My take on this has always been that we pollute far too much currently and although the science seems overwhelmingly in favour of man made global warming: does it really matter?

Businesses will get away with using as much energy, polluting as much as possible unless there is a cost attached to doing so. More than that actually, they have a duty to their shareholders actually to continue to pollute as much as possible while ever it is free to do so. So CO2, like any number of pollutants that had a cost attached via regulations/fines/taxes needs to have a cost associated. If you look back in time you’d see that any number of things have gone through this transition:

  • lead
  • asbestos
  • CFCs
  • DDTs
  • etc

Prior to the health or environmental impact of the above triggering change it was the wild west type situation for businesses. Lead was in paint, added to petrol (gasoline for the yanks), smelters didn’t have to worry about minimising the contamination of ground water/soil around refinery/smelter operations. Then when the science and medical research came rolling in: it was either banned, phased out or required to be cleaned up (e.g. a fine last year for lead contamination). That made lead expensive to pollute with because it had to be treated with consideration to the impact on children etc.

Same deal with asbestos. It was (and still is) great for a number of things: heat proofing, building materials (the old version of “fibro cement” with asbestos was superior to the current cellulose variety (which is nowhere near as durable, strong, fire retardant or flexible.. seriously, asbestos is magic stuff). But while not as good in some ways, it doesn’t get into your lungs and cause nasty growths/cancers that will slowly kill you.

But back to global warming/climate change. What if we’re wrong about it?

I think the following cartoon sums up my thoughts on the matter:

The "horrible consequences" that await!

The "horrible consequences" that await!

So I’ll take the argument from point of apathy: the “do you REALLY care” option.

  • Does anyone care if they drive a petrol or an electric car if they both get you to and from your destination (assuming they start making them look half decent)? What if the electric one can be charged from the sun and doesn’t pollute the air around population centres?
  • Would you care if you plugged in the car or dropped in a battery pack vs filling up with petrol? Battery packs should stink less and service stations look a bit cleaner (without run-off into drains etc).
  • Does anyone care (or know for that matter) whether the electrons running your monitor that you’re reading this come from sunlight via solar cells or wind via wind farm or kite or does it HAVE to come via burning fossil fuels like coal? e.g. does your ability to put food on the table depend on energy being generated from fossil fuels, and if it does: could you possibly do one of the many new jobs away from coal?
  • Would anyone notice if the hot water for the morning shower was heated via a solar hot water unit on the roof or is burning coal necessary for a good scrub temperature?
  • Do you care if there are millions of new jobs in green industries created as environmentally dirty jobs are phased out?
  • Do I care if my amazing Triumph Daytona 675 motorcycle is superseded by something sexy and electric like the MotoCzysz E1pc?

If you don’t really care about stuff like the above then keep your coal industry fibs to yourself, shut the hell up and let the people pushing for those things get on with the job. The absolute worse thing about these misinformed twits is that they are campaigning against improving the world for no other reason than because they want to go with the “do nothing and let everything get more polluted for our kids” option.

Want to see where we’re headed worldwide: take a look at China’s worst polluted spots for some hints (it isn’t pretty).

Yeah: what if it is (by some hugely unlikely plot by tens if not hundreds of thousands of scientists) a hoax and we end up with a world that doesn’t care about oil or coal. A state of being where we can let that shitty, dirty internal combustion technology retire into being another of those strange oddities in a transport museum (along with the coal fired steam engines and those planes with flapping wings failing on takeoff). If we lose the car noise and smoky exhaust smell in the cities and have the whir of electric driven wheels (or better yet trams/trains or electric buses) instead.

I would hope that certain jobs go quietly into the night and were replaced with many others:

  • coal power plant technician
  • oil rig drilling engineer
  • internal combustion mechanic
Working in heavy dust, migrant workers invariably start to have health problems after 1-2 years.

Working in heavy dust, Chinese migrant workers invariably start to have health problems after 1-2 years.

Perhaps “replaced” with:

  • solar array technician
  • recycling engineer
  • electric vehicle mechanic

But I suspect the anti-green Luddites and the climate change deniers will be digging in hard for many years to come.

13 Responses to “What if we are wrong about climate change?”

  1. on 22 Jan 2010 at 05:19Rob Eamon

    Wouldn’t it be an irony if the success of electric cars actually created more demand for coal fired power plants?

    How nasty are batteries when they are disposed? There is one in every car already but each electric car would have many.

    I ask these not to say “cleaner” should not be pursued. Rather I ask because I wonder if, like many “improvement” initiatives, that the result might end up being the opposite of the desire.

  2. on 22 Jan 2010 at 05:39Rob Eamon

    I recall reading a bit about global warming (and ice ages) in the past. Distant past, that is. It got me to thinking, have we deluded ourselves that with our relatively scant data about the history of the earth that we have any clue whatsoever? Evidence suggests that the earth has warmed and cooled in significant ways before humans arrived. What happened then? Is what we see now similar? Or new due to our activity?

    I agree that the current science community appears to be mostly in agreement that what we see now is human caused. But I remain skeptical of the view. For a couple of reasons: 1) over the course of history, widespread agreement has often been overturned by subsequent understanding–as an example, the notion that organisms we couldn’t see were the cause of illness and infection was viewed as preposterous by the overall scientific community; 2) that we think we understand the warming/cooling cycles of the earth given our relatively minuscule time of observation and limited ability to really peer into the past seems a bit egotistical.

    Again, I’m not suggesting that efforts to be more green should be abandoned. I hope the outcome of the efforts is as intended. But we shouldn’t be too surprised if it is not.

  3. on 22 Jan 2010 at 11:28Kash

    reply to Rob E.

    Yes the evidence that warming and cooling has happened before is often mentioned. What is often not mentioned is that it has never occured this fast, nowhere near this fast.

    Additionally it is as if people think these natural warming cycles will be life as usual. The effects will be terrible. I for one would like to be able to say, “well we tried to stop it but we were wrong”.

  4. on 22 Jan 2010 at 12:10Kash

    Additional reply:

    Yes it would be a success if electric cars created more demand for electricity. You would hope that that demand was then met with things other than coal but even then its better than burning petrol and woudl have a significant public health benefit.

    Regarding batteries, the type of battery used in electric cars is different to that in a petrol car. They use a lot of toxic stuff and if disposed every 3 years (average life span for a lithium ion battery) it would be terrible for the environment. If governments gets serious about electric cars (lol) they would have to implement recycling systems for their batteries.

  5. on 23 Jan 2010 at 08:39Rob Eamon

    Kash, do you have a pointer to an article or two about the speed aspect? It’s an interesting aspect that I’d like to explore further. A question that comes to mind–how do we determine the speed of past changes?

    I’m not sure burning coal is better than burning petrol. My understanding is that burning coal is far worse.

    I agree that climate change, in either direction, could be catastrophic.

  6. on 23 Jan 2010 at 08:49Rob Eamon

    I did a search for “climate change facts” and this was the first hit.
    http://www.climatechangefacts.info/
    That site has a link to http://www.climatecooling.org/
    Interesting stuff. Hard to know what sources to trust.

  7. on 23 Jan 2010 at 14:15Nathan

    Hey rob,
    sorry one of yours got caught in the spam trap (it’s pretty good usually.. but buried a bit with the Russian spam.. have updated the iptables so they’ll think I’ve disappeared)
    Anyhow:
    Electric cars/batteries: The idea with most legs I think would be for the batteries to be like gas cylinders (except that you can fill them up at home?) and just part of the infrastructure if you will. You get some when you buy the car, but then as you run low and need to swap them (e.g. people who park in the street with no recharger) you swing by a service station, drop ‘em out, put a fresh one in. Just like gas cylinders there is a deposit to “buy in on the swap thing” and the energy companies just need to charge enough per re-charge to cover the cost of replacement of failed units/normal lifecycle end etc.
    As for internal combustion engine cars: what about the consumables there? Oil, oil filters, brake pads, air filters, brake fluid, radiator coolant.. Not to mention the larger number of moving parts compared to electric cars. (brakes would get a lot less wear and tear on an electric car using regenerative braking..)
    I’d also ask: do you really think we’re going to just dump the expensive materials in batteries in the bin? Hell no, it’d be recycled/refurbished etc. With such a large number in use out there it would be bound to happen. Take the current lead acid batteries in cars:
    97% of them are recycled. http://www.batterycouncil.org/LeadAcidBatteries/BatteryRecycling/tabid/71/Default.aspx
    97%! Name anything else that has that high a rate. And let’s be honest: lead isn’t that expensive compared to the more exotic materials in newer tech batteries, so there’s even more of an incentive. If we can collect and somehow recycle the gunk produced from an oil change: we can recycle battery packs.

    As for whether it might make the problem worse: electric cars beat petrol cars even if they are powered by coal. From:http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2009/12/24/my-favorite-green-technology
    “PHEVs will reduce greenhouse gases and other emissions, even if the source of electricity is mostly coal, a 2007 study by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and NRDC showed.” Executive summary with pretty graphs is here see page 7 for 2010 estimates per type of electricity generation 8 for 2050 estimates. Conventional vehicles pollute between 50% more (old coal technology) and 200% more (renewables/nuclear etc).
    Difference is that once everyone’s on electricity you can quietly swap over to solar/wind/hamster on a treadmill produced electrons and the fleet of vehicles doesn’t need to do a thing differently. With various states/countries committing to 20-30-40% renewables, I think it’s safe to say that electric cars will be cleaner. Given they’re more efficient than petrol cars anyhow (hybrids use less cos they don’t waste braking power or idling time): they make sense in that regard. So basically they’re more efficient by just about every measure.

  8. on 23 Jan 2010 at 15:22Nathan

    As you say it’s all about the mounting array of data that the current scientific thinking supports this idea. That’s all we can really go on. The term “global warming” is misleading I think because it’s describing the overall average and then people get snowstorms or something and think that it can’t possibly be true. Some parts of the world may actually get colder (e.g. I recall something about Europe getting colder if the ocean currents are interrupted by dumping in of freshwater from ice melts).
    And yeah, there have been cycles in the past, I think the concern is that this one is our doing and going to make the planet a much more hostile place to human existence (socially, economically etc) as rising sea levels will make lots more pressure on scarce land an even greater issue.

    I think it’s now pretty well accepted that the massive output of CO2 (and massive increase in methane output from our domesticated farm animals) is having an impact. I mean globally the lead we added to petrol in the past is STILL dispersed everywhere and will be for decades to come, the lead may have gone, but the CO2 still pumps out.
    Going more local: You only have to look out the window on an average day to see that we’ve got the power to cloud everything in a near permanent haze in a lot of cities due to the amount of shite we pump out. So a transfer of tailpipe emission out of the cities where more people are exposed to them is a good start from a local perspective.

    Of course while all this evidence is mounting up: there’s millions of dollars being spent by the ones doing the polluting (and supported by people who don’t look more closely) to muddy the waters. Just like the cigarette companies did. A recent example is the “email-gate” which although if you actually looked into it showed that the “choice bits” picked out by climate change deniers were not saying what they were made out to be: e.g. “trick” made out to be deceptive vs “trick as in clever thing to do” or “the way to do it” (call it language differences between US and british if you like..). Anyhow, so what if it is a conspiracy/hoax? We get cleaner, quieter cities if nothing else by moving away from internal combustion cars.

    As for ability to see into the past: I think they’ve been able to look back a pretty long way.. I guess this all boils back to the point of the post: so what if it isn’t happening? Is focussing on efficiency, culling bad technology, getting our power from cleaner sources really a problem? As Coal power and heavy industry are responsible for more than just CO2 emissions: how about acid rain? How about the nasty stuff that ends up in rivers from coal ash slurry? How about the particulate matter (soot) that causes a myriad of health issues?
    Edison’s quote:
    “We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Natures inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide. … I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that. “

    Ditch the dirty stuff, go with something we can get for free and do things more efficiently I say. We can save the oil for things we can’t replace with batteries (e.g. space travel? creating magic polymers/plastics?) The manufacturing of solar cells can replace the digging/transporting/refining of oil, the mining and burning (and power station building) of coal. Sure, with any process there’s waste, but the argument to keep going “as is” is an argument for more pollution anyhow.. So it’s hard to see how a change for reasons of environmental improvement would do things worse.
    And hey, if the new clean/green future turns out to be worse off then we can always start digging up coal and oil again can’t we?

  9. on 23 Jan 2010 at 15:25Nathan

    Hey Kash,
    I’m sure the current car battery recycling program could expand its current successful program. The auto industry is used to collecting stuff and dealing with it (somewhat) e.g. oils/fluids don’t go down the drain, tyres etc.. batteries.. It’s just a pity they don’t do the same with CO2.. :)

  10. […] go to China to see what focussing on cheap energy, cheap manufacturing, cheap goods results in. So what if we’re wrong on climate change anyhow? Looks like others agreed on the topic: The recent rain is an example of weather, which is […]

  11. on 08 Apr 2013 at 10:29Heather

    “……..Does anyone care (or know for that matter) whether the electrons running your monitor that you’re reading this come from sunlight via solar cells or wind via wind farm or kite or does it HAVE to come via burning fossil fuels like coal? e.g. does your ability to put food on the table depend on energy being generated from fossil fuels, and if it does: could you possibly do one of the many new jobs away from coal…….”

    Well seeing how much more money those electrons from wind and solar would cost us……….. yes I think we care.

  12. on 08 Apr 2013 at 10:34Heather

    I would hope that certain jobs go quietly into the night and were replaced with many others:
    coal power plant technician
    oil rig drilling engineer
    internal combustion mechanic

    Perhaps “replaced” with:
    solar array technician
    recycling engineer
    electric vehicle mechanic

    ________________________________________

    Do you really think someone tightening bolts on a roof is going to make the same income as a miner? I guess maybe if the man doing it is a goverment worker! Otherwise I am thinking a high school drop out could tighen a bolt.

    Of course your going to suggest some master level engineer is up on the roof installing solar panels! But let’s live in the real world. Do we have a structural engineer installing a roof today, or do we have some low wage worker doing it?

    And if by some freak of society we actually had your masters level engineer solar panel technician on the roof……. what is that installation job going to cost???

  13. on 30 Nov 2013 at 11:05Nathan M

    Heather – exactly. That was a particularly facile argument on Nathan’s part. No, I’m sure the vast majority couldn’t care less where their energy comes from. But to avoid the obvious next step, that some sources of energy will cost us significantly more, shows the typical lefty view that we should only consider things which make our argument look good, but ignore the massive flaws in the argument.

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