Monday, November 19, 2012

Street protests and climate change marches on the White House

Last week, a friend sent me a notice that Bill McKibbon would be speaking at the University of Minnesota for the reasonable price of $12.  Friend knows I read him on occasion and this would be a good chance to hear him live.  But the truth is, I didn't feel much like going.  It's not so much the $12 to hear a speech on a subject I have been following pretty religiously since the 1980s, or the fact that I have long ago set a high bar of where I will drive at night during the winter, it's the drive.  McKibbon is calling these speaking gigs his "Do the Math!" tour.  Good idea Bill!  My math tells me I would drive about 95 miles round trip—a distance that as recently as 100 years ago was a two-day trip on a horse.  The CO2 output of my car is roughly 1 kg (2.2 pounds) every 4 km (2.5 miles) so I would pump approximately 38 kg. (84 pounds) of CO2 into the atmosphere to make my little trip.  Hardly enough to change the climate, but when millions of people take drives like this—it adds up.

So today, I was delighted to discover that McKibbon's kickoff event would be livestreamed.  I could check out the action without the CO2 guilt.  I had some pretty high expectation considering how much I like his writings.  What I got was an almost prefect representation for how utterly irrelevant the Gandhian demonstration / civil disobedience model for social change is for addressing a problem as basic to the real economy as climate change.  When McKibbon announced that they had enough demonstrators to encircle the White House, I wanted to go "Bill!  Baby! This isn't 1930s India and climate change isn't the Salt Tax."  But don't take my word—watch the video linked above.

Time for the USA environmental movement to grow up!

My basic difference from most folks who write about climate change is that I believe that merely acknowledging its existence barely qualifies as a good start. I am only impressed by people who have reached the stage: Of course climate change is real—now what are we going to do about it?  I am especially impressed by those individuals, companies, and countries who have actually made some part of the solution work.

The amount of reality one must deny to deny that the climate is changing is so great, the deniers can be categorized as clinically delusional.  So let's not even engage such people in conversation.  They are simply wasting our time.  (And causing substantial intellectual damage because they are delaying the switch to the conversation about how we accomplish the necessary conversion to a solar-powered future.)

But even when we choose to ignore the delusional, this doesn't even begin to address the bigger problem—which is that even most of those who accept that the climate is changing have only a vague understanding of what that means.  They are in a form of denial too.  They know the climate is changing but somehow it's not them causing it.  It's those bad-guy coal companies, greedy automakers, right-wing know the drill.  It's not their car starting 4000 fires per mile. It's not their cheaply-built energy-wasting homes built thousands of miles from farms and water sources.  Etc.  How can they take responsibility for their own actions—they haven't even thought about these issues?  Besides they "cannot" be at fault because they have been sorting their garbage since 1987 and have an endangered-habitat license plate on their SUV.

It dawned on me the other day that the real obstacle to doing anything meaningful about climate change was not the mouth-breathing yahoos who deny that anything is happening (or if it is, it isn't being caused by human actions but is probably god's will).  My guess that these folks will soon be marginalized like the members of the flat-earth society.  Unfortunately, even IF you ignore the mouth-breathers, you are still stuck with the sincere people who believe that climate change is a problem but somehow the effects can be mitigated with simple solutions—air drying the laundry, caulking up the leaks in old homes, etc.  You know, the "50 easy ways to save the planet" crowd.  The tea-baggers may have been replaced as the problem children by the NPR-listening totebaggers.

So I decided to conduct an small experiment.  I would write a deliberately provocative piece commenting on the uselessness / wickedness of totebag liberalism as it concerned climate change.  I posted it on a thread attached to one of those aren't-the denialists-stupid-and-naughty dairies over at DailyKos (which is arguably the epicenter of totebag liberalism in these United States.)  I wanted to see if I could get the totebaggers angry with me.  I was not disappointed.  You can see the comments it generated here.  This is what I wrote.
"Liberal" climate change denialism

Or Al Gore denialism, if you please. You remember our pal Al—the guy who made a reasonably serious movie about the climate change problems and then screwed up the ending with some of the lamest suggestions known to the human race. And then to prove he really didn't get it, takes the money he made from the movie and built one of the most irresponsible energy-hog MacMansions in Tennessee.

Also remember, his "BIG" cure for climate change was "cap and trade" which is nothing more than an update on the idea of indulgences—the disgusting notion that you can redeem your sins by spending money. An idea so outrageous it triggered the Protestant Reformation in 1517.

See, Liberals like to think they are morally and intellectual superior because they accept the idea that the climate is changing. But their denialism is just as profound because they refuse to acknowledge just how massive the problem is or how expensive and socially disruptive it will be to solve it.

When someone starts talking about climate change, I usually ask them how much they think it will cost to fix it. Any figure less than $100 Trillion and I just assume they aren't serious.
The totebag denialism was thick on the ground.  Some folks wanted to defend Al Gore although serious environmentalists in the rest of the world blame him for sabotaging the Kyoto Protocols of 1997.  I was blasted as ignorant for comparing cap-and-trade to religious indulgences.  I was reminded that cap-and-trade was legitimate because it was a right-wing free-market idea that had a pretty good track record for reducing the sulfur dioxide that was causing acid rain.  Nobody seemed to notice that a strategy for controlling sulfer dioxide emissions caused by a handful of sources may not work when applied to the production of carbon dioxide which is produced by absolutely everyone.  And of course, I was blasted because supposedly Al Gore's home wasn't the energy hog I made it out to be.

(I find this last claim particularly galling because I have been writing about energy-efficient homes since 1974 and know folks who have built net-zero structures with a tiny fraction of the resources available to Mr. Inconvenient Truth.  If Gore was serious about climate change, he could have built a home using all the state-of-the-art energy-saving devices.  Just imagine the hardware suppliers lining up to be part of Al Gore's "perfect" energy-efficient home.  But Al chose to pass on this golden opportunity to set an example.  Yet read the comments linked above—some Kos liberals wrote that those criticisms of his house were simply a right-wing attack on our noble Al.  Totebag environmentalism—defending the indefensible...again.)

Not surprisingly, no one chose to make an issue of my $100 Trillion figure—which was disappointing since I have been defending that number off and on since 1991.  They have not even thought about what building a society that has figured out how to survive without fire might actually cost.  But I can assure you, they KNOW we cannot afford THAT.  I mean, haven't you seen the debt clock in Times Square?

I wonder if that particular piece of nonsense survived Sandy.

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