While we’re talking about green technology, it might be useful to recapitulate what it is we’re asking green technology to fix. What is the real problem we’re trying to solve?
It is not climate change. Climate change is a symptom of the problems we are facing and have helped to create. The problems are summed up in two words–unplanned growth.
I guess I have to justify my claim that climate change is a symptom, not a root problem. Basically, anthropogenic contributions to climate change have led to an overall temperature increase of 0.7 degrees Celsius over the past century, and the rate is now 1.27 degrees per century, a figure that includes both natural and anthropogenic contributions. If it’s a fever, it’s a mild one. The impacts from this change over the century will not bankrupt our economies or destroy our civilization. It will not (by itself) cause mass extinctions, melting ice caps or destruction of the rain forests. Don’t take my word for it–read the IPCC AR4, which certainly doesn’t understate the problem, and does not predict any of these dire consequences. Climate change is predicted to be expensive, problematic and worse for the poor than the rich. But it’s a symptom of our true problem, not the root cause.
Over the past 150 years we have grown from 1 billion to almost 7 billion souls, and we haven’t thought long enough or hard enough about where we should put ourselves, how we should feed ourselves, and how we should power our economies. We haven’t been exactly mature… as Andrew Revkin pointed out in a talk he gave a while back and is now posted on his weblog, Dot Earth. Update: Andrew was kind enough to drop by in the comments and leave this link to a further discussion of the issue.
If we start acting responsibly, it is my opinion that our new found maturity will solve a lot of the issues we associate with climate change along the way. Better stewardship of the land can mitigate some of the effects of land-use changes in regional and micro climates, and better planning of cities and suburbs, especially regarding public transportation, can reduce both conventional pollution and emissions of CO2. Investing in innovation for power generation can insure that creating electricity, which will occupy 40% of our enegy use in 2030, is not something we need to feel guilty about, and will allow us to fulfill our moral obligation to bring inexpensive and easy access to modern energy to the 1.5 billion people who do not have it today.
Growing up–which is what it amounts to–will hopefully cause many of us to choose smaller and more efficiently powered cars, and to act like grown-ups about personal consumption. Growing up means turning away from thoughtless waste–not just recycling and reusing, but investing in insulation and better thermostats.
Growing up as nations, we need to put away some of the toys of childhood as well. Regardless of your politics, you can easily see that the most energy intensive initiative undertaken in the past 10 years was the invasion of Iraq. That’s not a sufficient reason to be for or against that war or a military in general, but if our nations acted more sensibly, the great good of fewer wars would be supplemented by a lesser good of less energy powering tanks and cruise missiles.
Climate change is not the core problem we face and green technology is not the core solution. It is our attitudes and beliefs that got us here, and it is those that we have to change.
I am not advocating sacrificing the benefits of technology, nor do I believe we have to live spartan lives of drudgery. We just have to quit acting like kids all the time.
As was mentioned during the recent inquiry by the UK House of Commons, Steve Mosher and I have written a book about the leaked emails that have caused so much controversy. The title is Climategate: The CRUtape Letters. It is available on Create Space here, Amazon here, Kindle here and Lulu here. One Amazon reviewer wrote, “Mosher and Fuller do a good job putting the ClimateGate documents in context, and the book is a riveting read. I received my copy yesterday, and find the book to be faithful to the climate war events that I have followed over a period of years. It reports actual email communications of a small group of paleoclimatologists and their roles in perhaps the biggest scientific hoax since Piltdown Man.”