James Hansen: Why I must speak out about climate change
As North America breaks heat record after heat record this year, it brings up the question about ‘Global Warming’. I have no idea how, but the very phrase of it feels like I’m bringing up a touchy subject. It is, isn’t it?
There are quite a few TED talks on this subject, so I will link to the latest and greatest. (note: Not necessarily the greatest, that’s just a fancy saying that rhymes)
Date Filmed: February 2012
Length:17 minutes, 51 seconds
Total Views so Far: 471,285 views
One Sentence So Far: “Look, I even let myself get arrested on this, can we start charging companies for this?”
(It’s a detailed talk that shares Hansen’s personal experiences over the years and how it touches him, his family and his life.)
This talk is one of the least ‘impacting’ to me in contrast to other TED Talks. Why? It’s probably have to do with the fact that scientists have been talking about global warming for the past 50 years. That’s half a century, which is a VERY long time.
Let’s not shy away from the fact that it’s been talked about again and again. Yes, I can make huge arguments that fifty years is ‘young’ on a multitude of scales. It’s nothing compared to the history of our world, it’s just over enough to discover the Higgs Boson, and it’s certainly much too young for someone to die.
On the other hand, this is quickly becoming the only ‘global WARNING’ that has lasted this long with such a low impact. Low impact, in the sense, of openly clear initiatives that have exceptional funding and awareness dedicated towards the reduction of global warming.
Isn’t this a touchy subject? Isn’t there an opposing opinion by a similar expert made for every video that warns of global warming?
Yes, this is definitely true. I’ve seen debates and interviews on this topic and as per the standard route of statistics, the same data can lead to different claims. (Well, I partially say that to be cute about the topic, but seriously there are charts that say weather fluctuations are natural and whatnot too)
What about the local level? What about my own social circles and the public opinion that I’m aware of?
I’d stake to say, that four out of five people I personally know, believe global warming is a real phenomenon. The remaining fifth person isn’t against the notion, rather they simply say ‘they don’t know’.
I have yet to speak with an individual, that adamantly believes that global warming does NOT exist. Now keep in mind that global warming isn’t exactly the most common of topics, but this is throughout my entire life. I have not met an individual who shouts “IT’S A LIE!” and then runs out and starts a bunch of car engines.
However, I have met individuals who say, “WHO CARES!” and they run inside and turn on all the lights, crank up their air conditioning units and start smoking cigars.
There’s a difference between not believing in something versus believing in it but not taking action to do anything about it.
Not doing anything, is NOT a crime, it’s not even a poor choice. A poor choice is smoking when you know it hurts you, drinking in excess when you know it hurts you, or drinking bucket after bucket of milk knowing you’re lactose intolerant. But people DO IT ANYWAYS.
Wait, ignoring the impact of our emissions / energy use IS a poor choice right?
I’m going to have to argue, that in today’s society, a person is effectively ‘trained’ to believe that the reduction of our energy use is the equivalent of HURTING yourself.
Last week I had a great deal of excitement and fascination with the idea of the robot car. However, despite its innovations with keeping our roads safer, I’d be putting myself into monstrous debt if I ever were to try to attain one. And by monstrous debt, I’m talking a 30 ft tall two headed giant named Tom and Jerry who is going to beat the living crap out of me because I can’t make my payments.
Despite the fact that pretty much everyone I know believes in global warming, we can’t afford to spend the extra to buy hybrid cars. We can’t afford to lose the time by giving up cars or gas engines. How in the world are we supposed to give up our air conditioners when we’re having one of the biggest heat waves in history? (Ironically powered by our air conditioners)
In essence, for the common person to stop global warming, they would have to put themselves at such a distinct disadvantage that they could, arguably, lose their place in society. I NEED to drive to work, not just because I’m a lazy bastard, but because it is physically impossible for me to get to work and back in time.
How about the big abusers? Companies that have huge chimney stacks of Carbon pumping out the CO2 like no tomorrow?
For most of us, these are also the ‘money providers’ in some form of fashion. They sign paychecks, and hand out raises, if not directly then certainly indirectly. Again, speaking strictly in terms of common everyday people (ok, I can’t really speak for everyone but for the purpose of this exercise I’m pretending I can), unless the locals are willing to risk their livelihoods, they’re not going to start protesting in front of buildings.
Consider it another form of the Golden Handcuffs (money is too good to leave so a worker is essentially ‘voluntarily chained’ to their job), except they’re made of Energy.
(Except for the protestors. Although based upon what I’ve seen in the media, they’re protesting everything you can name anyways. I wonder if there’s a TED talk about this?)
Now looking at this as an ‘individual’ matter, when we go up the chain, decision makers are also bound by the Energy Handcuffs. Why should a single company risk taking the time for energy innovation while losing to its competition or allotting capital that could be spent on maintaining it’s market share? Why should a politician push for a hard stance on this topic where other policies take precedence, or worse, that their initial supporters might be these very companies.
It comes to the point that discussion about global warming is in some ways, pointless. It’s only a symptom of another issue, that our society is naturally designed to support a trend that does not support fighting global warming.
This doesn’t mean that we need to uproot society and start over. In fact, society has gone through multiple social evolutions that have brought equal rights, labor laws and even reality television. However, each of these were identifiable groups that were willing to take a stand.
Maybe someday there will be a distinctly recognizable ‘global warming victim’ identifier.
I really hope it doesn’t have to come to that.
– Updated every Friday.