Monday, November 22, 2010

Why We Shouldn't Care About Global Warming

Thanksgiving is almost upon us, and that means plenty of time with the extended family. In my family, like most others, we have people from both sides of the political spectrum. And that means certain issues are bound to divide the dinner table. One of these is Global Warming. A few years ago, it seemed like Republicans and Democrats had finally reached agreement that it was a very real problem. But recently, Republicans have tended to be more vociferous about the "lingering doubts" and "shady science" surrounding Al Gore's favorite subject.

They're right about one thing. We shouldn't give a shit about Global Warming. In fact, the Earth would probably be a lot better off if we just forgot about the whole thing.

A recent study conducted by scientists at the University of California at Berkeley found that people just don't respond well to the dire, catastrophic worldview presented by Global Warming alarmists. The truth is, Global Warming seems so huge, so... global, that a lot of people have a hard time getting their heads around it.

People don't like the smell of smokestacks. They don't like mountains of trash. People don't like to see baby animals die, and they don't like being stuck in traffic behind some ancient car spewing fumes. People are inclined to want a clean place to live, and they naturally don't want things added to the environment that cause cancer and birth defects. But in people's day to day lives, they really don't think too much about icebergs and polar bears.

According to Wikipedia, Global Warming came into vogue in the late 1980's, when NASA scientist James E. Hansen said to Congress: "global warming has reached a level such that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and the observed warming." Why the press and the international community went wild over such a boring quote in such a boring setting, I have no idea.

But what Global Warming did was hijack environmentalism. Instead of arguing that smokestacks and inefficient cars made our country a less pleasant place to live, and hurt our health, the argument became: burning fossil fuels raises global temperatures by a small, difficult to notice degree that will harm the distant future of the world. Instead of arguing that burning fossil fuels is living on borrowed time, the argument became, burning fossil fuels shortens the lifespan of the Earth as a whole.

An industrial polluter, gas company or fan of muscle cars can't put up any argument that burning fossil fuels lays waste to surrounding areas and clogs up our lungs: we see the evidence every day, all around us. Stand on a street corner when a bus pulls up and idles-- you can smell that something's not quite right. Look outside at the neighborhood covered in freshly fallen snow... then look a few minutes later, when soot and grime rules out any snowman-building. With our own eyes, we see how disgusting pollution can be. Hell, drive through Newark sometime.

To polluters, Global Warming was a gift. A difficult-to-see, difficult-to-measure effect that even scientists admitted probably wouldn't bother any of us in our lifetimes. Global Warming could easily be dismissed with jokes about "Indian summers" and beach days in March. Global Warming even provided a great political cartoon character, Al Gore, who could be pilloried in conservative media and of course, South Park:

Our environment is vital to our health and our national security. Pollution puts food sources at risk, and has a measurable effect on lung health and quality of life. When it comes to pollution, air and otherwise, no one wants it in their backyard. Ask anyone, Republican or Democrat, if pollution is bad, and you won't hear anyone say no.

So lets stop harping on this Global Warming thing. Chances are, it's true, pollutants are contributing to a global rise in temperature that will eventually lead to Jake Gyllenhaal heroically saving a band of survivors hiding out in the New York Public Library after a supercell snowstorm sends the northern hemisphere into a new Ice Age. But that sounds ridiculous, and no one except Al Gore really worries too much about it.

Instead, talk about how our dependence on fossil fuels has made us indebted to places rife with terrorism and anti-American sentiment. Talk about how exhaust from gas-powered cars has been found to cause cancer and respiratory illness. Talk about the hundreds, thousands of reasons why caps on pollution are more than just wise, but necessary to prevent the escalating health care costs and deaths associated with burning fossil fuels. You can even get a bit wistful and talk about how all the resources on this planet today are all the resources we will ever have, and once they're used up, there will be nothing but toxic residue left for our future generations.

Just don't talk about Global Warming. It might as well not exist.

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