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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Ross Rambles: Energy policy schizophrenia

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The American public reacts with a schizophrenic combination of denial and acceptance toward the linked issues of global warming and energy development.

An attitude of denial toward global warming is understandable. Who wants to accept a warning of apocalyptic climate change, a climate change that cannot be avoided or reversed?

Most people seem to accept the scientific consensus that the earth's climate is changing as the result of human production of greenhouse gasses, primarily carbon dioxide, and they accept the fact that the climate change will have an impact greater than making life difficult for polar bears.

People accept, without skepticism, the possibility that global climate change is responsible for a more violent weather pattern, including flood levels believed to be at what was once thought to be 500-year highs occurring twice in the last 15 years in the Midwest.

Where the denial comes into play is the idea that we can avert the inevitable catastrophic events by socially conscious activities like turning off lights when leaving a room and adjusting the thermostat a few degrees down in the winter and up in the summer.

Except for people who actually live in flood-affected areas, our focus right now is on the outrageously high cost of gasoline and other fossil fuels. (Oil, natural gas and coal are called fossil fuels because they were created over a period of hundreds of millions of years through a process of decaying plant and animal matter.)

Our priority now is to reduce the cost of fossil fuel-based energy. That is why John McCain has reversed his stand on off-shore oil drilling. He now advocates such oil production as necessary to combat high fuel costs.

McCain isn't the only presidential candidate to flip-flop on an issue, but what makes this particular reversal hard to accept is a McCain ad stating that the Arizona senator had issued a warning about global warming long before the current president acknowledged the danger.

Few people seem to understand that it is irrational to simultaneously brag about an early acknowledgement of the dangers of global warming and promote development of new sources of fossil fuels.

Along with supporting development of new fossil fuel sources, McCain advocates more use of renewable energy as if one balances out the other. Obviously, renewable energy is being developed to supplement, not replace, fossil fuels in the effort to satisfy the growing demand for energy.

McCain's irrational duality reflects the attitudes of the rest of society. We lament the effects of burning fossil fuels and then take comfort in news items about an individual or organization doing something imaginative to conserve or create energy. The message conveyed is that such "green projects" can collectively reverse our catastrophic course.

This is misleading and arguably in poor taste, comparable to a series on the "lighter side of the Holocaust" relating inspiring and amusing incidents from the experiences of people destined for gas chambers.

Even in the unlikely event of America reducing its total use of fossil fuels, the expanding economies of India and China would still create enormous pressure to expand fossil fuel production. But that doesn't really define the problem.

The process that took carbon out of the atmosphere over hundreds of millions of years is being rapidly reversed by human activity.

This leads us to a truth that is so inconvenient, not even Al Gore acknowledges it. Reducing our use of fossil fuels globally would not reverse the climate changes that have been put into motion. If fossil fuel burning were cut by 50 percent or even 90 percent, we would still be adding carbon dioxide to our atmosphere.

That's enough expounding on that gloomy subject. I shall now turn my thoughts to something more pleasant, like hoping that the price of gas goes down before I fill my tank again.