Joe: As you know, we are experiencing serious fires, floods, heatwaves and droughts. We have global threats demanding solutions. According to Michael Mann, who directs the Earth System Science Center at Penn State, “the rise in extreme weather events is exceeding the predictions.”
So, tell me, Ken, as economic and human costs rise to unthinkable levels, are you ready yet to forgo beef, recycle more, use public transport, attack CO2 emissions driven by industry and do whatever is necessary to mobilize the country to address climate change?
Ken: My gosh! All those disasters that you say are all directly and proportionally linked to climate change? OK, let’s, for now, concede cause and effect — that the Earth seems to be undergoing climate change and a rising atmospheric CO2 level seems to be correlated and likely responsible for the rising temperature and the ensuing disasters. The CO2 rise is due to human activity that uses energy derived from the combustion of fossil fuels.
It’s interesting that we have just experienced a global viral pandemic leading to 18 months of a sharp reduction in the use of fossil fuels in the U.S. and much of the world. Commercial air travel was cut to close to zero; automobile travel was greatly reduced in both commuting and away from home trips. Many businesses were shuttered and offices closed and all public performances canceled.
Moreover, there has been significant progress in producing electric power using renewable resources, solar and wind, instead of coal-fired generation. New cars are smaller and lighter with small-displacement engines; the new LED lightbulbs that everyone is using are vastly more than either incandescent or fluorescent. And so, what has happened to that atmospheric CO2 level? It stayed almost unchanged.
And that makes me think that we are underestimating what it will take to reverse climate change, a fix being conceivably possible only if that our original assumptions are valid. We are looking at a vast change amounting to the destruction of the middle-class lifestyle in America. Must we revert to the subsistence level existence of the troglodytes — on just faith that we have things figured out correctly? That reminds me of a comic bit from Peter Cook and Dudley Moore where they are discussing religion. Cook says he believes in God and goes to the Christian church because he wants to go to Heaven when he dies. Moore replies that he also attends services but he is afraid that when he gets to Heaven, “there will be Buddha laughing all over his face.” Maybe we should be thinking more in terms of adapting to climate change and less about reversing it.
Joe: Considering that Trump, during his administration, has referred to climate change as “nonexistent” and “an expensive hoax” with its advocates being “prophets of doom;” that the deniers and skeptics of climate change are prolific, with many even believing that 94 million cattle in the U.S. roaming around does little in jacking up global warming; that many states have no plans for reversing climate change, mitigating the adverse effects of climate change or mobilizing the citizenry and educating them on how to adapt to coming economic and social consequences wrought by global warming; that Congress has a lack of initiative for “collective action” on global warming even though it is imposing tremendous costs, which will only get worse, I probably should agree with you, namely, that nothing is going to change and everyone should just adapt.
But I don’t agree. As climate change issues worsen, the younger and middle-aged generations (let’s use those under 50) will, at some point, come to grips with the realization that “collective action” is immediately needed due to the incredible impact it begins having on their lives and their children’s lives economically and socially. Another triggering event for “collective action” that may come sooner is an abrupt global warming catastrophe. This is discussed in Judge Richard Posner’s book “Catastrophe: Risk and Response.” My point is that sitting around doing nothing but adapting makes little sense.
Ken: I see your point, but I think you missed mine. If all the anti-warming actions up to now, combined with all the draconian measures taken while fighting COVID the last 18 months, have failed to make a measurable decrease in atmospheric CO2, is it even possible to reverse climate change? Even if we eliminate fossil fuel consumption? And if we do, will we still have some sort of civilization left?
How can we get the billions of people living in developing countries on board? As of now, per capita energy usage of a group of people is pretty well correlated with their standard of living. We, in the U.S., are used to heating our homes in winter and cooling in summer; we are used to a certain level of mobility with personal and public transportation options. Can we live with electric power for only a few hours per day? Even if we revert to subsistence farming, will I be able to keep a flatulent ox to help me turn the soil? But I’m less worried than you seem to be.
Money talks: I know that for almost $12 million, Barack and Michelle Obama recently bought an estate on the Atlantic shore of Martha’s Vineyard that is only a few feet above sea level. Who would know better what lies ahead?
Joe: Money does talk. When you think about the Obamas’ ocean property, you may want to consider what is going on in Miami, where they have three-quarters of a trillion dollars in residential real estate. There, they are drawing up plans for a massive $6 billion 20-foot sea wall for storm surge protection.
They want federal dollars to pay for it. This in a tax-free state where the majority of their voters, their two senators and governor deny the climate crisis. Should this be a federal problem solved with our tax dollars? This is only the beginning.
Dr. Ken Johnston has been an ENT surgeon in Kankakee since 1976. He has been on several community boards and has been involved with clubs and organizations. He has lived in Bourbonnais since 1981. He can be contacted through the Daily Journal at firstname.lastname@example.org or directly at Ken_Johnston@comcast.net.
Joe Yurgine is a practicing attorney, “Of Counsel” with Corboy & Demetrio, Chicago. He can be contacted through the Daily Journal at email@example.com or directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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