Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Under the Weather

Last Thursday I went to the Holywell Music Rooms, a venue I was last at to see the Hammer and Tongue Oxford Literary Festival poetry slam in April, to see the Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN) lecture on denial with respect to climate change. The speakers were Georges Marshall of COIN and Monbiot of, well, George Monbiot. They began the evening with introducing the fact that climate change is happening and that despite all the evidence and despite all the associated bad shit, we, as a species, are doing nothing about it. That is to say we are sleepwalking towards disaster. The question was therefore, why are we doing nothing about it? Having just read Michael Crichton's State of Fear, I did wonder about the somewhat bigger question, but I'm prepared to let that go. I'm also willing to accept that one shouldn't get the basis for science from a Michael Crichton novel. But... I'm also quite keen to hear the converse argument whether that be denial that it is happening, or a less dramatic doomsday scenario. Which is NOT to say that I am living in denial, I just want to have a more informed view.

The Georges spoke to a packed audience and I got the feeling that they knew they were on home territory, which without being too stereotypical, was largely comprised of Oxford Guardian readers; of which I am one. However Monbiot riled me up on several occasions. He started by linking global warming with the Judeao-Christian myth. He did it as follows: J-C is a myth that assumes a progression (the coming/second-coming of the Messiah) as opposed the circular nature of Hinduism, Buddhism and Animist religions (I noted that he left Islam out of the progressive religions), the progression is associated with growth, which is development, which leads to increasing consumption of resources, which leads to increased discharge of CO2, which finally gives us global warming. I have just two issues here. Firstly, I think he is being disingenious here (it's easy and popular to blame the Christians) by simplying the J-C myth to that (there's a little more to it than that), and secondly I seem to recall communism (a somewhat athiest ideology) being not that helpful towards the environment. If you're talking about tangible ecological disasters (which is NOT to deny the tangibility of climate change), then the biggest one would be the wreck that is the Aral Sea, and there are relatively significant ones like Chernobyl, and those would be where? But this is a little off the point, but I would like to stress that are far as I call tell the J-C myth is not the same as capitalism.

Monbiot succeeded in riling me a second time when he dismissed nuclear power as a viable source of energy. I don't have a problem with nuclear power. I have a problem with nuclear weapons, but they are not the same thing. But for the sake of brevity I'm willing to let this one go. I don't think we should dismiss glow in the dark energy out of hand. It kills less people than car accidents, it's just when it does go wrong, it's really bad. Like a jumbo jet, I guess. Effectively it comes down to risk and how we respond to it.

Where the Georges did succeed was in provoking a few questions:
  • Is it necessarily a bad thing if oil becomes so expensive that air travel becomes the domain of the rich? Effectively it is already, it's just that we don't see ourselves with our credit card debts as rich.
  • Can we live with a certain amount of environmental damage and therefore climate change? No matter what we do, we are going to change our environment so how about we accept that we are going to raise the earth's temperature by a degree every hundred years, but fight tooth and nail to keep it at that rate? Monbiot suggested that in order to maintain the status quo we would have to become 90% energy efficient. I'd like to believe that is possible but doubt that it is.
  • Apparently the earth would be cooling naturally now but due to our polluting we are causing it to warm. So actually we are almost holding it in balance. Wow. So... do we want it to cool? Ok, so that was a bit silly, but it is 11.30pm and I'm tired.
I'd like to come to a conclusion here but I am tired and I'm rambling so I'm going to stop now.

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