Amoeba’s Lorica: The Climate Crusade

Climate change march, NYCAs you may know, dear reader, there have been a few people parading around New York City in the past few days, shouting and singing and carrying on (whatever an “on” is – Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba did notice a few picket signs bobbing about, maybe that’s what they meant), demanding that somebody do something about climate change.

And, as you also may know, YFNA has been unfriendly enough to suggest that, for a fair number of these people, ”somebody” means “somebody else”. He has suggested, for example, that if you summed up the energy usage of the climate marchers for six months BM (Before March) and six months AM (After March), you would find very little difference. Which, YFNA argues, is not going to do a lot to prevent the Greenland ice cap from tobogganing into the Atlantic Ocean and making Iceland live up to its name, at least for a little while.

“So”, a Facebook friend writes, “what are you doing about it, Amoeba?” A fair question. To which, the only fair answer is “not nearly enough”.

YFNA does have the good fortune to live in a place where neither air conditioning nor heating is necessary. Which has to be counted on his side of the fossil-fuel-consumption scorecard. Especially when compared to most of the continental Untied States, which are essentially uninhabitable for nine months of the year without big-time energy expense, most of which comes from fossil fuels – without which, we could kiss forests goodbye.

His residence, thanks to the owners of same who suffer him to pay rent for the privilege (see ‘out of reach’, infra), is 100% solar powered, so his clean clothes are minimally carbon-soaked, and he contributes no coal to the Internet.

He drives the smallest, most energy-efficient car that he can afford (the electrics and the hybrids are out of reach), and he drives it as little as possible.

The goal of the industry in which he now works is to replace fossil fuels with sustainably-reproducible biomass fuels, which would at least add no more carbon to the atmosphere than it’s already trying, and failing, to hold.

And, yes. “All” this is not nearly enough.

It’s fine that YFNA has a little car. No car would be preferable. As was possible when he was living on an island in the Salish Sea, working at a place where climate science was being practiced – and the scientists patted him on the head, said ‘that’s nice’, and then drove home. But, to YFNA’s shame, “no car” is not now feasible. The distances that must be covered are too great for an Amoeba in his seventh decade to manage with feet or bike, and those gales of laughter in the background are from the townspeople, who just heard a tourist ask about “public transportation”.

It’s fine that YFNA is working on replacements to fossil fuels. But he realizes that this ‘noble quest’ does not give him carte blanche to trash the environment in its name. Which means he does not exactly feel wonderful about the Boeing 737 in which he is, as he writes, sitting. Which is whisking him to an algal biomass conference – traversing half the Pacific Ocean in the process, and spewing fossil carbon where it will do the least good the whole way.

Y’see, it’s like this. According to YFNA’s back-of-the-envelope calculations, our energy usage has to return to what it was before we had either cars or airplanes (to say nothing of central heating, or any kind of air conditioning), if we are to have any real hope of bringing Earth’s climate back somewhere close to what it was, any time in the next 200 years. So long as 80% of that energy comes from fossil fuels. And YFNA does not yet see where, from the ‘renewable energy’ spectrum, that 80% is going to come, at anything approaching a timetable that would make a difference to those now alive. If, somehow, the powers were to take the NYC climate march seriously, take the Climate Crusaders at their word, and act now to remove fossil carbon from the world’s energy portfolio, then a lot of people are going to be seriously worse off in the short to medium term. A whole lot of people.

And history has shown us that when a whole lot of people are seriously badly off (or perceive themselves to be), they are predisposed to be taken advantage of by all manner of demagoguery. Think Germany, 1933. Or Iraq, 2014 (just to pick on one small simmer spot in the ongoing cauldron of misery that is the Middle East). Or the nation of climate-change deniers.

The Christian religious community, for decades, has been aware of mass-conversion movements such as the Billy Graham Crusades. Which have, for decades, brought large numbers of converts to Christian churches – the net result of which has been a decline in church membership.

Yep, that’s right. A decline. Here’s the Twitter version of why, as YFNA understands the matter. A person, stressed about life, comes to a Graham Crusade and is told, “Accept Jesus into your heart, and you will be saved!!” Woo hoo, sign me up!

Fast forward six months. Jesus has done precious little to preserve the marriage, kick the habit, prop up the credit score. Especially the credit score, if he’s added a tithe to his other unmanageable debts. And he has probably discovered just how quickly those who claim to be his fellow Christians, upon seeing him bruised and bleeding, will walk to the other side of the road. Unless they’re selling him something (see ‘credit score’, supra). The ‘new convert’ had probably lived his previous life without paying much attention to Jesus. Now, he will return to that life badmouthing Jesus.

He might even join the ranks of the climate-change deniers.

For this (at long last) is YFNA’s concern, and his point. Amassing a whole lot of people and getting them to proclaim that they have got Jesus demand an immediate end to fossil fuel production (um … and consumption) is wonderful public relations. It will likely help the organizers pay off their mortgages, and get at least some of them seats at fancy dinner tables.

What will happen when these marchers discover that their rah-rah-rah has just made their lives harder? Will they not indeed join the ranks of the climate-change deniers? At least those guys promise there’ll be gas available for the car so they can get to their minimum-wage jobs in time to not be fired. And this time they’ll have nothing but hate for 350.org. Not to mention the climate-scientist frauds responsible for 350.org.

Would it not be better to tell people, up front, the whole story of fossil fuels, their uses and effects, and what their withdrawal, without credible replacements ready to step in, will do to their lives?

YFNA vividly remembers when, several years ago at that same laboratory in the Salish Sea, a colleague said, point blank, that it was NOT a good idea to tell We the People the whole truth about climate change, especially the bits that could hurt. “People will turn you off, and we will lose our funding.” Which is pretty much what happened to the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration a few years later, when it dared report the unvarnished science about fossil carbon and its effect on climate change.

Which basically means that We the People wish only to hear pleasant stories about Us and Our world. “… and if you wish Us to heed what you have to say, you’d better make it pretty. If that means propaganda, if that means lying, so be it. It’s what we’ve been trained to, ever since Sesame Street. It’s what we want.”

It’s gonna be a hard slog undoing two generations of Sesame Street indoctrination, but, YFNA argues, that’s exactly what will have to happen to develop a populace that can grasp the whole story of fossil-fuel-driven climate change, and gird its loins to bear the major pain we’re going to have to go through to fix things. Should anyone ask, here are actions that YFNA would like to see people undertake, in preference to vainglorious marching.

1. Ignore and vote down any and all anti-tax campaigns. The changes that have to come are going to cost major money, and it’s going to have to come out of all of our pockets. YFNA wonders how many of those marchers in NYC came from the Seattle area, where they participated in voting down funding for, and thereby forcing the gutting of, the public transportation system in that smog-bound, gridlocked city.

2. Ignore and vote down all ‘emotional’ political and social campaigns. Our future, YFNA argues, depends on an end to the slanging matches and a return to reasoned, dispassionate debate on the issues, in which all relevant points, including the distasteful ones, can be heard with safety and treated respectfully. Emotions can be manipulated, as every professional seller knows (“if you let the customer think, you have lost the sale”), and they must not be the basis on which complex, expensive decisions are made. Athletes, egged on by their audiences, have lost control of their emotions, on and off the field of play. Until they regain control, YFNA will no longer watch them. The same with politics. An emotional appeal, in YFNA’s political world, is automatically discounted; its maker, automatically disqualified.

3. Support approaches based on data, even when the data tell us things that are hard to hear. Do not support approaches based on ideology, even if the ideology really, really appeals to you.

In particular, support science and scientists. The slashing of public science budgets has caused many scientists to defect to the private sector, and the remainder to become so busy seeking funding that they have little time left to do science – or, having done any, to truly reflect about what they’ve done. Public or private, most scientists have lost independence – they will say and do what pleases the boss/shareholders, or gets the grant, not ‘docilely follow whither the data lead’ as a truly independent researcher must. Science, of the kind needed to truly get on top of the climate change problem, YFNA argues, is impossible without independence. But restoring that independence will require We the People to apply both money (see ‘anti-tax’, supra) and patience (see ‘emotions’, supra).

Finally, and above all:

4. Support meaningful efforts to control the human population. Population, YFNA thinks, is the elephant in the climate-change debate room – such a large elephant that, if it is not acknowledged and discussed, however uncomfortable that is going to be, there is no point bothering with any of the rest.

YFNA has long been convinced that the long-term carrying capacity of planet Earth for Homo sapiens is on the order of 300 – 500 million persons – about the current population of the USA, about one-third the current population of China. Fossil fuel use, YFNA argues, has – so far – permitted us to circumvent the bottlenecks of food, water, and disease that have previously kept human populations in check. With the fossil fuel subsidy, our population has exploded just as a population of any other kind of critter will do when granted release from food and water limitations, and pressures from disease and predation, and that population explosion has negated all of the gains in energy efficiency that we have so far been able to put in place.

Recent studies now project that the human population is growing even faster than previously thought – in other words, precisely in the wrong direction from the perspective of trying to manage the forces responsible for climate change. Moreover, because most of that population growth is occurring in areas of the world where the standard of living for most individuals is appalling, and raising that standard is a moral imperative, this population growth will put a disproportionately high additional pressure on carbon balances and, therefore, on the forces driving climate change. Because most of our tools for raising living standards are, as they have been, dependent on the use of fossil fuels.

YFNA thinks we can do this. But not with marches and cheerleaders and picket signs and climate change policy meetings in five-star hotels. It will take a lot of shutting up, and of giving up. Of silencing demagogues who scream “I know!!” to pack their halls and fatten their wallets, and heeding sober workers who tell what they know, be the news cheering or frightening, and finish with the quiet admission, “we’re still learning”. Of putting all emotions aside, except perhaps one: the determination to see the matter through, and come up with solutions that are, as nearly as can be achieved, for the good of all.

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One Response to Amoeba’s Lorica: The Climate Crusade

  1. Nathalie says:

    Excellent, thorough, well-thought-out answer. Thank you.

    I don’t disagree with any important part of it. I’m not the least bit worried about the planet. The planet will be fine. But humans will either eventually be extinct, after causing the extinction of many other things, or live in horrid conditions. So be it. All things work together for good. BUT, that’s in the big picture. Humans aren’t even in the big picture, in my opinion.

    Population control is problem one. Will religious groups allow that? Nope.

    Having less of everything is necessary. Will the typical American family get by sharing one car? Ha! On and on. In other words, what you said.

    Thanks for this article. (I’m still gonna march.)

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