Friday, April 21, 2006

Air Pollution Tug-of-War

Manmade air pollution is in a tug-of-war. Unprecedented levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide are causing global warming. Soot, ash, sulfides, nitrates - all the particles which create the visible air pollution haze cause global dimming. As much as 10% of the sunlight reaching Earth is masked or reflected back into space. How significant is global dimming? Well, it appears to have masked global warming by half. If we keep reducing the amount of particulates in our atmosphere, without reducing carbon dioxide levels, then we could double the rate of global warming by mid-century. Of course, going off fossil fuels kills two birds with one stone. It stops carbon dioxide and particulate pollution of the atmosphere. What the research means though, is that we most likely need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions first, then reduce particulate emissions. Climatologists believe the tipping point will come within a decade. The point of no return will happen by 2015 at current levels of usage. The Aztecs thought the world would end in 2012. Nuclear power is looking like a pretty clean alternative energy source at the moment. If they can get carbon dioxide and particulate scrubbers on power plants, cars and trucks, then we wouldn't need solar or nuclear energy, but that's asking a lot of Science and Technology, not to mention corporations and governments that may not care until it's too late..
I'd like not to feel helpless about such dire predictions. I mean... I skate 5 miles a day instead of running my car. Whoopee, I bought humankind another 1.84 seconds.


It's not that. You are doing what you can, as wise as you are. It's just that ignorance can kill civilizations and not just individuals. If you have information that what you are doing is going to ultimately be detrimental to you, you will take measures to minimize the damage or prevent the damage from happening. Faulty intelligence leads to decisions being made for the wrong reasons by those in charge (bad lab tests with medical doctors or poor CIA WMD briefings with the President). The Earth is strewn with the remains of civilizations that killed themselves because they didn't manage their resources or environment wisely. The leaders were powerless to reverse the damage their people's practices were doing to the environment because they didn't know what was happening and why. We have the tools and knowledge to stop the damage and prevent disaster, if our leaders act on this knowledge and use it wisely. It's not meant to be alarmist, just to inform and make people question conventional wisdom and hold their elected officials accountable. Elected officials only think 2-4 years ahead out of personal interest, but climate issues mean that we have to think 20-50 years ahead for the good of all.
Of course, one can look at it from another perspective and decide that we should do what we are doing which is ignoring the problem. The intense suffering generated will force people to either become savages fighting for survival or become Enlightened. You could tell your grandchildren you did everything you could to minimize your damage to the environment and have a clear conscience, but what about our elected leaders who ignore the evidence? What do they tell us when we question them about what they are doing about manmade climate change? How can they look you or me, or even their own grandkids, in the eye and say, "I was told that it wasn't a problem during my term of office".

At some point it's wiser not to worry about the things I can't change. That and hope that death isn't painful. Because I'm a wimp.

I do fantasize occasionally about designing a green house, living off-grid, and not participating in society at all.

Everyone wants the freedom and wisdom and prosperity to do whatever they "think" is the "right" thing, live the "right" lifestyle, and die the perfect death. No one wants a lingering death, yet death never lingers. Death isn't a bad thing. Without death, nothing could change or evolve. Yet, I too, am a wimp. I don't wish to suffer a protracted, lingering illness before I expire.
My perfect home costs too much to make because the technology to make it Earth friendly probably isn't cheap. On the other hand, I'll be gone in 30 years or so, and anything I leave behind will be forgotten or will decay eventually. The works of Man never last and Man's worries are usually for nothing. Nothing our civilization has built will last for 2000 years except for the probes in space and the stuff we've left on the Moon. Nothing on Mars or Titan will last forever.
All that is beside the point. All you can do is do the best you can Now, Julie. ;-)

Low-tech green just uses age-old principles. That's what I'd do - the aesthetic is more organic than modern. But it takes more land.

All you can do is do the best you can Now, Julie. ;-)

You're right, John.

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