"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."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Peace in our time

We've all spent the last week basking in the shared glory of our president winning the Nobel Peace Prize less than a year into his first term (technically he was nominated after serving only 10 days, or 0.82%, of that term, but hey, this is the Information Age and things move more quickly). As both the president and the Nobel committee admit, this is less an acknowledgement of things accomplished than things anticipated and promised by amazing speech-writing. I personally enjoy Richard Cohen's take on this the most and agree that earning this award is "f---ing awesome." It certainly takes the sting out of seeing the Olympics handed out to Rio. I'm also wondering if perhaps the president knew he'd be getting the prize and oriented his foreign policy accordingly. It makes his recent decision to ignore the Dalai Lama more understandable; Obama didn't feel worthy meeting a fellow laureate without a prize of his own. Now they can talk on equal terms, and the Lama will no doubt be comforted knowing how concerned the United States is about Tibetan and Chinese dissidents and how we'll get to them right after we halt the rise of the oceans and start healing the sick. In fact, imprisoned activists in those two countries and around the world should be heartened by the path we've taken with dissidents sentenced to death in Iran: I'm not sure what to call the doctrine yet, and I'm torn between "everything W. did, we will not do" and "hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil, and BTW pound sand", but in time I'm sure an appropriate tag will suggest itself and in the meantime, Iranian dissidents and the Human Rights Documentation Center that until now has advocated for them with State Department help will just have to chalk their misfortunes up to the poor economic climate. They simply have to understand that America isn't made of money; you spend billions on Cash for Clunkers and Cash for Refrigerators and Subsidies for Solar Panels and Funds for non-Flourescent Light Bulbs to curb a changing climate which has actually gotten colder in the last ten years, and you run out of the paltry $3 million required to document the state-orchestrated torture and murder of one of the globe's leading exporters of terror against its own citizens.

The prize hasn't impressed the Russians either, who don't feel too good about our new missile defense plan even though we sold our eastern European allies down the river to scrap the old one they didn't like either. I'm not sure how we're going to deal with this new problem; we're running out of friends to throw under the bus. Oh wait, I just saw the the Ukraine could be used to host early warning sites; maybe we can tell them "just kidding" on the next anniversary of the Holodomor.

OK, enough doom and gloom already. How about we all enjoy the latest installment in Saturday Night Live's long tradition of political satire:

I'm not sure what's funnier: the skit (which, to be fair to SNL, isn't the first time they've knocked Obama; I enjoyed their primary skits when interviewers asked Hillary how'd she handle a resurgent Taliban and Obama whether his chair was comfortable enough), or Wolf Blitzer 'fact-checking' the skit on CNN. Wolf, after watching you crater on Celebrity Jeopardy, I don't think you're allowed to fact-check anyone ever again.


The Accidental Blogger said...

Just one small comment, the climate has not been 'getting colder' for the past ten years. The year 1998 is the warmest year on record, however, it is an outlier, other than that 8 of the top 9 warmest years are in the past decade, followed by 1997. Taken against the mean of the average temperature of the past, oh, century or so,all the warmest temperatures are in the past decade. Here's a link to a graph detailing this phenomenon. I'm not a particularly environment conscious guy but clearly something is going on with the overall temperature of the planet. (link:http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2009/10/george_will_and_global_warming.html )

You can now resume mocking Barack Obama for winning the Nobel Peace Price for a reason to be named later...

Meghan said...

Climate change and global warming can't be used interchangeably.

Climate change is the whole overarching phenomenon the world is facing right now. One of the effects of climate change is global warming. So - climate change does not equal global warming. Side note, climate change will actually make the northeast colder and wetter. I can't wait.

Despite what Fox News says (and by "Fox News", I do mean "all conservative media outlets") the global temperature record shows an average warming of about 1.3°F over the past century. And to reiterate what Matt said, most the warmest years on record have occured over the past 10ish years. One or two years is a coincidence. 8 or 9 - not so much.

Oh, and I have no problem with Obama winning the NPP. Because now we know that you don't actually have to DO anything to get it, and maybe one day I can win it. I like peace. Therefore I should win it and take home all that money!

Cincinnatus said...

Oh I've taken nothing but inspiration from our president's Nobel. I'm hoping that by making a very vocal and public promise to improve my grammar, I might be considered for the prize in Literature next year.

Shockingly, I'm not the most environmentally conscious person either. However, it seems eminently reasonable to me that the rapidly increasing CO2 output from the last century or so since the Industrial Revolution took off could have a tangible effect on our environment. That would seem to jive with numbers showing the warmest years on record as being in the last hundred years. But it's worth keeping in perspective the fact that the 'years on record' are an incredibly small slice of thousands of years of human history and billions upon billions of years of geological history. We have only been recording environmental changes for a little over a century, and have really only developed tools like detailed computer models in the last couple of decades. I think predicting environmental catastrophes on the basis of a few decades' analysis is about as accurate as predicting a football team's performance over a season on two seconds of gameplay.

We are only just coming to understand how incredibly complex solar and geological cycles work, as evidenced by the recent disclosure that, even with highly advanced computer models, none forecast the cooler trend of the last ten years. We are only just beginning to understand how other things, like discharges of solar wind or even African dust storms, can greatly effect our environment as well (http://www.aip.org/dbis/AGU/stories/17097.html ; this is something I recall reading a couple of years ago and is certainly an inconvenient truth for Al Gore). Compared to our carbon emissions, the sun can wreak havoc on this planet on a scale even the worst pollutants cannot. A case in point of all this was the 'mini' Ice Age experienced during the Middle Ages - 500 years ago or so - which saw widespread cooling around the planet well before mankind had developed things like CO2 emissions that could possibly cause it. Could've been solar flares, could've been some geological anomaly; but certainly not man-made.

I guess my point with all this is that while human activity doubtless has an impact on the environment, we still can't say just how much with any great degree of accuracy, any more than we can predict massive geological upheavals or solar activity that might have similar symptoms. The tools we have to analyze such things have only recently been developed and we're only beginning to use them to scratch the surface of this planet's climatic history. It's going to take a long time to determine how much climate change is caused by us and how much by outside forces, as well as whether or not we can reverse any of its effects, or even if we should. Frankly I'm less concerned about how many fractions of a degree Centigrade this planet might warm over the next hundred years and more about, say, predicting when the next Big One is going to toss California into the ocean so I can sell my house and not be here when it happens. More practically, should the warming trend continue, experts like Bjorn Lomborg (if you haven't read his book Cool It yet, read it) have noted possible global benefits not covered in most doom-and-gloom assessments i.e. far more deaths globally are attributed to freezing temperatures than warm temperatures; thus warmer overall temperatures could materially contribute to lower death rates. Also, warmer mean temperatures could open up previously unusable land to cultivate, increasing the world's food supply. In sum, the debate is not over. It's hardly begun and deserves to go on for some time, especially before the industrialized world decides to cripple itself on the chance that temperatures a hundred years from now will be what we think they 'should' be.

The Accidental Blogger said...

I'm trying to get the two channels of your argument. One seems to be that measured history only goes back a hundred/ hundred fifty years which is a small sample size so there is a high degree of uncertainty associated with this (you then refer to the last ten years as a 'cooler trend' when, again, by the available evidence they aren't cooler than the average-which is, itself even a smaller time sample to describe a trend). The second argument is there are lots of other things that could conceivably affect the climate so why bother addressing possible human causes. Lastly, you state that global warming could have positive outcomes.

The first argument isn't really compelling to me simply because its a cop out. It's ignoring the evidence that we have because we don't have all available information. That doesn't make any sense. In addition, there exists a fairly well-developed set of theories explaining how this is occurring. All else being equal, that would seem to reinforce the validity of what evidence exists. Unless you have an alternate theory on how adding millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere won't do anything, I don't think you can just ignore existing evidence because we don't have all available information.

Secondly, the argument against taking action on climate change because other things could cause climate change is really irrelevant. There are lots of things that are beyond our control-a meteor could destroy the planet as I type this. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to improve what we can. Particularly when the economic impact of doing so is minimal and tangential benefits (defunding petrostates is a good thing) are consequential. I'd rather take steps to control what we can and minimize the possible havoc we could cause than to just say 'Other things could happen' and keep adding to the problem.