Volume 15, Issue 7 ~ February 15 - February 21, 2007

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

Awaken the Doubting Thomases

I guess that maybe global warming is caused by greenhouse gases. Therefore I’m banning all Greenhouses

—President . Bush in an editorial cartoon by John Darkow, the Columbia Daily Tribune

When I read the above in the balloons of Darkow’s two-panel editorial cartoon I couldn’t help but think of the old country saying along the lines of Many a truth is spoken in jest.

I’m not referring to George W. in particular, though he was more than a bit late in publicly acknowledging the seriousness of global warming. Instead, what comes to mind is the thinking — or lack of same — by most Americans about what undoubtedly could be the biggest calamity since man took over our earth.

It beats many times over worries about Iraq and Iran, energy, government overspending, health costs, tax audits and even Hillary Clinton being elected president. If the common thinking by a growing majority of scientists in-the-know proves true those other woes won’t matter. We’ll all be heading to high ground.

I’ll admit to being among those The Wall Street Journal calls the “Apocalypse Now crowd,” but I can’t help but thinking of the words of Oscar Wilde in the Ballad of Reading Gaol: Yet each man kills the thing he loves, by all let this be heard …

I’ll wager most on this globe haven’t the slightest idea about greenhouse gases, to them its just a couple of words — to them it’s something to do with the sun and the atmosphere and a bunch of Chicken Little scientists. Something like the Doomsday preached by religious extremists, but with more than a bit of scientific legitimacy. Let’s take a gander.

All that Gas Boiled Down

Greenhouse gas is contributes to the greenhouse effect by absorbing infrared radiation — carbon monoxide and chloroflurocarbons. The greenhouse effect is the trapping of the sun’s warmth in a planet’s lower atmosphere because of the greater transparency of the atmosphere to visible radiation from the sun than to the infrared radiation from the planet’s surface.

Boiled down and bluntly put, this means that increased quantities of atmospheric carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels together with the release of other gases is causing an increased greenhouse effect — which leads to global warming, the gradual increase of temperatures in the earth’s atmosphere.

When all of this initially came to light, the atmospheric change was attributed to aerosol containers, things like hairspray and scents, but then came motor vehicle emissions, air conditioners, even gaseous cows — and all the while more and more scientists climbing aboard the bandwagon.

Meanwhile, despite increasing indications that the majority of the scientific community is on track, much skepticism remains. The business community hasn’t been very helpful — which is understandable, but wrong. Global warming means added costs, added research and lower financial returns to stockholders.

The bible of business and stockholders, The Wall Street Journal, pretty much ignored global warming until recently, but now I see within its pages news stories on it — in addition to editorials belittling the Apocalypse Now crowd.

Yet, we Chicken Littles welcome the criticism. If nothing else it’s an indication that even the business community considers global warming a subject for debate. Why else would there be a circling of the wagons?

Almost suddenly, global warming has become more than that polar bear stranded on a small ice floe as pictured on the cover of Time last summer, more than an editorial cartoon depicting our president getting rid of greenhouse gases, more than our late start-up of winter hereabouts. For even many of the skeptics it has to be something of concern.

Growing Chicken Littles

Welcome are signals that even the business community is warming to legislation concerning climate change; what good is business when everyone on earth is squeezed like sardines onto high ground?

The ranks of political Chicken Littles are signing up new members daily. That ought to tell skeptics something. When those who live by the vote begrudgingly start fishing around for ways to legislate anti-global warming measures contrary to business interest, well there’s gotta be something to what Al Gore has been telling us for years. Too bad he’s not throwing his hat into the ring for ‘08; In these times we need a Chicken Little in the White House and we need a flock of ‘em in Washington.

Hooray for British tycoon Sir Richard Branson who, with Al Gore and leading scientists at his side, announced a $25 million reward for the scientist who comes up with a way to extract greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Branson is a smart cookie, he knows how long it will take government to hash all of this out — possibly the hundred years predicted before we really endure the ecological woes predicted. Global warming has a snowball effect; its consequences could be felt even sooner.

Yet, the nay-sayers continue their ridicule; the most short-sighted of which I noted in a Wall Street Journal article: “The alleged ravages of climate change are themselves decades off. Finding new ways of dealing with these changes, if they ever do materialize, seems far more sensible than crippling the world economy now.”

Ye gods! Decades, only decades; what if within decades we can’t find the needed solutions? That’s not much time, especially if in the meantime we continue to degrade the atmosphere. Decades, what does it take to awaken the Doubting Thomases?

Apparently much, I saw in a newspaper the other day a story questioning hybrid autos as a means to reduce vehicle omissions; their silence when operating in their electric mode can be dangerous to the deaf, who can’t hear them. I sympathize with those with hearing disabilities, but not for those who turn a perfectly good ear to the warnings of the best scientists on earth that global warming is coming sooner than we think unless a united earth takes action now. Enough said …

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