Making change from climate change — or not.

Of late there has been a flurry of opinions thrown about regarding different capitalistic models to profit from climate change. Ostensibly, if we pick the right model, we can both make money and save the planet. Right…

Similarly, in Ontario, we have a government announcing that they were intent on having 20,000 megawatts of the provincial power supply provided by ‘renewables’ — which is interesting considering that currently the published generation capability is 27,000 megawatts — 12,000 is nuclear and 8,000 is hydroelectric. Today the Province was using 17,000 megawatts and there was very little wind. But rural areas are going to be carpet-bombed with these huge pinwheels over their strenuous objections. And so far the bulk of the power produced has to be dumped at fire sale prices. And to protect the grid, the power authority has been granted the ability to pay the wind folks for not generating power based on what they could have produced if we could have used it. No, I am not making this up…

Guess the problem of saving the planet has gotten tangled up with the need for the ‘right’ people to make money off it. Reducing emissions has become entangled with pricing ‘carbon’ and produced trade-able certificates that can be bought and sold for a profit. Similarly, Enron introduced a model for electricity markets where one speculated on future power prices to protect ones’ costs — interesting that Ontario is still very quietly trying to pursue that model. May have something to do with having Enron as advisers on how to make the Ontario power system ‘modern’…

The climate has been changing since the Earth first coalesced from the dust of the solar system. Change is perhaps the only constant. Every week one reads about some new relationship being discovered that influences climate. It ranges from shifts in the orbit and planetary orientation to the sun, through variations in solar cycles, to emission of gasses that trap infrared and conspire to produce a greenhouse effect — Venus is an extreme case. These gasses include carbon dioxide — the result of human respiration and combustion processes and methane — the result of animal flatulence, permafrost decomposition and clathrate decomposition. The latter is due to methane seeps on the ocean floor that crystallize as vast field of solids under deep sea pressures and temperatures. Problem is that as the seas warm this stuff is turning to gas and joining the party. Human emissions from fires, transportation and industry are part of the problem — but only part.

Now I am reasonably sure that industrial civilization, striving to burn anything they could get their hands on, have been big contributors to this mess. But since we are not the largest contributor it is only hubris that would lead us to suggest that any one series of actions would ‘save the planet’. We fuss about not having made accurate predictions about ISIS and yet they used the internet to spread their propaganda and had lots of folks watching them. How accurate do we really think our ideas of how the climate is changing and what, specifically, we can do to influence this — given that the atmosphere is a complex product of the actions of a very complicated global system [of which I think we have at best a few guesses but no real grasp] and the action of a large pile of people who do things for their own reasons.

I am inclined to think that the best thing we can do is worry about how to help all those people who are being affected by climate change. And develop strategies for how to adapt to a warmer and drier/wetter world (depending upon where you live). And leave the ‘who’s fault is it’ and who will pay discussions for the lawyers in a later and hopefully smarter time. Burning less is always a good idea. Those petrochemicals are likely far more valuable as feedstocks for chemical synthesis. And ethanol… give me a break. Putting ethanol in gasoline was an idea from the 1930s to improve farm income in the Depression. That we do it now to save the planet is ludicrous — infernal combustion engines run more poorly on it than without. If the goal was to reduce GHG than this really is not a solution.

My concern is that with climate change we are on the brink of the largest forced migrations in human history. And putting up the concertina wire to discourage immigration simply magnifies the eventual problems. So we will chase the ghost of emission credits, alternate technologies and so forth. But one suspects that the climate will continue to change regardless.

Meanwhile, the real elephant in the room is there are just too many people. We are the ultimate invasive species. Look at where we have been — we cut down all the trees, drink all the water and dig up everything that might be profitable. And when we have wrecked that place we move on. I have seen sober analysis that suggests if there were 1 billion people the Earth could absorb whatever we do. But 7 billion or 9 billion or more? We are rapidly over-running the carrying capacity of spaceship Earth. The real climate change problem is that this invasive species (us) is consuming the planet — we need to control our numbers or go elsewhere or both. Personally, I would vote for going elsewhere — just basic monkey curiosity if nothing else. I want to see our species go to the stars — nothing else will be enough.

What is Truth?

A story in the Globe and Mail about issues with TFW (temporary foreign worker) usage brought to mind a fundamental question — what is ‘truth’? For years we have seen stories in the media about the cutbacks in actual reporting and the increased reliance on central news agencies to supply our daily fixes. My wife and I find it mildly amusing to watch how a story propagates through the various online media — somewhat like the old joke about nerve transmission rates in dinosaurs (historic and corporate).

With most issues we are besieged with opinions about things — more how we should feel about them than what they are. Climate change is a good example but there are many, many others. With a little reflection it occurs that our reading habits orbit around the style of writing and editorial slant of the news services. I read the New York Times and the Globe, not the Sun (and not because I don’t like looking at scantily dressed females…) and never Fox (or is it faux?). Sorry, my tastes are showing…

It may be that ‘truth’ is a terribly difficult thing to pin down when it comes to human affairs. Physical things are different — simple math is sufficient, for example, to calculate the amount of energy released when a big rock slams into the planet at orbital speeds. But with people — particularly how people see the world around them and their relationship to it, it is much messier.

Research tells us that the vision process is filtered through the brain regions for memory — so what we see is to some extent controlled by our experience and cultural rules. Two people of wildly different social backgrounds, perhaps, for example, a wealthy Chinese person and a marginalized Detroiter, could see the same scene and describe it very differently. Or see the same circumstances and formulate very different thoughts about what can and should be done, if anything. So it is probably not unreasonable to think that if these two individuals were writing a news story it might be very different — a third party might not even recognize the two stories as being about the same event. And I would suggest that in the end the flavor of the story would govern how we responded to it based on whether it resonated or jarred our own sensibilities. Indeed I suspect that what we chose as our sources of information about the world is likely governed by precisely those kinds of factors.

Then we need to layer onto this mess the idea that the filtering process of news generation would emphasize some items and ignore others — and likely create a few more because it seemed artistically right to do so. A cynic would refer to this as embroidering on the ‘truth’ or worse. Or perhaps improving on the ‘truthiness’ of the story. In one episode of Babylon 5, a scifi TV series, a character used the term ‘realfact’ to describe events as they actually occurred. And ‘goodfacts’ for events as supportive of the current government talking points — the ‘spin’ du jour. Corporations shovel out many of them as well, by the way.

As I have gotten older and seen more of the world and heard differing descriptions of events, I find it is harder to be judgmental about many things. Deliberately reading a multiplicity of news sources is a quick way to get there… Al Jazerra, NHK news, Pravda and the New York Times sometimes see very different worlds. What makes it harder is that sometimes one of the actors flatly refuses to explain their reasons for things in recognizable terms. Why is China seemingly working so hard to destroy the culture of the Uyghirs and Tibetans? Or the mess in Ukraine? (Though I confess that in these cases it is more for the quietness of my spirit and intellectual curiosity than anything else.) Or, closer to home, why is the Ontario government so obsessed with covering the landscape with huge wind turbines over the protests of the residents and a demonstrated inability to use the power? This one matters to me — there are five of the things across the channel and the threat of 37 more surrounding me on this little island. And as a retiree our power bill is the second largest cost, rising more rapidly than taxes [freezing in the dark is so unattractive…].

And so, being aware that I am surrounded by a shifting sea of ‘goodfacts’ and probably would not recognize a ‘realfact’ if it hit me in the nose. I suspect that in the old days peoples’ world horizons were much smaller — video from the other side of the planet really changes appearances. News stories about these distant places were much easier to mentally reframe when it was largely an act of imagination, I am sure. Some of the old reportage was probably true. Some of the current stuff is too. Damned if I know how to tell which is which if I have no personal experiences to compare it with. Did we ever? Anyhow it seems the answer if we want one to the question ‘what is truth’ is ‘a beautiful flower than smells bad’. It is truely depressing how many things that applies to.