Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Monday, September 23, 2013

See, There's Yer Problem

I've only been to Denver twice.  The first time I was a kid.  Well, an older kid, pushing 18  and checking out colleges, but still, a kid.  My dad and I checked out CU Boulder, and it was quite the little adventure.  We went to a restaurant that served shrimp cocktail like some Mexican places serve chips and salsa (naturally I'd remember the food, yeah, I know).  And there was a pillow fight on the airplane.  Remember when there were pillows on airplanes?  Oh, and we checked out the college,  too.  And I ended up not going there, which was fine.  If I'd gone there I'd have graduated with a huge amount of debt, like everybody else, and one of the few things I did right, financially speaking, was to get out of college scot-free.  (I wonder what the Scots think about that expression.)

Anyway, in Boulder, you're right in the Rockies.  I mean you're right on the side  of them.  But to get to Boulder, you have to go to Denver.  And I remember landing in Denver and looking out the window at the Rockies, which are some distance away and covered with haze, and thinking they looked like something out of the Lord of   the Rings and wondering when Frodo would show up, holding a ring and looking seriously tired.  Then there's my more recent trip to Denver, which took place, uh, today.  And I landed at the airport (different airport) and looked out the window (same old round window) and I could hardly see the Rockies.  I mean, forget being covered with mist.  They were just like not even there.  And I realized it wasn't  "mist I saw the first time, but smog (Smaug?), and if Frodo was going to show up with a ring, it was going to say "Standard Oil Co." on the inside instead of "Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Put This On."  (That's what it said, right? Only in Elvish?)

Which brings us to the subject of peak oil, global warming, hydrocarbons in the atmosphere and, oh, the end of life on Earth.

See, hydrocarbons in the air, besides being ugly and bad for us, are also bad for lots of other living things.  They trap heat, which makes the overall temperature of the planet go up. It's already gone up about .6 of a degree Celsius since the mid-1800s when we started burning oil.  This is important, because most scientists think that we can only afford to let the planet get 2.0 degrees Celsius warmer than it was then without risking major weather changes, coastal flooding, desertification of farmland (which is exactly what it sounds like) and plenty of other things that wouldn't be any too pleasant.  And all of which would damage crop futures, cause the commodities market to crash, drag the stock market down with it and create financial chaos and mayhem on a global scale.

So, again, we're already up .6 of a degree. Also, all the hydrocarbons we've put into the atmosphere to date, even if we stopped today, will raise it another .6 of a degree. So we have .4 of a degree left, and that means we have to stop burning oil, coal, natural gas and every other fossil fuel you can think of by...2028.

Yep. About 15 years. And here's yer problem with THAT.  Oil companies don't have value because of the oil that's in the tanker ships, on its way here, or the oil that's in the pipeline and is on its way to the port of Riyadh. (Does Riyadh have a port? Somebody get me a map.)  No, that stuff's already paid for. Oil companies have value because of the oil they'll be pulling out of the ground next  year, and the year after that.  It's called "mineral rights."  Mineral rights go with the land they're attached to, and they're sometimes much more valuable than the land itself.  Tell oil companies that they can't pull any more oil out of the ground after 2028 and not only do they  go after you with every lawyer they can find, they lose value so fast that they race the stock market to the bottom.  And there's financial chaos and mayhem on a global scale.

But: If we let the oil companies pull the rest of that oil out of the ground, and burn it all, we'll raise the temperature of the planet about 10-12 degrees Celsius.  And that would be an extinction level event--for us, anyway.

I've more or less got the whole global-warming denial thing figured out.  It's really pretty simple.  For one thing, it looks like an unsolvable problem. So if you don't believe that temperatures are rising all over Earth, or if you believe that they're rising but it's not the fault of humans, just a natural process, then you don't need to change anything.  We can go blithely on, doing exactly what we're doing, and everybody can continue to make money and there won't be any financial chaos or mayhem. Er, until  the desertification and the global flooding and so on.  Which will happen after we're  gone, so that's okay, and anyway, technology will solve all of our problems.

Uh huh.

But: We have until 2028. Wind power, solar, nuclear and so on aren't practical right now because oil is still so cheap, but if we took that 15 years and developed  those technologies, we could bring all of them online when we need them.  Individually none of them will be enough, but together they might be.

Course, we might need to lower our standards a little. Have one car instead of three. Commute by train instead of driving. Change our cities so that we live close to our jobs, so we can walk to the supermarket.  In short, live more like they do in Europe and Japan. We could throw in socialized medicine, too, while we're at it.

We have time.  We just need to do it.  So we don't have to look back at our kids and grandkids when we're 75 and answer the Big Question, "Why did you do this to us?" with something like, "To make a quick buck."  Because, honestly, that's a lousy reason to destroy a nice habitable planet.  They're kinda rare, ya know.

No comments: