? Gas guzzler or gas sipper? Incandescent light bulbs or compact fluorescents? Tax subsidized greenhouse-gas-producing energy or tax subsidized non-polluting renewable energy? The list is only as limited as our imaginations.

Therein lies both the solution and a good part of the problem: tax subsidization. You're probably correct. I know you are. We are creatures of habit. We can change the physics of the planet faster than we can change our habits of government. So we're probably not gonna get there without getting big, well-intentioned, but more often than not clueless government involved. That's the American way. But with government comes talk. Lots and lots of talk. And bureaucracy. And the influence of already well entrenched money and special interests. And politicians. The same politico's who believe flag burning and gay marriage are the most important issues on their desk. With government we're going to have to succeed in spite of ourselves and our system. You're right about voting with our dollars. Money walks. And if you really want to see fast get rid of all subsidization. How quick do ya think people will change their behaviour if they were paying the real cost of their gas and electricity? Now that would be a landslide vote! No more counting hanging/dimpled/pregnant chads. Suddenly fuel efficiency, smart energy usage and living sensibly - with awareness - would be a lot more popular. Well, maybe not popular, try necessary.

Real costs of energy include not just the real, non-subsidized and hidden-but-seldom-paid-for costs of production, delivery and waste but also the associated social/environmental costs of pollution and life-cycle productization. But stepping off into the deep water so quickly would probably be more unsettling than helpful. Although even that which is considered too unsettling needs to be reappraised in light of the dire situation the world finds itself in. Simply put, renewable energy and fuel efficiency don't need subsidization they just need a level playing field. Alternative energy solutions will succeed just fine - and incredibly fast - when their real costs compete directly against the real costs of our current inefficient, wasteful and polluting status quo. Sadly, our economic model is so skewed we can't even see level from here.

Thankfully we don't have to fix a broken system in order to make the necessary difference in today's big picture. The immediate first step is before us. It is the Kyoto Protocol. I'm asking myself right now even as I write this - "What am I doing today to get my country - the biggest most important (read: polluting) player in the game - signed on to the Kyoto Protocols?" I don't have a good answer for that right now. Any ideas? Suggestions appreciated.

Anonymous said...

The answer to your question is to plant more trees. Start with your own yard.

As the ice caps melt, we will have more water in the bay. But if one big volcano blows it's top, we will be looking at an ice age, with no water in the bay.

I remember that the best idea that the "father of the internet" ever had was that we should all be riding horses. He never even thought about the horse manure.

I like the idea of alternate energy. So lets build more nuke plants. How do you feel about that?

*PG-13 said...

Anon > I like the idea of alternate energy. So lets build more nuke plants. How do you feel about that?

I feel great about it. Surprised? As long as all real costs are accounted for and passed through in the charges. Do you have any idea how much money has been spent to subsidize nuclear energy production? Many hundreds of billions of dollars and still increasing. The 'real' $/kwh cost of nuclear generated electricity is beyond exorbitant! It is staggeringly expensive and that's not even considering full life-cycle accounting because there simply is no accounting for it because there are no solutions. Not yet anyway. That too is still a wishful dream. What about expensive, subsidized and polluting energy isn't clear?

Granted, nuclear energy may produce less global warming in the near term. So, gee, within the context of the global warming emergency maybe it is preferable to burning carbon based fuels. But that does nothing to encourage and give legitimate business base to real and practical alternatives.

Truth is we don't have an energy shortage. We have plenty enough energy right now without adding to global warming and other pollution heahaches if we used that which we have now more efficiently. But there is no inducement to be efficient. There is only inducement to make and waste more expensive (read: subsidized) and polluting energy. If the consumers of energy - be it business or the common Joe - paid the real costs of their energy there would be lots of clean sustainable alternative energy solutions coming forth.

Anon > The answer to your question is to plant more trees. Start with your own yard.

Thanks. Good idea. Starting in one's own yard is a good place to start. And I will plant a tree this weekend. Confucious was right, no journey begins until a first step is taken. Any start is a good start I suppose. But each of us planting a tree will buy the world what? An extra 10 minutes of geological time? Oh boy. How you gonna spend yours?

Anon > I remember that the best idea that the "father of the internet" ever had was that we should all be riding horses. He never even thought about the horse manure.

Yup, we live in a closed system. As much as I like horses .....

And poor Jimmy Carter. He took soooooo much flak for suggesting we put on a sweater when we're cold. I mean, how dumb can you get? Truth is, it is easily proven, time after time after time, by anybody that the cheapest, cleanest and most efficient energy is the btu or Kwh saved. Save a unit is the equivalent of making a unit. Just cheaper and easier to do. But then that's just me.

Ron said...

PG13 said:

"Save a unit is the equivalent of making a unit. Just cheaper and easier to do. But then that's just me."

Me too.

Churadogs said...

If the real costs of producing energy were actually on a clean, level playing field and the REAL costs (military/naval costs to protect oil lines, wars to get oil, enviro destruction, medical costs of buring fuel, nuclear disposal costs, etc.etc.) were attched to each gallon or kw, then I think you'd see some major changes really, really quick.

Interesting essay in the the L.A. Times: Humans are hard wired to respond to quick things (lion jumping out of a bush) but no slow, long term threats. So, global warming will take an intellectual choice, not merely a "lizard brain" reaction to act to survive. Luckily, humans have both brains. They need only use the cool-headed one.

Scariest thing in the movie, the Greenland Ice cap is melting and moving. If it hits a tipping point and slips into the sea and/or suddenly melts and the cold, fresh water rushes into the sea, it'll change the gulf stream and severe climate changes will happen in less than 10 years. But by then, of course, it'll be too late.

Much suffering ahead for our kids and grandkids, alas. But we can ameloriate some of the worst if we act now. But, will we?

Churadogs said...

PG13 sez:"And poor Jimmy Carter. He took soooooo much flak for suggesting we put on a sweater when we're cold. I mean, how dumb can you get? "

What happened in 1973 is a perfect example of why this country is in such trouble: Carter was a grown up presenting Americans with grown up troubling facts that they didn't want to hear. Like spoiled children, they didn't want to stop doing what they were doing and rethink things. They wanted their pudding NOW. And Ronald Reagan gave it to them in a brilliant ad campaign. Remember "It's morning in America?" Perfect. Pudding for all, pie in the sky, Christmas Morning, goodies for all, ignore the old grinch in the sweater, elect me, the son will rise and all will be well. And Americans bought it because Reagan told them what they wanted to hear, not what they needed to know. Children and their fairy stories with happy endings. Typical American trait.

PublicWorks said...

Presidents can lecture only to children, Russians, Chinese, and the axes of evil - not American adults.