Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Global Warming

I have never written about the extent to which humans are causing the Earth’s temperature to warm, for the simple reason that I don’t know much about it. I know essentially nothing about how particular human activities will affect the temperature at particular times, in particular places in the future. This is not just because I am not an expert in climatology, although that is an important reason for me to stay quiet (a reason many commenters on the subject ignore), but because predicting the specifics of future climate is next to impossible in any event because of the complexity of the problem. At this point, scientists can give us a date yet urgent pronouncements about how "the temperature worldwide" will rise, but by how much in various places around the world they can at this point say little.

However, over the years I have learned a little and very imprecise bit about how human societies work, how humans react to various incentives, and the trade-offs they are and are not willing to make to achieve various goals. The pure science of global warming may ultimately prove to be nothing more than a series of wild-ass guesses. In a famous speech, the science novelist Michael Crichton argued that the science of global warming is not science at all, relying as it does mostly on computer modeling fitted to the past rather than making testable predictions and then testing them. He has argued that for us to take the human-caused climate change hypothesis seriously, and to be asked to make tremendous sacrifices on its account, its advocates first must do something as elementary as predicting what global temperatures will be over the next 20 years.

But for purposes of this discussion I am willing to stipulate that the globe is getting warmer, and that human activity is a big part of the reason why. I'm far more concerned in the question that comes next: what do we do about it? Both the environmental movement and many scientists who specialize in the promotion of human-induced global warming as a hypothesis that is almost certainly true are confident of the fact that the consequences will be extraordinarily severe, and that we must take dramatic action to halt the problem now. (As an aside, I have never understood why these advocates have accepted the term "climate change," which I have heard was originally promoted by industrial interests, as a substitute for the seemingly more threatening term "global warming.")

Scientists and environmentalists reveal little understanding in these arguments about how humans best adjust to change. People generally don't do it by willing, unquestioning obedience to a master plan developed by experts. (On some occasions in the past they have done it up to a point – gunpoint, that is – in reaction to the demands of a police state.) Instead, the way that humans solve problems most effectively is in a decentralized way, where property owners individually respond to the incentives they face. If the climate warms, certain areas of the planet will become more hospitable to some kinds of human activity (living, farming, etc.) and less hospitable to others, and other areas will do the opposite. Will Canada become warmer and more hospitable to the warm weather crops? Will coastal areas in many countries become uninhabitable because of repeated flooding? No one knows. But entrepreneurs will respond to whatever changed environments they discover and will move land (and other resources) from previous uses to new ones. Coastal housing and business property that finds itself more under siege from the tides will move inland; it will be replaced by businesses more appropriate to that sort of environment – recreation, e.g. And some clever entrepreneurs will figure out ways to accommodate the change without dramatically overhauling resource use – figuring out new technologies to continue to make farmland productive in areas where the changing climate might otherwise make it less so, figuring out how to defend coastal land from the encroaching sea. If the Dutch could do the latter in previous centuries by reclaiming coastal lands and turning it into farmland, surely that will not be beyond the capacity of profit-seeking businessmen responding to the wishes of those who inhabit coastal areas.

In an article published in a PR magazine put out by Tufts University, several professors of engineering there describe the dramatic impact that global warming will have on the Boston area. Almost lost in the details is a note that in the last century much of Boston has already sunk by six inches. Somehow, Boston still stands. Despite the absence of any grand, heroic, government-directed efforts to accommodate this change, people dealt with it. They did it one economic decision at a time – one decision to use this acre of land for this purpose instead of that, one decision not to fund this project and fund that one instead. And ultimately this will be the best way to react to whatever changes we bring about, even if they are severe ones. The alternative – a grand effort directed by scientists and other experts to "do something" – will be as ineffective (and downright harmful, in both the economic and the broader human-rights sense) as anything ever dreamed up by a Soviet planner.

This point is important because of another basic truth about the global-warming problem – that dealing with it by substantially constraining human possibilities to live better is simply out of the question. That Canada and many European nations have failed thus far to adhere to even the modest constraints imposed by the Kyoto agreement is a sign that the costs of dealing with global warming by radically redoing the way we live are simply unacceptable even in rich countries. The idea that hundreds of millions of desperately poor people in places like China, India, and elsewhere in the developing world would willingly forego the miracles of industrialization to deal with a problem that is (a) of uncertain size, (b) perhaps far in the future, by which time clever, self-interested people will have figured out ways to deal with it, and (c) substantially caused at this point by Westerners in any event is preposterous on its face. One can certainly lament the unfairness of it – the idea that the millions of people on the desperately crowded coasts of Bangladesh or who live on Pacific islands in danger of being eliminated by rising seas bear much of the burden of changes to which they contribute very little. But ultimately that gets us nowhere. The most important thing we in the West can do to minimize the consequences is not to hector one another for our excesses and dream up grand UN-led schemes to bring the personal lives of all of humanity under greater and greater collective scrutiny, but to provide everyone potentially damaged by global warming with more options to cope with it – in other words, by promoting economic growth, the very thing so demonized by many environmental activists concerned about global warming to begin with.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature.

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

Subject : In a fast society slow emotions become extinct.
Subject : A thinking mind cannot feel.
Subject : Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys the planet.
Subject : Environment can never be saved as long as cities exist.

Emotion is what we experience during gaps in our thinking.

If there are no gaps there is no emotion.

Today people are thinking all the time and are mistaking thought (words/ language) for emotion.

When society switches-over from physical work (agriculture) to mental work (scientific/ industrial/ financial/ fast visuals/ fast words ) the speed of thinking keeps on accelerating and the gaps between thinking go on decreasing.

There comes a time when there are almost no gaps.

People become incapable of experiencing/ tolerating gaps.

Emotion ends.

Man becomes machine.

A society that speeds up mentally experiences every mental slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A ( travelling )society that speeds up physically experiences every physical slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A society that entertains itself daily experiences every non-entertaining moment as Depression / Anxiety.





To read the complete article please follow either of these links :




2:27 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

When society switches-over from physical work (agriculture) to mental work (scientific/ industrial/ financial/ fast visuals/ fast words ) the speed of thinking keeps on accelerating and the gaps between thinking go on decreasing.

It is of course the fast-thinking scientific/industrial/financial/fast visual/fast words world that enables us to communicate via the Internet in the first place. Perhaps it's best to leave it at that. :)

3:58 PM  

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