"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Perhaps we can power all those windmills with hot air...

Well it was a very busy weekend for our family; we've mostly moved into our new digs and have been juggling fitting our furniture into a smaller house while trying to keep our son from tweaking out at living in a strange place. He finally seems to be accepting the change, although he was having none of it the first couple of days. He does seem to enjoy running in a straight line front the front door to the back, playing with all the light switches (all of which are, for some odd reason, located at convenient toddler access height), and playing with every doorknob in sight (we made a valient effort to baby-proof the doorknobs with these plastic covers that have holes allowing supposedly clever adults to grip the knob while foiling simple little children. It took our son about two minutes to simply rip the cover off. Once we'd seated it more securely, it took an additional two minutes for him to figure out how to grab it to open the door. Our son is a genius and the incredible Hulk rolled into one). And because of all this moving, we have no television or Internet at home, which, as those who know me might imagine, left me twitching nervously at times, not knowing what was going on in the outside world. But I had some fun conversation with my wife in our rides back and forth from the old domus to the new (for the record, it was her, not me, who wanted to pull over at one intersection and harrass some anti-war protestors. I was simply gratified that they numbered about five and were only out there for an hour before packing up their "Bush lied, thousands died" signs and going home). I was also gratified to learn that she'd defended my incorrigble right-wing beliefs against one of her lefty-leaning former co-workers who I believe me of either not believing in, or caring about, global warming or climate change or the End Times, whatever we're calling it now. This, along with one of the few headlines I did read this weekend, has prompted me to post the "Brown Doctrine" on climate change, as follows:

First, in terms of "believing" in climate change, I do not view it as a question of belief or faith as some hard-core environmentalists apparently do. It is not like believing in God, which is an act of faith because we do not always see all the evidence or the 'big picture'. Climate change is a scientific phenomenon which can be empirically proven or disproven; it is or it isn't happening. As it is fundamentally a study of data which says it's either happening or not happening, it has no moral dimension, whereas belief in God most certainly does. Thus, 'unbelief' or skepticism is not intrinsically evil, and 'unbelievers' on the issue are not in the same moral category as, say, Holocaust deniers. As it happens, the numbers, as I understand them, do show that human activity has had an impact on this planet. The question - and the moral dimension - is how great that impact is, and how much we should do to correct it.

The first part of the question has been answered with hysterics by some - as Al Gore and R.E.M. would say, it's the end of the world as we know it. The numbers tell a different story; we're talking about increases of a fraction of a degree, with equally fractional increases possible in the future. Indeed, the rate of temperature increase is positively glacial, and thus its fallout won't surprise us overnight. And while much has been made (and exaggerated) of this fallout - rising oceans, climbing temperatures - little attention has been paid to possible positive outcomes - longer growing seasons, decline in cold-related deaths. But it seems that any change for global warming adherents is bad change, and so 'something must be done'. But what?

Their answer boils down to a re-tooling of our industrialized civilization as we know it. They want us to dramatically change the way we make things and generate the power to do so in order to reduce the amount of carbon emissions dumped into the atmosphere. And the net gain from this massive reordering is: a fractional slowing of the overall global temperature increase. This, to me, is ludicrous, and fails any reasonable cost-benefit analysis. Think tanks like the Copenhagen Consensus have demonstrated that a) global warming is pretty much at the bottom of the list of peoples' priorities when compared with problems like eradicating diseases and reducing poverty, and b) when it comes to tackling possible problems associated with global warming, like increased risks of malaria and coastal flooding, there are far more practical, direct, and cheaper solutions than the cure-all of cutting carbon emissions. Battling malaria, for example, can be addressed by increasing access to medical supplies and implementing more aggressive pesticide spraying programs; and this can be done in a shorter time frame, with less resources, and in the areas directly affected, than any relief a fifty-year, half-a-degree-of-global-temperature-reducing emissions-cutting program could.

But that doesn't seem to be enough for warming alarmists. They want to move away from our fossil fuel-based economy to 'green' power, partly because of the environmental impact, and partly because they see something intrinsically evil about oil, drilling, and every company and individual that profits from it or has anything to do with it. Well, there are parts of that I applaud, and parts that don't pass my common sense check. I would love nothing better than to turn off the spigot that funds some of the most reprehensible regimes in the world. Oil, to me, is as much a national security issue as an environmental one. Make oil as valuable as water and countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Russia would have fewer resources to devote to harrassing their neighbors and be forced to develop their human, rather than mineral, capital to be competitive. However, oil remains one of the most powerful and versatile power sources ever discovered. It drives every form of transportation, on air, land, and sea, to keep our families, nations, and economies connected, yet is light and compact enough that an airliner can fly from North America to Europe on one tank of gas. Finding a substitute for this remarkable resource will take years, if not decades. That's not to say we shouldn't start just because the road is long; but we need a realistic plan for the interim. In the short term, nothing can replace oil; so the new question is, how do we find ways of providing cleaner energy to the taxpayers while still reducing oil consumption to be nice to the trees and bad to the bad guys?

Some think the answer lies in greatly expanding (and subsidizing) the use of renewable energies like wind and solar power. This would be ideal, except for the fact that both rely on sources of fluctuating reliability (a cloudy or calm day would lead to more than a few blackouts) and so would still need some stable back-up, take up huge swathes of land, have statistically underperformed compared to their potential peak output (wind especially), are run by companies that are proving as unscrupulous as any oil company (a sad story about windmills breaking up families and cozying up to lawmakers here), and are getting tripped up by red tape imposed by none other than supposedly green activists. There is, however, a proven energy source that has a minimal environmental footprint yet reliably generates a huge amount of electricity. That is, of course, nuclear power, and the only reason that we don't use more of it is because of fear-mongering by the same activists who claim to want clean, renewable energy. Nuclear power has a good safety record (Chernobyl was the product of horrible Soviet construction and safety practices, not an inherent failing of nuclear power; Three Mile Island, more familiar to Americans, while scary, produced no widespread damage or fatalities and in fact the reactor safely shut itself down as designed), has no carbon emissions and produces minimal waste, produces a great deal of power and is eminently reliable. There is simply no good reason not to expand its use in order to cut back on fossil fuel-burning plants. And, while we're searching for oil's replacement, we could at least use our own oil reserves to make our economy and national security stronger instead of paying for Iran's nuclear program and Russia's cyberwarfare department. I'm sure the average American would like to make a positive contribution to our environment; but that's no reason to punish him in the meantime by keeping oil prices high or supply restricted for mere ideology.

So that's my green attitude in a nutshell (or something a little larger than a nutshell). I'll buy into climate change as real, but not as something so dire that it requires fundamentally changing the civil framework that has made this era the healthiest and most prosperous of history. I think many problems caused by climate change can be solved more cheaply and efficiently by locally tailored methods than the be-all and end-all of cutting carbon emissions. I'd happily buy into a green energy source that would keep money out of the pockets of dictators and terrorists, but until we find one as versatile as oil, we need to pursue other avenues that accomplish that goal in the interim.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think "harass" is a rather strong word. All I wanted to do was simply point out that their time could have been better spent actually HELPING the wounded war veterans (and their families)whose names they were flagrantly parading on the corner of Camino Del Norte and Pomerado Road. Oh, and tell them that ENOUGH is not, in fact, spelled "ENUF."