31 January 2007

Don't write angry

Too late.

This is what I get for stopping on Fox News while channel surfing.  Hannity & Colmes.  What was I thinking?  The topic: global warming, in advance of the report that is being released by the UN this week on climate change in relation to human activity.  Two "experts" were included in this debate, two science professors from schools that I have never heard of, and (surprise, surprise) they were adamant that the idea that man is in any way responsible for global warming is preposterous. The basis for their opinion was the "fact" that there is "no evidence" that shows man has had an affect on Earth's climate.

A "network" that claims to be "fair and balanced" would surely counter with the idea that there is no evidence that man hasn't contributed to warming as well, correct?

In his resplendent smugness, Sean Hannity mentioned Al Gore 57 times in about five minutes, how evil he is that he has politicized the issue of the environment.  One wonders what Hannity sees when he looks into a mirror.

This really isn't about Fox.  I saw a piece on Keith Olbermann's show as well, which was more from a pro-environment side, if you can imagine (too bad there is no sarcasm font available) and I found myself aggravated as well.

In the matter of ten minutes, I was reminded twice that global warming has become a hot-button political issue.  And that makes me insane.  Why is this right vs. left?  I understand how each side feels about sub-issues ie. the Democrats are pro-environment and the GOP are pro-business, but this is something that has the potential to affect everyone, so why is it reduced to red vs. blue?

I know that there have been plenty of Republicans who have said that they believe that global warming has to be addressed, and good for them, but it's just talk.  The Democrats have talked as well.  Nothing is getting done.

I shake my head when Senator Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma gets on television and says that global warming is a "hoax", that God would never allow his creation to destroy this planet (did I miss when the ICBMs started growing on trees then?) and makes it plain that as long as he sits on the environmental committee (which he used to chair-another reason to thank God for the 2006 election results) that he will fight every single pro-environment measure (see his wikipedia page for a detailed synopsis of his environmental views.  The man is a national treasure.  Where's that font???).

And I'm not all that fond of Al Gore either.  He's a polarizing figure, and he knows it.  Yet he made sure that he is the one on stage for almost all of An Inconvenient Truth.  Gore could be on stage reading Sesame Street scenes and it would cause a political firestorm.  He can't escape the fact that so many people dislike him simply because of his politics, and therefore believe that everything he gets involved with is strictly for political gain.

Gore has stated again and again and again that global warming should not be considered a political issue.  If he was 100% serious about this, he would have had someone else giving the lectures in the documentary.  The man loves the sound of his own voice.  He may be noble to the cause, but there is plenty of ego there.

A few years ago I was spending a few days in Portland, Oregon and ventured over to Powell's (by far the most amazing bookstore I have ever seen).  In my hours of wandering I came across the science section and noticed a book called The Life and Death of Planet Earth.  I am somewhat of a fatalist.  The title of this book intrigued me, so I started to read. 

I wound up sitting there, on the floor, for two hours, reading the book in its entirety.  A lot of it I already knew-how the Earth was formed, how it goes through climate cycles, how there will be ice ages again, and eventually, many years from now, how it will die.  And the consensus of the two men who wrote the book is that man is probably incapable of doing much to alter this cycle, but it could certainly speed it up.

The closest planet to Earth is also the one that most resembles our planet with respect to size: Venus.  It's sometimes referred to as Earth's sister planet.  But upon closer scrutiny, the two planets probably could not be more different.

At least for now.

There's a reason that NASA talks about going to Mars one day but never mentions going to Venus.  No one has actually seen the surface of Venus-it's perpetually shrouded in heavy clouds; maps and images of the surface have all been done scientifically.  You just can't see what's going on on Venus.  NASA can't land a probe there either.  The air pressure on the surface of the planet is estimated to be ninety (that's 9-0) times that of Earth.  Probes that have studied Venus from above its atmosphere have been crushed once they descended through, well before reaching the surface.

Like Earth, Venus has an atmosphere dominated in composition by a single gas.  Unlike Earth, which has an atmosphere dominated by nitrogen (78%, oxygen is 20%), Venus is 96.5 % carbon dioxide, which means most of the sunlight that makes it way to Venus never leaves; the ultraviolet waves (and its radiation) are trapped by the massive amounts of carbon dioxide.

The average temperature on Venus is over 900 degrees Fahrenheit.  No planet is hotter, not even Mercury (average 800), which sits closer to the sun.

Why the science lesson?  Well, every time I hear someone say that global warming is a myth, I want to ask them if they've been to Venus lately.  As more carbon dioxide finds its way into Earth's atmosphere, less sunlight escapes from the atmosphere, and it gets hotter.  We need carbon dioxide; humans exhale it and plants inhale it.  We'd be dead without it.  But like anything else essential for human life (water, iron, etc.) too much of it can kill you.

The single greatest invention in modern history (say the last 150 years) is probably the combustion engine.  Without it, we don't fly, we don't drive, we don't do a lot of things.  It has made the world smaller, more accessible.  But it has also made us more vulnerable, because when a combustion engine creates energy, it also creates carbon dioxide, which goes straight into the atmosphere.  In the last one hundred years, since the combustion engine was invented and utilized around the world, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has tripled. 

It seems that it should be hotter, and it is.  Winter barley exists in Chicago anymore.  It's snowed more than an inch twice.  2006 was the hottest year on record ever, worldwide.  2007 is projected to be hotter.

Now it might be just the evolutionary cycle of the Earth.  But what if it isn't?  Or what if our advances in technology are accelerating this warming?  Wouldn't we want to do anything and everything possible to avoid it?

We don't know what we are doing to this planet.  It might be nothing.  It could be something.  It seems that the way to react to it is assume that we are doing nothing.

Why? Simple. Even if we are contributing to the demise of this planet, the real effects won't be felt for at least three or four generations to come.  Some forecasts say that if the arctic ice continues to melt that the ocean levels will rise enough to have Manhattan completely under water in 150 years.

But the dead don't care if New York City becomes the new Atlantis.

Hey, why should we?  Let's live for the now, baby!  Buy that new SUV, or even better, splurge on that 8 mile per gallon Hummer.  Crank up the air conditioning, build more coal plants!  This is our planet, let's enjoy it now.  Who cares about those who won't be born for another hundred years? (more font, please!)

I'm not advocating the elimination of fuel combustion, nor do I believe that this country could get anywhere near the point where we do not have smokestacks belching coal remnants into the atmosphere. I understand that economic factors have to be taken into consideration.  Everything has a cost.  I may not like it, but I understand it.

I'm trying to come up with an analogy here, and I think I found one that works.  Say you decide that you need to buy a gun so that you feel protected in your own house.  That's your 2nd Amendment right.  Let's also say that you have three small, extremely curious children living with you.  What are you going to do with the gun?  Will you leave it out in the open, loaded, with no safety precautions, or will you lock it up, keep it out of reach, so that none of the kids can get to it?

You know what you are going to do.  You're going to lock it up, because even if you told your kids not to touch the gun, even if they never, ever do anything that they are told not to do, even if you trust them to always do the right thing, there is always the possibility that somehow, someday, that gun could go off in one of your children's hand if you leave it out unprotected.

You're going to lock up that gun, because even though there's a 99.9 % chance that your kids will never touch it, 99.9 % is not 100%.  If you leave that gun out, someone might get killed.

We might be accelerating the demise of our coastal cities, our species, our planet.  The truth is that none of us will be around long enough to know just what the actuality is, if global warming will be as catastrophic as some claim it will.

But the potential is there, so why wouldn't we take action?  How long do we have to wait?  Do something.

People like Senator Inhofe, who believe that there is no possibility that global warming exists, need to do two things, in this order:

1. Take a little vacation. To Venus.  My treat.

2. Lock up their guns. 


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