Friday, April 28, 2006

Long Term Thinking

I have thought of myself as thinking long term, but must admit to being a bit late to pick up on the challenge with CO2. Al Gore has me beat. I see he now has a web presence too. I do like his Upton Sinclair quote “It’s hard to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding.” Seems like the price of oil is helping the understanding, but most of it seems to be directed short term, such as $100 tax rebates on gas as long as drilling in the Arctic Refuge is allowed. That sure sounds like a policy winner.

We know the political system offers incentives primarily based on the next election. Statesmen are near extinct. Individuals follow per the Upton Sinclair quote above, so who is left? We may the the most intelligent and capable species on earth but we are far from being able to avoid develop ourselves into environmental oblivion, despite our hubris. And though the Earth will go on, some species including our own may survive, many will not due to our own short term thinking.

This week, I attempted to inject some long term thought into our University of Alaska campus planning group on which I serve, asking them to consider climate change implications when we try to assess or guide development. The response was mostly dead silence with the one comment "We don't do that here". Even folks there that I'm pretty sure know better didn't say a thing.

Another cheery post. Ka-chink, ka-chink, ka-chink of a scratched record (LP).

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Jennies

It has been said that the kids today don’t tend to engage as did the Baby Boomers on major issues of the day such as civil rights or the Vietnam War of that time. They appear to be very self-centered, part of an entitled generation which I will call “Gen-E” or the "Jennies". Yet the irony of this is that the Boomer generation, from who so much was expected in social and political progress, is the generation that raised the Jennies. How is it that George Bush is a two term president from the same generation that gave us so much hope? No, don’t answer that.

While in some parts of the world, we have risen above savagery, we still haven’t learned the art of long term self-preservation. I sure hope the Jennies will be up for the task, as we’re leaving them a very big job.

The Philosophy of Our Place in Nature

Atlantic Monthly has a collection of excerpts of writings on Nature and the Environment that I thought might provide a different perspective from the down-in-the-trenches view we normally inhabit.

Do They Get It Yet?

From the perspective of one who has seen this vision for 20 years, it appears now that there is approaching critical mass to consider the unthinkable – taking concerted local, state, then perhaps national action to combat our “contributions” toward climate change. I’ve suggested to skeptics that we take out fire insurance on our houses on smaller odds that a fire might happen than on the odds that our contributions might be changing the climate. Yet until real recently, any substantive action beyond “more study” has been hard to come by.

The political will has been the most difficult nut to crack. Legislatures and Congress are not very progressive when it comes to long term issues. Social Security or national health care are examples of that which we are unable to address, since it requires political sacrifice beyond the next election. And to their defense, it is a rare statesman (as opposed to politician) who has the support of his or her electorate in suggesting we sacrifice in the short term to benefit or reduce risks in the future.

the concern I have is that we are past if not the tipping point, at the least further along in climate change so that stabilization will be near impossible. We can perhaps preclude it getting worse, but the cost from the impacts will make concerted efforts to mitigate our contributions that much more difficult. We are more willing to spend $10 billion to deal with Hurricane Katrina.

A recent piece of legislation in the Alaska Legislature to establish a commission to investigate and recommend how Alaska might deal with the impacts from climate change has speedily passed the House of Representatives (HCR 30) and is now headed for the Senate. This reminded me of a commission I proposed in 1989 to look at ways the State of Alaska could minimize its contributions toward climate change. It got as far as a resolution to the governor, who had a draft report written that suggested, amongst other things, that we diversify our fuel sources and burn more coal. Not real helpful if one is trying to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions, since coal contributes many times more CO2 than even burning oil. So 16 years ago we’re trying to reduce our contributions to climate change and now we are trying to mitigate the consequences of having failed to take meaningful actions.

So we are down to those skeptics now accepting there are negative impacts to climate change and that humans might be responsible for some of it. Whether we are willing to make any short term sacrifices to mitigate those contributions or just think we can rely on new technology, as Sen. Lisa Murkowski currently believes, remains to be seen. While technology might help long term, we've been needing to take short term action for a few decades.