Thursday, May 31, 2007

Speaking of Greenhouse Gases

Michael Griffin, a NASA big wig was interviewed on NPR this morning. Was there a Bush goon waiting in the wings to exile Griffin if he uttered anything politically inconvenient? Griffin was so cautious and obfuscatory when the conversation turned to global warming that you’ll have to forgive me for imagining as much.

Two things he said particularly irritated my sense of reality. First off, “I am not sure it is fair to say [global] warming is a problem me must wrestle with (sic). To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of Earth's climate today is the optimal climate.” This after he acknowledged the scientific consensus that global warming exists, and homo sapiens activity is driving it. Global demand for fossil fuel is increasing. In so far as our excess emissions contribute to the rising mercury, as long as this trend continues all signs point to continued global warming. Put aside whether the current climate is optimal or not. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that our societies are adapted to the current climate, so as the climate changes we will have to do things differently. Plants are already migrating towards the poles, and native Alaskans, beleagured by melting permafrost in the other direction. These are just two examples. Whether you are a shipping tycoon hoping for newly navigable trans-arctic routes, or a farmer worrying about desertification, climate change is “a matter requiring a solution”—a problem. At this point, pretending otherwise is a stale argument.

Later Griffin accuses folks who want to deal with global warming of arrogance and wanting to decide “which climate is best for all human beings.” Demagogues of all stripes play this card. They call the opposition an alienated elite who wants to rule the average joe, all in order to imply their side stands up for the common man. But what an odd time to pull that trick! Americans, roughly 5% of the worlds population, didn’t consult the rest of the world before bingeing on fossil fuels. We have already played a disproportionate role in altering the world’s climate. It is hard to acknowledge that global warming has an anthropogenic component and ignore that. Griffin’s claim just draws more attention to our arrogance.

If you want to learn more about denial, listen to Griffin’s interview. If you want to learn about Global Warming check out the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

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