Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman, in a press conference following release of the UN Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change report earlier this month, made an interesting comment. Asked why the Bush administration has been opposed to experimenting with carbon caps for American industry, he said, “The U.S. economy is not something to be experimented with, in my judgment.”
Hold on! Isn’t what the Bush administration, and indeed the whole US, has been and is doing, in refusing to deal with global warming, really experimenting not with just an economy, but with the entire biosphere of the earth—that extraordinarily narrow band of climate that sustains life? Aren’t they experimenting right now with the fate of humanity and the millions of life forms that share the planet with us?
How is it that we can be perfectly willing to “experiment” with the survival of the planet and our species, but not with the U.S. economy?
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What boggles my mind is this: If the overwhelming majority of climate scientists are correct, the Earth, thanks to an experiment called industrialization, is headed irreversibly into a period of intense warming not seen in the history of mankind, and perhaps not seen since the end of the dinosaur era some 55 million years ago. If the overwhelming majority of climate scientists are correct, this experiment gone wrong threatens to destroy most life on the planet, and certainly the civilization that we humans have developed over the last 10,000 or so years. Given all this, isn’t a little experimentation with the American economy aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and perhaps deferring catastrophe worth a shot?
I mean, what are we talking about here? Let’s say the government was to impose strict carbon emission limits on American industry. Say that we passed a law requiring power plants to reduce their carbon emissions by 50 percent over the next 10 years, whether by new technologies or simply by reducing production of electricity. And say we reduced auto carbon emissions by ordering all vehicles to get a minimum of 50 miles per gallon of gas by 2017—roughly double the current average. What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe we’d see economic growth decline by a few points. Maybe we’d even have a recession. That would be unfortunate, especially for people who lost jobs because of a slowdown. But what’s the tradeoff here?
What’s the worst that could happen if we don’t cut carbon emissions from power plants and automobiles over the next 10 years?
Well, the worst that could happen is that global warming could accelerate (remember, every estimate of the pace of global warming over the last decade has been higher than the last one, so we should be prepared for more bad news). That means the world gets hotter, critical croplands get drier, storms get bigger, and economic losses due to these problems grow—perhaps leading to a serious global economic slowdown. But it could also mean that Siberia’s permafrost could melt faster, and that the 4000 billion tons of methane trapped under that permafrost could start boiling into the atmosphere faster. If that came to pass, we could have temperatures far hotter than predicted by the latest UN report. Indeed, with methane gas 24 times as potent a global warming blanket as carbon dioxide, we could find ourselves facing a run-away heating scenario that could turn most of the world into a desert.
The U.S. economy is not something to be experimented with? Is this guy serious?
Besides, the Bush administration, which claims the only valid way to run an economy is to leave it alone to “market forces,” which says that tinkering with market forces is ipso facto a bad idea, has been quietly plotting ways to tinker with the earth’s weather in a big way. According to a number of reports, the same Bush administration that won’t experiment even with something as benign as carbon trading, is funding research into projects like producing a sun-blocking smog layer of sulfur dioxide in the stratosphere, or launching gigantic mirrors into orbit to block some of the sun’s light from reaching earth.
One assumes that Bodman’s alleged fear of economic experimentation stems from concerns that such experiments could lead to negative consequences. Well, just what do these guys think might happen as a consequence of tampering with the sunlight? Cut the amount of solar radiation reaching earth, and you wreak havoc on crop production everywhere—including places where millions, even billions of people can’t afford even a minor crop loss. (Such actions by one country, I might note, would clearly be an act of war against the other nations of the world.) And what about that smog layer? Eventually, the sulfur dioxide will break down into sulfuric acid and fall on land and sea, adding to already worsening acidification problems in both places.
When you consider all this, the Bush administration, and its obstinate and criminal six-year stall on dealing with global warming, starts to look like a kind of Borat government. Stupid statements are launched into the media, where they are treated as though they were serious and worthy of serious consideration. Stupid policies are initiated, and funded by Congress as though they were rational. Stupid people are nominated to office and given responsibility as though they were genuine public servants and skilled managers. The Democrats in Congress, and the voters who put all these people, Republican and Democrat, in power, are looking like Borat’s unwitting extras—taking it all seriously, and acting as though what we had in Washington was a real government of dedicated public servants.
Meanwhile, a vast experiment with the earth as test subject is running wild, like a mad scientist’s unattended array or tubes and flasks. The bunson burners are blasting, the test tubes are boiling over, caustic steam is billowing everywhere, and Borat-Bush and Borat-Bodman are outside the lab, warning the citizens not to experiment.
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