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Traveling, living, loving, exploring and trying to make some semblance of sense out of this crazy world.  

 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Reach For The Skies, an alternate answer to climate change extremism


Global warming.

Climate change.


Three decades of speculation and predictions ranging from grim to ridiculous.


We were told that by now the polar ice caps would be surf on the shores of Appalachia and the Sierras.  Polar bears were to have begun dying in record numbers as they found greater and greater distances opening between ice floes, pestilence and disease would run rampant as winter vanished and global drought spread to the few places still above the waves.


Or was it that New York would freeze solid after a tidal waves swept over the Himalayas…?


Whichever form of apocalypse was predicted, it hasn’t happened. Not to the degree or at the rate predicted.  To be honest, if it weren't for the media hype, you would be hard-pressed to find much evidence or effect of this "disaster".


Then again, we’re throwing darts at a pretty big board, and betting on outcomes our grandchildren won't live to see.  Set against a background of millions of years, our data collection period is tiny, a blip in geological time. 


Nor is the data devoid of inconsistencies, fabrications, distortions and large gaps, like the massive shut-down of weather stations that followed the end of the Soviet Union, or the ongoing decommissioning of our own military bases around the world.


But instead of acknowledging these problems and working toward an intelligent response, through a world-wide dialogue, we instead see the discussion carried on over our heads by bureaucrats and academics who barely deign to acknowledge the existence, much less the importance of the “common man on the street” as they gather behind armed guards in distant venues to decide the world’s fate over a catered organic luncheon.


What emerges are usually regulations that end up hurting only small and local businesses with fines that are easily paid and regulations that are routinely broken by larger companies (the ones who actually hosted the meeting in Zurich or Brussels or any other place the average working Joe or Josephine won’t be flying this weekend).  Then all of the people who were so concerned about the environment get back in their private, armored limousines, with their security detail and secretaries, and drive back to the airport to board their private jet for the flight back to whichever capital of capitol they call home, while the scientists Skype and upload to their blogs and hope the answers will secure another year of funding.


The third world sees the corporate empires and the superpowers once again nodding their heads in solemn agreement that they, the meek, must wait a few more generations to inherit the earth that our appetites are reaping from under their feet, torn from under mountains and fouling the waters to profit the same captains of industry and personalities who created and feed on our current self-involved society, no matter how “off the grid” we may conceive ourselves to be.


And “on the street” that is the internet and the press, the middle class and the poor see celebrities from every background staking a claim on their share of the limelight as politicians thunder support and denials; lots of talk, not much action.


What should be straightforward answers to admittedly complex questions are emotionalized to the point of melodrama, a series of ever-changing dire predictions meant not to find answers or encourage discussion, but to instead drive us into a frenzy of regulation and compliance and what amounts to neo-Luddism.


Is our climate changing?


Yes.


Is mankind contributing to that change?


Yes.


Can mankind stop those changes without devastating the entire planetary economy and dooming our grandchildren to lives of dysfunctional regulation and government intrusion on a planet that will quite likely die anyway with the first unlucky asteroid or active supervolcano (like the one under Yellowstone)?


Yes.


Really?


Yes.  With courage and sacrifice and vision, with an equality of risk and opportunity for every nation and every human, there may be a future for Earth, and definitely for humans.


Is the answer in carbon caps or recycling or alternative energy?


Well, yes and no. Yes, eventually, and to some degree, and certainly the time to improve what we know is now.  I love the idea of battery cars and solar panels, virtual marketplaces and work-from-home.  I watched the Jetsons every day after school as a kid.


But this is reality, and the reality is, no matter how green your product, it most likely requires you to dig it up, cut it down, pick it, squeeze it out, refine it, manufacture it, package it, prep it for transport, usually by a combination of internal combustion vehicles, freight trains, and/or via massive engines across vast oceans or through the skies, to distribution points and service centers which were, mostly, not built of green materials or using eco-friendly techniques, which consume vast amounts of energy for lighting and equipment, where marketing of some sort will be required to sell it to consumers who will probably throw it away instead of recycling it.  Even the movement of data requires huge amounts of electricity which is, in most cases, generated by burning coal which is taken from the rubble of what were once quiet mountainsides in Appalachia.  This presents a bit of an oxymoron when so many of the eco-warrior proponents of green technologies use so much electricity in maintaining their careers as well as spreading their words among the faithful.


The same clan that “knows” how to lessen our impact love to sell glib pseudo-answers by painting a glowing future of determined environmentalists rolling up their ethical sleeves to march resolutely toward clean skies and air, restored forests and dolphins dancing with whales in emerald seas; new answers and alternative energies.


Paradoxically, the same idealists have time and again inflamed the social media, marched and written angry, emotional letters to stop a hydroelectric dam from endangering stocked fish migrations (in some cases actually demolishing functional structures in a country whose infrastructure is a fading memory).  

They put their faces in magazines and on billboards, have spoken out at film festivals and music awards, demonstrated against a nuclear power plant or, closer to home, shot down a proposed wind farm that would have replaced tons of coal as it created new local jobs and attitudes toward alternative energy and science in general, instead of leaving the local people wondering why, once again, humans had to do without because the project was potentially endangering some animal or another, in this case bats that were already dying by the hundreds from entirely different causes.


The odds of a bat being killed were lower than the odds of winning the Powerball Lottery, but humans lost anyway. 


(Not the humans who stopped the project, or dam, or power plant, no, they rarely stand to lose a thing to their idealism.  Most of the time, they don’t live near the thing they protest, and wouldn’t know or care unless a newsletter told them they should.)


I have no problem with activism.  It founded this country, made important changes in human rights, and ended more than one war.  I have a problem with activists who do not walk it like they talk it. 


I have no problem with science- I’ve been a science fiction fan since picking up “I, Robot” at the tender age of 11, which was just a few years after we set foot on the moon. I watched the shuttle development and read sci-fi and science magazines and Nova, had a subscription to Scientific American and took every science class I could cram into in high school. I kept up with scientific and technological progress, and then watched our space program slowly die through the development of the Internet and the chaos we know as cyberspace and the social media, the biggest platform for climate change “experts”.


I have no problem with global climate change discussions except that there is no discussion.


People who “know what they are talking about” simply do not. I spent three years with two very thorough, very critical professors in biology and chemistry, and the rest of my life so far reading books by even more demanding scientists.  If you have not read the data yourself, if you have not actually done the math, not just what is defined for you but the things that occur to you, even if they lead nowhere; if you cannot ensure the validity of test results, records and measurements, then you “know” only what you have been told.  

And what passes for information these days is often produced by people who are looking for research grants and political clout, vying for tenure and publication and sometimes just wanting to be part of something much larger.


Are there scientists out there trying to quantify this problem with no agenda but the search for truth?


Inevitably, but the inconvenient truth is that among them there are people who do not support the current model of change, who refute several pivotal points of global warming theories, who are far from agreement on a “solution” to our current situation or if it even represents a true crisis.


More troubling is the fact that more than one scientist who supports the claim of catastrophe has calculated that even if we shut off every facet of our technology that produces carbon emissions, carbon levels will continue to rise for another century, and a meaningful change in greenhouse gas levels would not happen within the next 500 years.


They are shouted down as “deniers”, instead of consideration being given to them as accomplished and peer-reviewed scholars in their own rights, outside this issue.  Anyone who points out the emerging school of doubt, no matter how they may have reduced their own impact or how frugal their lives may be, will soon find themselves a pariah, who will be lumped in with the owners of monster trucks, Duck Dynasty T-shirts and Confederate flags, or treated like dangerous criminals.  


Anyone attempting to point out the fallacies or debate the accuracy of data can count on being rabidly attacked by online communities and discounted by celebrities who mouth the dogma of climate change responsibility and activism while they publish photos, video, and interviews, fly from coast to coast or across the oceans, update their Facebook ethics, tweet, and participate in sports and gatherings, conventions and careers whose impact on the planet matches that of some small countries.


I don’t look for my answers from fame in the first place, but so many of the people I respected as individualists and renegades are scrambling for the bandwagon, people who seemed to have found a place at the edge where they had moved beyond the politics and power games and fame stepping obediently into line with popular culture and giving expert advice on a subject they truthfully know little or nothing about.


Too many of the climate change experts offer nothing but cause and effect answers.  Their only refuge seems to be dogma: Live Simply So That Others May Simply Live (ignore my BMW, stereo and flat screen, and why do you hate dogs?).  Reduce (your expectations), Reuse (the stuff I give away for credit at REI and still write off my taxes), and Recycle (see all my Mondavi bottles in the trash?  New vineyard, just planted in ’85, used to be a small family farm, got it for the back taxes, can you imagine?).  Today’s scientists seem forever bent on regurgitating failed ideas in new permutations, determined to legislate and regulate us into Eco-Heaven Here on Earth.


But the answer is not to be found here, on Earth.


The answer is up there, where John Glenn’s footprints are still waiting for us to come back and see them in person.  The answers are there, at the center of our planetary orbit, pushing out more energy in a second than we have used in all of human history, and there, in the Lagrange points where we can use the energy of that sun to forge and mold the materials lying there in the form of dust on the back of the Moon, or in chunks from fist to city size in the asteroid belts, in the atmosphere of Venus and on the arid plains of Mars.


The talking heads will no doubt scream of pollution, of the pressing needs of the poor, of the risks of terrorism and corruption.  Ask them to compare the total pollution of the company manufacturing their skis, their parachute and hang glider, their climbing equipment, or their yacht, just for a single year.  Ask them about the children who are manufacturing those items in Asia. Now ask them how many lives will be changed for the better by continuing to manufacture those items, and exactly how it will benefit the planet in the next twenty years.  Ask them just how many of the top people in their field come from third world nations, and how much that is changing the lives of every single person where those unlikely few come from.


And remember that, in the age of space exploration, no one seemed very worried or excited that yet another hypoxic athlete had scaled or skied off of yet another frozen chunk somewhere in the Himalaya or the Karakoram, sailed across the ocean faster than the other millionaires, or got killed jumping off of a cliff in a squirrel suit.  Fame is a much greater addiction that fossil fuel, and sponsors don't like playing second fiddle to national survival and programs on which they cannot cash in.


Madness is continuing to do the same things and expecting new conclusions. Space manufacturing, resource extraction, colonization and exploration starts to look a lot less fantastic, and a lot more promising, compared to the insanity of trying to fix the exercise wheel from inside the rat cage.


You do not have to grow up wealthy or politically connected to be a colonist or an explorer.  In the age of the remote control, you need not even be an athlete.  Astronauts work with math skills that are taught in high school, or were, when we still had schools more worried about education that cultural diversity or slowing down an entire education process for the slowest learners and newest arrivals.  No one has to be an astronaut, but allow those who could to soar, instead of tethering them forever to someone who, no matter how Pollyanna your philosophies of nurture vs nature, is never going to be anything but a clerk, a mechanic, or a plant worker.  

No, I am not an intellectual elitist- we need every one of those positions, waitresses and tattoo artists, carpenters and landscapers as well as engineers and scientists and explorers.  It has always been the dreams and sweat and sacrifice of the people “on the street” that have inspired and driven the engine of mankind’s greatest accomplishments, and it always will be those dreams that carry us through the darkness.


But if we are to make the intuitive and creative leaps necessary to find those new answers and truly create alternative energy sources and devices, we need children who are educated and inspired to reach beyond their limits, and goals that will not simply make the same few corporations a few more billion dollars for nothing of consequence.  We need more than regulations and policies that do nothing to advance the species and everything to cement the power of those who do not want us off the surface and out from under their control.


The difference between government and business grow smaller by the day, because, increasingly, corporations control our governments with lobbyists and contributions above and below-board, while more and more politicians leave “public service” to work for the same companies that are bending and breaking laws designed to protect the environment and the citizens.  Once they are done being “servants of the people”, most become businessmen, and businessmen love monopolies.  Competition is for the birds, as anyone who has ever had to design and fund an ad or re-election campaign against a superior competitor will tell you. Scare people bad enough, give them no options, and they’ll buy anything, at any price.


At present, we have only one planet on which to produce and purchase goods, be they cars, vegetables, forms of government or the modes of exchange.  Our market is, in effect, bounded by the same atmosphere we are poisoning to make the goods we need and so deeply desire.


But instead of looking up, beyond that atmosphere, to where we have already set foot and explored, however briefly, we look around, bewildered, at the sea of conflicting information and opinions.  We drive in cars made of ultralight materials and listen to digitized music and still somehow believe that there is no value in space, as orbiting satellites give us road and weather information that saves lives and increases harvests, while others map the depths of the ocean and explore the furthest corners of the earth.  With fragments of the moon and the history of spaceflight proudly on display in our nation’s capital city, we are mesmerized by the cult of personality and well-presented “scientific” docudramas into searching for hope in the dirt between our feet. 


Instead of dreaming of the stars and following those who dared to be different, we look to the same earthbound people who got us into this mess: talking heads with little or no actual scientific training using space-age materials and technology while preaching minimalism for others and practicing a mysticism that almost excludes technological advancement. 


We listen to researchers who weren’t quite smart enough or competitive enough to make it at NASA or Goddard or Virgin (and, sadly, some who were), in universities and think-tanks that are not grant-funded to tell us that we need to divide our eggs among more baskets, who would not dare suggest that we create new forms of government and commerce, not here, but a hundred thousand miles out of reach of the interests which currently have a stranglehold on those powers and the profits of change.


Those are the people behind the voices crying “Wolf” instead of an intelligent response to climate change.  Those are the people who would love for mankind to forget our dream of the stars, to reduce our expectations, let the probes and remote sensors and drones take all the risks.  It offends certain climate change proponents that we worry less about the atmosphere than getting above it so that we may survive the worst-case scenarios, instead of bravely, stupidly going down with the ship.  It annoys some tech-heads that humans ever survived going into space before decades of their hallowed scientific probes had paved the way and that some of them, a dwindling minority of dreamers, still believe that we should and ultimately must do so again and in great numbers, if we are to survive as a species, and if we are to have any hope of healing this planet.


But, in the end, in the midst of the fury on the forum and the internet, I recall that no one remembers the guys like me, who cheered for space flight and were forever changed by that dream come true. Just as it is not technicians or the designers of those first spacecraft that we remember, beyond the names of Goddard and Von Braun and the other pioneers.  It is not the designation of the landers or the space buggies or the deep space orbiters that live in the minds of those who saw, and the imaginations of children around the globe. It is not those “experts” who decried the pollution, the expense, or the risks.


It is the men and women who explored and triumphed, inspired and in some cases died.  It is the human being, so far from home, and surrounded by death and desolation, who saw, beyond the answers and horizons of this world, a new frontier, and who took one small step for a human, one giant leap for Mankind.



If I have a problem with all of our answers, it is not that they reach too far, but that they do not reach far enough.




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