I heard (didn't see) that Al Gore got an Oscar for his "Inconvenient Truth" movie about global warming. Now, this post isn't a swipe at Gore, or the movie (I rarely see documentaries, and this one sure won't be on my list... "Ghost Rider," however, was right up my alley). Nor is it meant to suggest that I want to single-handedly destroy the environment, or that I am insensitive to thought of drowning polar bears or submerged cities or all the rest of the stuff we associate with the worst-case scenarios in enviro-catastrophe-land. I just have questions.
My first question is, is this warming thing really happening? I read sometimes that every decent scientist says "yes." Then I read elsewhere that some say "no." Then I read that the earth has gone through cycles of warming and cooling, and warming again. Then I read that a global warming conference in DC two weeks ago didn't meet due to the snowstorms. Then I read that it's warmer now, but that the process isn't man-made. And finally I read that the data they have doesn't go back far enough to tell us anything. I honestly don't know what to make of it. And some of the folks that seem sure, on both sides, seem TOO sure for my taste--as if their surety isn't the least bit dependent upon science, but instead is agenda-driven.
Secondly, if there IS global warming, what are the genuine, realistic risks? Is it a tenth of a degree over 100 years, or the melting of all the ice at the North Pole and time for an ark? I think I'd buy the whole theory more if the predictions were just a little less dire.
Next, assuming it's real, and the consequences are bad, what can we do about it... again, realistically? I know the senate shot down the original Kyoto treaty by 90-some votes, mainly because it exempted "developing" countries, like India and China, so they could go on burning coal while we in the west are all buying hybrid cars. How much does our effort buy us in terms of relief? Can we make enough difference to overcome 3 billion Asians' bad environmental behavior? Or do we all have to get on board to avoid doom? And what, exactly, is the prescription? Are we talking recycle and carpool, or are we talking the end of the internal combustion engine?
Finally, what's the opportunity cost? We all know that a 20-mph speed limit would save numerous lives. But we don't have one because it's just plain not worth it to spend the time. Likewise, what is the cost--in dollars, in lives, in convenience, in quality of life--of doing what it takes to get the benefits/avoid the pains of global warming? If, for example, the cost of saving a million lives in 100 years is $4 gas, fine. I'll pay. But if it's 250,000 lives in the next 10 years lost as third-world nations are stunted in their development, that reads differently. If it's major world-wide economic depression of 1930s proportions, that needs to be weighed, too. Again, I have no clue. But it seems to me that somebody ought to be asking these questions.
None of this is to say that we should just bury our heads in the sand, or behave badly on purpose until it is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that our actions have consequences. Conservation, "green" behavior, and the like are worthwhile even if there is no imminent threat of cataclysm. I just wish I heard less doom and gloom, less posturing, and more genuine, thoughtful discussion of the issue. Any of my maybe a dozen regular readers got a clue about this stuff?