ColGlobe At The Spoof

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dominoes: Climate Change and the American Way

The Story So Far
Part 1 discussed peak production and global consumption  of fossil-based energy and other natural resources. Part 2 examined the interaction of the global economy with peak production and global warming. In this final segment, we will look at the economics of climate change, and what the changes mean to the American way of life. This is not about global warming, it is about the effects of growing insustainability, and the burden of even natural changes in climate.

The Debate
It is not necessary to believe in climate change. In all honesty, it has nothing to do with what we believe or disbelieve. You see, the debate that is raging is not about whether the climate is changing, but whether the changes have been brought about by human activities.  On one side, groups are saying that it is the use of carbon-based fuels which are pushing climate change. On the other side, groups that claim climate change is a natural cycle the planet goes through. This blog has many articles regarding what the pro-climate change groups are saying, so we will keep that side of the discussion to a minimum.

What The Skeptics Say
Skeptics of global warming point out that there have been warming and cooling trends on the planet for as far back as we are able to look. The evidence, they say, can be found in ice cores and tree rings. They freely admit that we are going through a warming trend, but tell us that trend is a repeating cycle, using examples such as the "year without a summer." The evidence they use is presented as proof that climate change is not the emergency many think, and that the changes we see happening right now will soon fade away and be forgotten.

What Does Global Warming Cost?
Let's look at how the global economy works again. It is based on carbon-based fuels such as coal, crude oil, and natural gas, and naturally available chemical elements. In order to move the world economy away from those things will cost many trillions of dollars. Everything about the American way of life will be affected, from the disposable diapers put on infants to the quality of care we are able to give our elderly. The food we eat and the clothes we wear are just as much a part of fossil fuel use as the cars we drive. Unless you grow your own food, make your own clothing and use natural resources to generate your own fuel, you are inextricably tied to fossil fuels.

Energy Refocus
To switch over to sustainable fuels from fossil fuels means that so much of our world has to change that it will put many large companies completely out of business. It means that many Americans will have to adjust to a lower standard of living. It means we all have to learn to do more with less. It will not only cost trillions of dollars, but it will entail the loss of many millions of jobs. There is a very good chance that the poorest segments of our population could die if things are not handled in a precise manner.

How Developing Countries Profit
Countries that are not currently industrialized have a lower dependence on crude oil. If they switch to sustainable energy sources, oil and energy companies will lose a tremendously large potential market. Additionally, those countries will be entering industrialization at a level that is technically above our own, because the United States will have to rebuild most of our energy infrastructure in order to use sustainable fuels.

Comparing Apples And Oranges
A good comparison would be the evolution of computers, where a whole generation resisted digital technology. Many older families are still without computers, while the younger generation has had them all their lives, and are often better able to make use of them than their older family members. Today's youth are comfortable with cellphones, wireless technology, and the global marketplace, they don't see a revolution in technology because this is the only technology they have ever known.

Government And Big Money
The biggest economic contributors to American democracy are oil companies and insurance companies. The people who hold the base currency, and the people who trade it. When the automakers began to fall, those companies, who depend on automobiles to drive their profits, stepped up to the plate in Washington D.C. Lobbying is nothing new in Washington, and one of the outcomes was that the government invested heavily in the auto industry in order to keep it from disappearing and putting many of the top economic contributors out of a job. If you have ever worked for a company that was considering layoffs, you know that many of the company employees suddenly began working harder and more efficiently because they didn't want to be the ones who lost their jobs.

Climate Change And Government
In order to make positive changes in our emissions, a lot has to be given up. Every job lost is a disappointed taxpayer, many of whom believe that their government has let them down. With the government in the middle. They face big business on one side, demanding that the government preserve their way of life, and angry citizens on the other demanding pretty much the same thing. Meanwhile, the government is faced with the fact that sustainability has been exceeded, and change is coming whether you like it or not. Still, who wants to be the person who says, "I'm sorry your whole town is out of work, but things have to change?"

Government And Climate Change
For most of the population, melting glaciers are happening in a far off place that will never be seen except in video. Polar bears live in zoos, and hardly anyone knows of any species in their neighborhood that are being pushed into extinction. Even those who do see the changes, such as the fishing industry, cannot conceive its loss. How does the government, faced with opposition on both sides, convince the people that snow and ice are more important than getting up each morning and going to the job? People can see the loss of jobs, and those are much more real than invisible gases in the atmosphere. And government sees those lost jobs as lost revenue, much the same way that big business does. The government itself is threatened by the fallout of climate change.

Climate Change And Jobs
Change is happening. It is coming in 100 years, or 50, or even 10. Change is happening right now. With or without approval, peak production is only a few years away at best, and the economic indicators say that it is happening right now, even as it is being vehemently denied. With or without government interference, millions and millions of people are going to lose their jobs. It is going to become difficult to choose between heating the home or feeding the family.

Postponing Adaptation
We do not have to agree to change. We can take the skeptical point of view, and continue with business as usual. If we do, our current jobs can be saved, but in another 5 or 10 years there will not be layoffs, there will be complete chaos. Instead of gradually building a new future, we could hold on to our existing one, much the way our parents resisted the personal computer. But doing so means that when the end of sustainable production is reached, everything comes to a complete halt. Power outages would become common, fuel and consumer goods and everything we treasure as the American Way will suddenly become too expensive to buy. And from there it will get worse.

Without Sustainable Action
If the sustainable energy has not been put into place before the decline following peak production, there will be a frantic scramble in the final decades of fossil fuels. Just like the fuel gauge in a vehicle, if we fail to take notice of the "low fuel" light, we are taking a chance on being left stranded by the side of the global highway. Meanwhile, those countries which moved ahead with sustainable technology a few paragraphs back will suddenly slip ahead of us. Perhaps they will wave a friendly hand as they glide by, or perhaps only lift a single finger in our direction.

Unavoidable Consequences
Economic hardships are on the horizon either way. We can invest today, and tighten our collective belts, or we can ignore the dictates of the planet, and lose our collective shirts. Oil companies can develop new methods of energy generation while they still have capital to invest, or they can hope to buy energy from someone else in the future. But which country will befriend us tomorrow if we turn our backs on the needs of the world today? And how exactly can we expect them to offer us aid if we were not willing to help ourselves while the opportunity still existed?

The Only Solution
No matter whether the climate warms or cools, or goes through periods of both, there is only one suitable option for humanity as a whole. We must learn to conserve our finite resources. We must develop sustainable food sources for a continuously growing population. We must develop affordable sustainable energy sources with low demands on natural resources. All natural resources, even water.

What You Can Do
Walk to the store instead of driving. Take shorter showers. Grow a home garden, even if it is only a few of your favorite vegetable plants. Eat less, it will make you healthier and reduce the waste products you throw away. Turn off the lights, this includes outside lights, or the lights in any room you are leaving, even if only for a few minutes. Don't replace appliances just because a new model is available, but only because your old one is no longer serviceable.

The Alternative
Without taking the suggested steps, you can look forward to some trying times. You will have less food available, and and increase in food-borne illness. You will have extreme water shortages, including rationing. You will not be able to afford the fuel oil for your home because your automobile has forced the price beyond your household budget. You will have to pay exorbitant prices for consumer goods, because the cost of materials will be prohibitive.