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Get a Grip

Get a GripI’m a global kind of guy, so I was reading The Australian the other day and came across this headline, “Twenty-year hiatus in rising temperatures has climate scientists puzzled”. After applying some circular logic to solve the question of what job can you have where you’ve been wrong about something for 20 years and still be employed, the answer, of course, is climate scientist, I endeavored to read on. Naturally, when your predictions of eminent doom are a “little off” you start looking for some explanations—fast. Especially since Green House gas emissions have been increasing during this same 20-year period—100 billion tons in the period of 2000 to 2010 along according to The Economist. James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies postulates that this less than expected temperature rise can be explained by increased emissions from burning coal. I thought this was supposed to be the problem. Didn’t the EPA tell us that coal is bad, and everyone knows career bureaucrats are never wrong. Washington uber alles, and all that. Researchers at the University of Colorado claim that small volcanoes have been the cause of this slowdown in global warming. Although I like the originality of their conjecture, does this mean that major volcanic activity is the cure for all of our climate woes? In other words, if we had another Krakatoa would we all have to wear parkas in July? If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering how do we move forward in this new world of uncertainty? I think the avoidance of overreaction should be our guideline.

Certainly preparation is the operative term in seeking to address this global heat wave hiatus. No one wants to be caught without their astronaut food, guns, and 100,000 gallons of potable water if the apocalypse brought on by an average increase of global temperatures of 2.2°F does hit us in a 100 years, but maybe we might want to tone things down just a tad. For example, do we really want to condemn Thomas Edison as a scourge to humanity by replacing the Wizard of Menlo Park’s greatest invention with a CFC replacement that emits enough UV rays to cause cancer and requires a hazmat team to remove the debris if you break one?

In this spirit of taming our tendencies toward over reaction we might want to rethink things like:

– Denuding 200 acres of land to erect a solar array big enough to be seen from Space. Really, isn’t building a power source 17 times larger than your facility a little like running a flashlight with a 2MW generator? Sure they both work, but you could probably use the resources a little bit more efficiently or,
– Spending $110 billion to delay global warming by 37 hours by the end of the century. C’mon Germany, don’t you know there are banks in Cyprus that could use that money?

Now don’t get the impression that I don’t like things like wind and solar. I’m as excited about them today as I was 30 years ago when I read about them in “My Weekly Reader” in fourth grade. Some technologies just take longer to gestate than others. I personally think that in just another 50 years, Apple is only going to need 100 acres for their solar farms. That kids, is progress. But until then, how should we go about dealing with this whole climate change kerfuffle? Since, according to International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) chairman Rejendra Pachuari we need another 30 to 40 years of static global temperatures before we can say that the warming trend is over—talk about your margin of error—we’re going to have to come up with some practical solutions to deal with the prospect of Siberia becoming the new Aruba.

I suggest that there are more economically practical approaches than making us all drive Smart cars to limit damage from Hurricanes like Sandy since flooding seemed to be the major issue wouldn’t it be cheaper, and more effective, to build higher rockery walls and add closable storm doors to subway entrances? Rather than racking up the emissions associated with shipping Canadian wood chips to burn in in their power plants (yep, they’re doing this) the Brits should just burn the coal they produce locally. Which has a lower net emissions impact, by the way. Or build a few more nuclear power plants, but that seems to freak out everybody other than North Koreans and Iranians so let’s save that one for a last resort. My point here is that we can be good stewards of the planet without going to extremes. As a wise man, okay me, said, “anything taken to the extreme becomes the absurd”, and guys we’re starting to redline the extreme meter here. My advice for those seeking some timely eco-guidance, don’t run with scissors—sorry that’s another blog—let practicality be your guide, don’t build your data centers near beaches, wear plenty of sunblock and hope for more volcanic activity.