Climate Change: Pointless Debate

Disclaimer: For the record, I am not financed by any  energy company, oil company, any other corporation, or even conservation organizations. I do believe in the global increase of temperatures and the catalyzing effect human’s society has had on this process.

In a recent article, Business: Blue and Green, the author Michael Sutton, Vice President at the Center for the Future of the Oceans, in Monterey, referred to a report published in 2009 by the Stanford University’s Center for Ocean Solutions. In it, the writers of the “Pacific Ocean Synthesis” concluded that climate change was the ultimate threat to the ocean and coastal environments. The second biggest threat was pollution and the third, overfishing.

In October 2011, Yale Environment 360 posted on their site that Europeans believed climate change was an even greater threat than the current economic crisis, and second worldwide only to poverty.

Back in November 2010, online magazine Grist bore the headline “Climate change and consumerism are the biggest threats to future, U.N.  warns”

In 2004, UK Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir David King said climate change was the most severe problem faced by the world, even greater than terrorism.

Friends of the Earth, Europe, “the largest grassroots environmental network in Europe campaigning for sustainable solutions to benefit the planet, people and our common future”, goes as far as to demand climate justice! For this group and so many others, climate change is the biggest threat our planet is facing!

For others, it is the biggest threat our planet has ever faced! Bigger than the 1918 flu pandemic that killed 75 million people or 3% of the world population – the equivalent of 210 million today. Bigger than the Black Death, which between 1300s and 1720s killed more than 100 million people, roughly 25% of the world population back then – and equivalent to 2.25 billion people today. Bigger than smallpox, measles, malaria which, combined together have killed close to a billion people in the last century. Bigger than the first and second world war with casualties close to 100 million or the Lushan Rebellion that took away 15% of the world’s population back in 755.

Those are extremely serious statements!

What is climate change anyway? According to Wikipedia, it is “a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average (e.g., more or fewer extreme weather events). Climate change may be limited to a specific region or may occur across the whole earth.” 

By following the logic, climate change has essentially been a threat since the beginning of time. First, temperatures went down, then up, down, and finally slightly up again. At one point, glaciers covered most of the Americas. At another the Sahara was green. The fact is that temperatures on earth have been nothing but stable. It has been a constant roller coster with certain periods more drastic than others. At that point, the following argument is presented: “All these were not created by humans, like now”. Yes, I agree, so what?

Imagine a room full of people. Imagine all these people smoking cigarettes. The air fills up with smoke and various chemicals. The floor becomes thick with cigarette butts, making barely possible to move. Physically, people turn yellow, and constantly cough. When one of them dies, his chest is opened to reveal black asphalt-like lungs.  Yet we keep smoking. Puff after puff, gradually and surely, the air in the room becomes hotter and hotter. Whether it is all this combustion, or the fact that the smoke can’t escape, no one really knows, but then, who really cares? People live, breath and eat cigarettes. They sell packs of them to each other. The more they smoke, the better. This is called “growth”. Their lives are literally consumed by cigarettes. Then, one day, someone takes his shirt off sighing how hot it is. Sure enough, the group of people, now crammed by their numbers and the amount of trash they find themselves in, start to argue about the meaning of such a phenomenon. What could cause this unpleasant feeling? Or is it a pleasant one? Who really knows. One celebrates this new reality, he is more of a tropical type. While the other complains, he was more comfortable before. People take sides. Everybody has an opinion. Yet, people still smoke, because that is what these people do. Should they try to reduce the temperature? Maybe, but, how? One of them proposes to make cigarettes that make less smoke. Another comes up with the idea of making a machine that filters the smoke. Because the smoke is the enemy right? Or is it the cigarette? Why not start recycling them. Maybe that will fix the problem. How about creating biodegradable ones? Should they stop smoking? Preposterous! What are they going to do if they can’t smoke? The problem is not their habit of smoking, but rather how they smoke. There must be a solution somewhere that will fix this problem and keep them happy and smoking.

Our society is addicted to consumerism and whether climate change is a direct consequence, is absolutely irrelevant. Even if the world stopped today, even if the global economic power shut down tomorrow (which will not happen), temperatures would most likely still go up for god knows how long.

Instead of attacking the source of the problem, our lifestyle, our values, our system and its obvious, concrete, and irrefutable consequences – pollution, ocean acidification, disappearance of fish stocks, total destruction of the environment – so obvious in fact that no one can argue about them, we have had to focus our attention and debate on something so conceptual and evolutionary insignificant as the rise in temperatures on a global scale. In our view, it is not our lifestyle that is the biggest threat to the planet but rather an environmental event! It is not our unstoppable consumption, but rather a problem of applying it. We are the smartest species ever existed, the pinnacle of evolution, the enlightened ones. Or the elected ones, chosen by God – whatever God you believe in. How could we be at fault? How could our idea of growth and society be so erroneous?

Climate change is an economy of believers and deniers, with people in between who simply don’t know what to do. What can they do anyway? Sign a petition to curb carbon emission? Everyone who is not personally involved in the debate (meaning everyone that does not make a living out of the climate change debate) is honestly overwhelmed by the topic. What does climate change mean to them? Why is it that they have to make an effort while the economy and the governments are not? They have to feed their families, make a living and survive – what does climate change have to do with them?

Not only climate change is empty of any meaning, but it is also moving the most pressing issues away. Do we really need to focus on the melting glaciers, which have been melting for centuries (yes, even if they are melting faster now) when our rivers are loaded with chemicals, when billions of pounds of trash are dumped in the ocean, or when global energy demand, which is based largely on fossil fuels, is expected to increase 35% by 2030? Do we really need the face of a polar bear cub having a hard time finding food to remind us that we are doing something wrong? Our problem is straightforward: growth and consumerism. Unfortunately, as the Guardian points out, no one is ready to slow down:

The global mining, oil and gas industries have expanded so fast in the last decade they are now leading to large-scale “landgrabbing” and are threatening farming and water supplies, according to a report by environment and development groups in Europe, Africa and India. The catalogue of devastation is growing. We are no longer talking about isolated pockets of destruction and pollution. In just 10 years, iron ore production has more than doubled, coal has risen 45% and metals like lithium by 125%. Across Africa, Latin America and Asia, more and more lands, rivers and aquifers are being devoured by mining activities. “Industrial wastelands are being formed by vast open-pit mines and mountain top removal, and the poisoning of water systems, deforestation, and the contamination of topsoil,”

Or as the Economist puts it:

Like China, (India) is ploughing resources into nuclear power, oil-and-gas exploration and imports, and renewable energy. Like China, too, however, India finds coal the obvious option. It is something it has plenty of – already the world’s third – largest producer, it has the world’s fifth-biggest coal reserves. But it cannot exploit them fast enough to meet demand. In fact, output has not increased for two years. Coal India, the state monopoly, blames the difficulty of securing mining permits. So India may soon become the world’s biggest coal importer. On current trends, as estimated by McKinsey, India’s carbon emissions will increase by about two-and-a-half times by 2030, by which time its power industry alone will account for about one-tenth of the total rise in global emissions. Like China’s government, India’s points out that, per head, its people will still be producing far less carbon dioxide than Americans or Australians (though China is rapidly catching up with some European countries in pollution per person). And, in India’s case, total emissions (at 5 billion–6.5 billion tonnes) will remain well below China’s.

Andrew Simms, in the Guardian, writes about the lessons we could learn from previous collapsed societies. Still he fears that we are repeating the same mistakes: “our own response, reaching for the crutches of technological fixes and intensification in both agriculture and energy, are ways to keep our existing lifestyles and patterns of consumption going, rather than seeking out social innovations and different ways to live”.

Independently of the climate, our lifestyle is simply unsustainable. We can argue about how hot it is, or drill to find out what it was like million of years ago, but it will change absolutely nothing. It’s all part of a Kool-Aid we love to drink and debate on. Self centered and pretentious, we argue about the consequences while staying away from the real causes. Our god complex is so elevated that we need to place ourselves at the center of a planetary event.

Doomsday predictions on theories have always been good for movies and to sell newspapers and magazines but extremely hard for the public to grasp. Not because they don’t hold some truth, but simply because they are not physical. If the media was not there to constantly remind us, day after day, every single day of the year, that climate change is the biggest challenge our world is facing, no one would even notice. All these predictions end up sounding more like “end of days” prophecies, shouted to who ever wants to listen. And that is part of the problem. Climate change is an observation, or rather an ideology debated on beliefs. For some it will be good and for others, it will be bad. How can we compare that to historical and factual events where hundreds of millions died?

Lets stop wasting the hundreds of millions spent on a science that is highly questionable and biased, depending on which side you stand, and lets invest in ways to decrease our impact and perhaps rethink, and reassess the principles and values by which we live. Lets look at past Empires, Societies and Global Powers that have collapsed and learn from them. If we are so intelligent, it shouldn’t be a problem right?

“In our disenchanted, post-religious, ultra-technological era, catastrophes can no longer be rendered meaningful as part of a natural cycle or as an expression of divine wrath … like the anthropomorphic universe, magically designed for man’s comfort, the so-called balance of nature, which humankind brutally destroys with its hubris, is a myth … Catastrophes are part of natural history … Gradual or sudden change in our environment, about which science can do little more than offer a warning, may force unheard-of social and cultural transformations … Maybe it’s time to reverse our concept of what is possible and what isn’t; maybe we should accept the impossibility of omnipotent immortality and consider the possibility of radical social change. If nature is no longer a stable order on which we can rely, then our society should also change if we want to survive in a nature that is no longer the good caring mother, but a pale and indifferent one.”  Slavo Zizek

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