12 December 2019
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Climate Change (For Joe)

With Very Little Panic, No Recrimination, and a Solution That You May or May Not Like, Which Will Probably Work

Hey Joe! Very much like the song of that name:
There are many many versions of climate change issues and "solutions."
Very much like the Irish Ballad sung by Tom Lehrer:
You've yourself to blame if it's too long/You should never have let me begin.

I have a buddy Joe, who is a person of judicious temperament. He is blessed and cursed by having friends who promulgate screeds to their internet mailing lists of which he, willy nilly, is a listee. These screeds are usually, although not always, politically partisan. Whether or not political, they seek to convince the recipient that (pick A or B):

  • A: "Green energy" is necessary for the salvation of the planet or B: it's useless and counterproductive.
  • A: Climate change is a myth. B: Climate change will destroy us all, and very soon at that.
  • A; Electric cars are brilliant. B: Electric cars are stupid. (I'm not anthropomorphizing here, but give it another few years and it may be literally true.)

I, too, am A: blessed and B: cursed with a judicious temperament, and Joe is aware of this. He often transmits these screeds to me with a request for my opinion. It can be difficult to supply only one, especially as the screeds are disjointed, containing any number of assertions that have various degrees of truth (or, often, of sanity). Of course there are more dichotomies in these screeds, especially in the political ones, than just the three above. As a blogger with a finite lifetime, I'll just babble a bit about those for now.

Do We Currently Have the Ideal Climate?

Of course not. I was chilly today, and I wish it had been warmer. That's the problem, isn't it? There most likely isn't one person on earth who doesn't occasionally wish for something different in temperature or precipitation. Even in Sedona, close to idyllic, there are days of rain, days of cold, days of unwelcome obnubilation. As a human being and citizen of the United States, it is my right to complain about any of these, and even to be inconsistent in my whinage. Boringly, I would like every day to be sunny and clement, with rain restricted to those hours I'm sleeping, and any necessary lightning restricted to when I remember to disconnect my antennas. I would welcome "climate change" that would grant me these boons. I'm sure farmers, pacific ocean denizens whose islands are barely proud of the ocean, and desert dwellers have their own disparate and presumably more exigent desires.

But, obviously, climate change, if climate change there be, will have winners and losers. If I'm more comfortable and your island sinks under the waves, I guess you're the loser. Can we therefore agree that, even if there is an ideal climate, we don't know exactly what it is and we don't even know how to define it? That maybe some climate change will be beneficial in the aggregate? That being said, I think most (but not all!) will agree that if mankind somehow causes all life to be swept from earth by fire or ice, that would be "bad." So, at the very least, absent agreement on an ideal climate, we should do our best to prevent either of those extremes.

<suspense>Is Climate Change Real?

Of course it is. If you're the ultimate "denier" and think mankind makes no difference at all, you're wrong. (The words "fool" and "idiot" come to mind, too, but remember the "judicious temperament" comment above.)</suspense> The only way deniers can be right is if somehow, miraculously, whatever it is we're doing with our CO2 spewage and other activities precisely balances what would have happened "naturally." Ich glaube mein hamster bohnert.

At least for now, let's agree that we earthlings are committing acts of climate change, we are eager to prevent extremes of climate change, and will never get it exactly right.



I've long wondered how people can be so silly about their candidate solutions to fixing the anthropogenic climate change problem. After (and before) all, climate is largely a matter of energy balance. The "forcing" effect of the enormous energy output of the sun interacting with the diverse, subtle, and countervailing terrestrial features such as clouds, the oceans, the albedo of the north pole, the color of your driveway, and the human effect on those features and others.

Unless, Arisia-like, we can come up with a perfect "model" of climate and arrange our affairs to precisely prevent any change at all, (which isn't necessarily a good thing,) we are going to fail if we attempt to "prevent" climate change. Whether we are "deniers" or exponents of some overweening greenishness, we're going to have some climate change. Sorry.

Does this mean we should ignore the climate situation and hope for the best? No! We just need to do two things.

My Two Things

1: Exercise common sense. The vast majority of humans will not change overnight. In order to stop spewing carbon dioxide immediately, we would have to, inter alia, stop driving until we all get electric cars powered by sunlight, and, yes, stop breathing. We are in a crazy political season where we seem to be forced to choose between the deniers and the fanatics.

Deniers: See above! Climate change is both present and, essentially, inevitable. Can you at least agree that it would be nice to keep it under control?

Fanatics: Let me get a little personal here, OK? As a moderately prosperous citizen of a wealthy nation, I am—personally—doing a good bit to minimize my contribution to the problem. I have an electric car and solar cells that generate more than enough energy, albeit circuitously, to get me where I'm going. I've recently discovered that this may be called "virtue signaling" but I'm OK with that. I don't generally "crave" meat but sometimes I want a hamburger and if you're not OK with that, I don't care and I'm not likely to change. Oh yes, the United States, wealthy nation that it is, isn't going to convince the rest of the world to change. Remember China's burning coal mines? I have no idea whether that's improved, but there's a lot of coal out there, and a lot of mines. So, do buy an electric car or use a bicycle if that works for you, eat less meat, try not to reproduce so often, use LEDs, and do what you conveniently can to help the environment. Common sense. I have no illusion that you'll do any more than that.

Neither denial nor fanaticism is going to solve the problem.

2: Start Working on Geoengineering

Now who's the fanatic? Maybe I am. But maybe not.

There was a wonderful scene in the brilliant Aaron Sorkin/Jeff Daniels serial Newsroom in which a putative government expert was interviewed on the teevee by Daniels in his role as a newscaster. The expert said that it was too late to do anything to stop radical climate change and that we are all doomed. Fun to watch, but he could have been right.

Although I don't actually believe that, it doesn't matter what I or you or the deniers or the fanatics believe. It may be that we are already and ineluctably on a course to runaway, positive-feedback overheating such as seems to be the case on the planet Venus. While we believe with some truth that humans have control over greenhouse gases, it is obvious that we won't exercise the necessary control no matter the exhortations of forces for good. And we have no control at all over cosmic ray density, the solar constant*, and possibly other phenomena in this occasionally dangerous galaxy. "Geoengineering" is shorthand for developing a process and apparatus that will adjust the earth's albedo to reduce solar climate forcing enough to counterbalance the energy absorption caused by anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane, along with other causes of heating.

Q: Is geoengineering even possible?
A: Volcanoes know how to do it
Q: Can we afford to do it?
A: Can we afford not to?

Glib as the above sounds, it's necessary and, most importantly, possible. As desirable as it might seem to simply exhort, legislate, and tax the world into compliance with whatever the climate fashion of the day is, it won't work. We need an insurance policy and having our own geoengineering climate controller is better than flawed beliefs and ineffectual hope.

Sillime, I Got Sidetracked

This blog started, if you can remember that far back, with three issues. It was intended to answer a question from Joe, an actual real person, about something he had received in the email about "green energy." Between starting this blog and reaching this near-the-end paragraph, a long period of time passed, during which I pretty much forgot the initial question and wrote about what I wanted to. I just referred to the question and realized that I've done a poor job for Joe, even though I may have saved the planet. And I haven't gotten to electric cars at all. I guess I have myself to blame if this is too long, not just yourself.

Joe: I'll try to respond to your question soon.

Electric cars: I should have bought (as of this writing) Tesla stock instead of their car. Even so, no regrets, and I may have some worthwhile observations. Also soon.

Virtue signaling. Hmmm.

*The solar constant isn't, exactly. We're very lucky that it varies by only a small amount, but we haven't been watching it that long.

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