Thursday, February 4, 2016

We Simply Don’t Understand What Climate Change Means

Here’s what it means: It means that our entire world will be upset. We will have to change everything. Everything. It will all be radically different from what we in the US, as the wealthiest economy, are used to. The very land we live on will be transformed, as will the way we live. Here are a few items for thought.

Let’s start with cars, since we in the US place a higher value on cars than we do on almost anything.

The idea of the privately owned automobile will vanish. Completely. We’ll get around some other way, and get around not quite so much. It won’t be necessary to get around as much, because important things will be closer together. As for cars, at least in cities, there are other possibilities. Here are some:

Those cute little self-driving cars, which will be electric, charged from the sun. Summon a car with your phone when you need it, and again when you want to go home. We will benefit from less traffic congestion. Solar cells will be installed on every available rooftop space. We’re already seeing this. The generated electricity, charged into the grid, will offset the cost of electric transportation and other needs.

Bicycles. There is already a well established urban movement toward using bicycles for getting to work, as well as for exercise, and for shopping and other tasks. Today’s bicycles are considerably safer and easier to use than bikes of the past. Mass transit. Hybrid busses and advanced light rail are well established in many cities. In some cities they are nearly as pleasant as those in Europe. How about a self-driving commuter “train” for the highway?

Airplanes will either become far more efficient, or they will become very expensive to use.

Jets allow us to traverse in hours what in the past took months. But the tradeoff has been in planes’ outsized contribution to global warming. It is possible that efficient planes will be developed, but they are unlikely to travel as fast as current planes do. Many experiments are underway, for example to develop lighter-than-air craft that would make use of natural air currents and solar electricity. Here too, “driverless”, that is, pilotless craft, will arrive at some future time. The technology already exists. Much of flying at present is handled by computers.

Some air travel should be taken over by high-speed vacuum tube travel, as Elon Musk and others are developing. Passengers would be comfortably ensconced in tubular vehicles that are moved by compressed air behind the vehicle. Speeds would be comparable to jet flight or faster, and would begin and end in the centers of cities. The air for propulsion would be compressed by solar electricity.

Here’s an idea I like: The return of sailing ships, that are also powered by solar panels on deck. Flexible solar panels might become sails. Timeliness is not important for some freight, which could rely entirely on wind and solar-powered motors. Lighter passenger ships might move slower than today’s cruise ships, but this is not necessarily a disadvantage. Going on a classic sailing ship, capturing the wind, is a thrilling experience for most of us land lubbers.

Coal and petroleum have become deadly dangers that will simply have to be dropped. The greatest dangers are from their gross contribution to global warming, but, as anyone who has seen the photos of cities so choked with pollution that vision is sharply limited knows, the dangers to health from other kinds of pollution are also extreme in some places.

Energy industry collapse is already happening. The value of both coal and oil on the world’s stock exchanges has been falling for a long time. As oil and coal use continue to drop, many of their corporations will cease production and become extinct.

Raising cattle will become a much smaller business, say 10% of what we have today. The average American eats far too much beef anyway, which has created widespread serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes from obesity. Cattle generate serious quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas some 25 times worse than carbon dioxide. Cutting the herd to 10% of its present size would be greatly beneficial in several ways. However, we are unlikely to simply do away with beef cattle because the US economy utilizes literally hundreds of byproducts of beef cattle in ways we rarely are aware of.

In general terms, pollution and excessive energy use have been a secondary or tertiary consideration with industry, and often ignored at that. Because of global warming, we no longer have that option.

Although this news is at least two decades late in arrival, we at long last seem to understand the seriousness, and are beginning to do things about it. The time for avoiding climate change is some three decades past. Now, at last, there is an increased understanding that this is not something that can be ignored.

The only exception to understanding the clear and present danger on the entire planet is the Republican party, which has been in thrall to those who got rich from taking oil and coal from the ground, usually ignoring the responsibilities that come with it and with no concern for the future. These interests have employed every unsavory method available to extend their wealth-gathering, including the purchase of Congressional and academic pawns, who have wasted decades arguing against their own responsibility.

Even though they have finally been forced to acknowledge the reality that was obvious to the rest of the world decades ago, it seems certain that the GOP has by itself created dangers that will cause major problems for the entire world. Their denial has created dangerous conditions that will not end once we actually begin to do something about it, but will continue to intensify for decades, or centuries. It is even possible that the planet will turn into something that will not support human life in another century or two. To me it is more than astonishing that anyone could put personal profit before the very survival of humanity.

The present difficulty is that we don’t really understand that everything will change. Radically.

Like it or not, we can’t do as we’ve always done.

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