Is global warming any more harmful than an extra layer of Thinsulate?

Is global warming any more harmful than an extra layer of Thinsulate?

I just finished the Times Article on Climate Change. I’m really not sure what to say. We all keep thinking of climate change in terms of, “oh, golly jeepers, it might hurt the economy to slow down our use of greenhouse gases.”

Yeah, that’s true. Recent evidence from Arctic ice drilling suggests greenhouse gas levels are the highest in 650,000 years, and they’re rising faster than ever recorded.

Huh. Let’s see. We’re basically heading into totally uncharted climactic territory at a historically unprecedented rate, and we don’t want to slow down (much less stop) because it might hurt the economy.

Well, it strikes me that tinkering with something like the ecosphere is delicate business. All kinds of unintended conseqeunces come about when we do simple things like over-hunt a predator and its prey suddenly populates out of control.

Global warming is that times a million. Entire species are getting out of sync as the migration patterns of birds change faster than the birthing patterns of their prey. All kinds of things can get out of balance, and we barely understand 1% of 1% of the possible implications.

I’m worried that we might just tweak something essential for human survival. A single volcano splitting could send a devastating tsunami around the world. What would a melting ice sheet do? Or a bunch of them? Or maybe the extinction of part of the food chain that is critical for human survival?

Come on, people, this isn’t a matter of a new cutsie little tax. It may be bad for the ecomony to behave smartly towards global warming, but it could be fatal for the economy to ignore the problem.

We seem to believe that our current levels of economic expansion are somehow normal or healthy. There’s no particular reason to believe that. Through most of human history, we’ve developed much more slowly.

Personally, I’m a super-conservative kind of guy. I like life. I’d much rather slow or growth or enter steady-state while we figure out if we’re killing ourselves than run ahead at full speed, possibly right into oncoming traffic.

The Hallmark of Incompetence-Blame Wilma's victims

The Hallmark of Incompetence-Blame Wilma’s Victims.

It’s nice to see that the trait of overconfidence followed by incompetence, followed by blame-mongering runs true in the Bush genetic code. Jeb Bush is blaming Wilma victims for not being prepared, as justification that the relief efforts are disorganized and half-assed.

Should Florida residents have prepared? You bet. Were they? Apparently not enough. Does that justify the Bushies, who have controlled Florida for much longer than just the current presidency, doing an incompetent job at one of the most important functions of government (disaster recovery) in a known hurricane zone? Not one bit.

I wish I thought this would make a big difference in how people vote for politicians, but it won’t. George Bush’s track record was there for everyone to see in 2000. As widely chronicled before he ran for President, he’d never run a successful business venture in his life. Every effort went nowhere or straight downhill until Daddy’s friends bailed him out, often in exchange for private White House meetings with Daddy.

Even Bush’s wealth ($14MM) doesn’t come from him. It comes from a single sweetheart deal in which taxpayer money was used to build a stadium for the Texas Rangers, turning Bush’s half-million-dollar investment into $14MM.

This was all quite public knowledge before he was elected the first time. He had been an alcoholic until age 40 (do you know what that does to the brain? I lived with an alcoholic relative. Going dry after that long still leaves scars). He had a track record of recklessness, fiscal irresponsibility, and failure. An entire book had been written on his competence. (Shrub : The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush by Molly Ivins, Lou Dubose)

Employers don’t call references, and they are well aware that hiring the wrong person costs money. It would be great if our electorate would check out references before someone runs for public office. But we don’t, and we won’t. We’ll continue to rely on sound bites, hearsay, and slick packaging rather than real debates, issue-centered coverage, and a search to understand the problems and the candidates’ solutions.

Not only does that make me sad, but it makes a whole, whole lot of us have much scarier, terror-filled lives of scarcity, when we could all be safe, sound, and well-fed.

To Florida: you’ve had Jeb for a decade. You knew what he was capable of. You saw him bungle the logistics for two elections, disenfranchising thousands of your residents. You’re without food and water and ice. Connect the dots. YOU and YOUR VOTES are the government. Jeb’s right. You should have prepared better. You should have voted him out of office.

The deficit is under your control. Do the right thing … whatever that is.

I just read in The New York Times that we’re once again facing a record trade deficit. The article (and the government) explain how important it is for China to fix their manipulative ways and to help slow down the loss of jobs and manufacturing from the US.

This victim mentality is odd, coming from a Government that has no trouble imposing its will on smaller countries when it suits our wishes. China’s a bit too big to invade, however.

Want to stem the job losses caused by outsourcing to China? The government can do it through tariffs and by limiting free trade. Business people can do it by simply deciding not to outsource. That would, of course, result in higher prices that consumers would have to be willing to pay for (I’d be willing to pay higher prices, if my job depended on it).

Remember that free trade is all about letting money flow to where things are cheapest, with no barriers. America has some of the highest paid workers in the world, so of course labor dollars will flow away from America. This is probably a good thing, globally, as it spreads the capital around, even though it hurts at home.

(Prices would be more sensible [read: higher] and the system would probably adjust faster if we combined free trade with political systems allowing the free movement of people. We only have cheap labor in China to begin with because the Chinese can’t freely immigrate and are stuck in a country where $5/day is a lot of money.)

So next time you shop at Wal-Mart, or go online to conveniently find the lowest prices, ponder that your decision to comparison shop is an important driver behind the loss of American jobs overseas.

P.S. The oil trade deficit comes from our energy policy. Read it and weep.

The other big source of the deficit is oil. We have only, only, only ourselves to blame on this one. Many of us have been clamoring for years for a real national energy policy. Instead, we have an energy policy written by oil companies, endorsed by a President who is either blind to long-term consequences of his policies, or who really doesn’t care about much other than accumulating wealth for himself (oil family, remember) and his friends.

Climate destruction: we're built to reason poorly, but it will kill us all the same.

Climate destruction: We’re built to reason poorly, but it will kill us all the same.

Have you seen the latest stories about global warming? It seems that we’re already committed to an 8 inch rise in sea levels and significant other warming. Some folks are saying that since it’s inevitable, we may as well not bother doing anything.

Um, hello? The actions we take today will have an effect several decades down the road. We can’t change today’s situation by acting today, but we can certainly reduce future catastrophe by acting today.

Unfortunately, humans aren’t built to reason well about time. We tend to ignore the long-term in our thinking, even if we intellectually know it’s there. When the effects of our actions won’t happen for a while, we think short-term.

Imagine if eating a fat and cholesteral-laden Big Mac immediately added those inches to a person’s waste, or caused their arteries to harden with an audible creaking sound? You can bet McDonald’s would be out of business faster than you can shake a stick.

Or how about cigarettes–if lighting up caused instant yellowed teeth, spotted hands, and blood-laced coughing fits, tobacco would likely be a lot less popular with the teenage set. And it would be too powerful an image to be put down, even by such a charistmatic figure as Joe Camel.

Just because we don’t think through future implications doesn’t mean they don’t happen, however. If we charge more on our credit cards than we can pay back, we’ll either have to declare bankruptcy (which may not be effective much longer), or … or what? Or we lose everything. And it will happen even if we don’t think that far ahead when buying that rhinestone encrusted, Dolly Parton-shaped fireplace rug.

I don’t know what the solution is, but we need to find a way to make the future consequences of our actions feel as real as if they were happening today. Think through some of the long-term beneficial things you know you should be doing… Now really consider them in detail. Find out how to make them real enough to you so you change your behavior. Your life, and the lives of those you love, just may depend on it.

This is about us. Global warming, indeed, global broiling, will affect all of us, in our lifetimes. We can’t change it for ourselves, but let’s at least try to do something for our kids, shall we?

Negativity is easy, and we've made it a national pastime.

Negativity is easy, and we’ve made it a national pastime.

It’s Christmas morning. The presents have been open, and we’re wandering around in our chocolate-induced post-carb fog of vague mellowness. One present, a book on the fabulous art festival Burning Man. Leafing through it, we come across a discussion of a playground of stuffed animals, teddy bears, etc. that was doused with gasoline and reduced to ashes in a complex art project. Reading it, I was sad. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for stuffed animals (as long as they aren’t shaped like politicians or lawyers).

Jeff tried to encourage me to explore other ways of looking at the piece: perhaps the simple juxtaposition of the comforting with the disturbing–turning the teddy bear into an instrument of destruction–was intended to get us thinking. Ultimately, the discussion it provoked would be much richer and more complex than the original simple theme. So let’s start discussing.

Perhaps the Society for Teddy Bear Immolation feels differently, but my reaction is basic and strong. Yes, a teddy bear in flames makes me sad. But the larger issue makes me much sadder: we’ve become a culture that motivates with fear. We’re addicted to turning the safe into the dangerous for fun, manipulation, and profit. Have you watched TV news lately? Our local affiliate scares us nightly, showing us how even the safety of our homes conceals lurking danger. Our drinking water is killing us. Strangers are all sex offenders waiting to rape and kill. Our TV may be damaging our unborn children’s brains. Our jobs may be sapping our will to live. PCBs are building up in our bloodstream. Fish, the only really healthy meat, now comes with fatal levels of mercury. Sunlight will kill you. Your drinking water contains dangerous levels of carcinogens. … Need I go on?

Most of our ads are built around making us feel pain, guilt, lack, and need where none existed before. Are you financially successful, with a family who loves you? Feeling happy? Guess again. Five minutes of TV ads will show you you’re not a real man without a gas-guzzling, top-heavy, unsafe SUV. (As if anyone who has the kind of job that can afford an SUV can actually aspire to embody the brand of masculinity so glorified in the commercials.)

So guess what? Creating pain where there was once comfort doesn’t impress me. Teddy Bear as Instrument of Destruction seems almost commonplace. Destruction–indeed, all violence–fundamentally, is easy. Just destroy. It takes little skill or finesse. The basic options are smashing it, burning it, or soaking it. If you’re a chemist, you can probably also dissolve it. There may be some creativity in the fuse and detonation mechanism, but destruction is easy. Construction isn’t.

That teddy bear that was so easily doused with gasoline had to be painstakingly made piece by piece. If it was made on an assembly line, the factory had to be designed, built, and organized. The toy had to be conceived, patterned, and made. Hundreds of people coordinated so that teddy bear could exist. Putting a lit match to it isn’t impressive. Teddy is one example among many. More and more we seem to be concentrating on the killing and smashing. We hit. We’re strong. *grunt* We’re surrounded by images of negativity. One of the most advanced pieces of simulation software ever built, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, lets you simulate … gang warfare, drug deals, prostitution, theft, and crime. Yes, it’s fun, seductively so (I’ll likely buy it the instant it’s available for PC). But as with virtually all of our entertainment, it immerses us in the “fun” of negativity. I’m sure there are situations in life that are just plain bad. There are, indeed, unresolvable conflicts. There are people who want to engage in genocide (I was talking with one just last week, who wants adherents of the Islamic faith “reduced to ashes, each and every one” … and, of course, we’ve seen others who want the same thing for Americans).

So given that there are some real, genuinely hard negative situations to deal with, why do we insist on creating even more? Have you ever notice the total dearth of role models for functional relationships and communities? When was the last time you actually saw someone on the media begin an argument and resolve it in a way that demonstrated how real, mature people can deal with complex differences? Never. But boy, you can find a dozen daily role models for dysfunction.

Sometimes during an argument, I can even hear an echo of the TV show that programmed me with the abysmal crap I find myself saying. So darn it, I want to be impressed by something impressive: Someone who can bring a little peace to conflict. Someone who can be in a horrific situation and still find and share what beauty there is to be found. Someone who can find fun in connecting with other human begins and building enriching relationships, rather than just shooting them. And maybe–just maybe–someone who can live out some role models about how to have a healthy, successful, happy family life, work life, and community life. More and more, I want to be that kind of person. I don’t want to make teddy bears violent; I want to find ways of resolving violence and conflict. I want to help people find common meeting grounds. I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I want to be an agent of happiness, a spreader of grand dreams and good will. I want to walk away leaving people happier, freer, more optimistic, and more upbeat about their lives. Won’t you join me? Merry Christmas, whatever your faith.