Hey readership! Before we start, I apologize for going m.i.a. these last few posts. I’m not one to make excuses so I will not… the truth was that I was kidnapped by aliens and depraved experiments of sexual nature were performed on me. That was actually quite pleasant, which is why I stayed on their ship to get more of the good stuff so… now you now.
Okay fine! The real truth was that my absence was due to a mixture of that terrible disease we writers refer to as “writer’s block” and another incurable one most people on Earth refer to as “a shitload of work to get done.” For that I apologize. But now that I’m back, let me tell you about a funny experience I had the other day while stuck in traffic (impossible I know but just you wait). But before we get there, let me tell you a little about where I live so you will understand better where I’m coming from.
Texas has been my home-state since I was 13 years old, so basically I’ve lived in Texas longer than I’ve lived in Mexico, my native country, and for 14 years I’ve loved my adopted home as any other native Texan would. This place has everything to offer, even though where I live we are sort of devoid of mountains which I do long to see. Nevertheless, its deserts, lakes (some of them man-made), the Gulf of Mexico, Big Bend National Park, the richness and diversity of nature, its sprawling cities and the badass fact that it has it in its constitution the right to be its own country- all these things make Texas one of the best places to live in the open-wide United States.
The Dallas-Fort Worth area where I live is a dynamic growing city with all the excitement and amenities of any big city and the warmth and closeness of any one of the thousands of picturesque small towns that dot America. I always like to think of Fort Worth as either a big town or a small city, and I have always loved that balance. Although I’d say I’m more of a city guy, the calmness of this place makes it just the perfect place to raise a family or to start a new career.
Texans are very proud of where they live and they show it with every opportunity they have- and rightly so- after all they did fight off an entire army and won their independence. I would not be wrong to say that being a Texan carries a lot of arrogant pride at times; but it would also be unfair not to say that the people here are warm and hospitable, probably more so than any other place. And that’s what makes Texas just as iconic a place as California or New York, and trust me, we like to prove it!
However, just like any other place where pride is a big part of local identity, we are not without our faults either. And this is where I came to a very funny realization the other day.
If you as a tourist came to Texas, you would see clean streets, parks devoid of trash and litter, and maybe even a cop handing out a fine to some passerby for throwing away trash on the ground instead of the garbage can where it’s supposed to go. All of this is part of that whole pride thing I was talking about, and it came about from concerned people for the state of their…well, state! And it was for that reason that in the name of conservation the Department of Transportation (of all the agencies) came up with a way to keep Texas clean and beautiful. Now, any Texan can recite the easily quotable and iconic slogan “Don’t Mess With Texas!” created to reduce roadway litter around the state’s highways and show the nation that here in Texas we don’t mess with our state. For some people though the slogan has come to represent much more than that, it is a source of pride to show to the world.
Well it just so happens that the other day while stuck in traffic, I saw the iconic slogan imprinted on a sticker placed in the back window of a monster four-by-four. And as I stared at it and stared at it, something about it just didn’t make sense. And suddenly the irony came to slap me in the face- either that or it was the plume of black smoke coming out of the massive tailpipe. I realized that while we as Texans are so concerned about not polluting the streets with plastic bottles, cigarette butts, or even gum, we are perhaps a bit hypocritical about not messing with our state in other ways. And I think I’ve finally figured it out. Could it be that we’re simply more concerned about how our home looks and not exactly how clean it actually is?
The Important Hoopla
In the wildly popular follow-up to Carl Sagan’s 1980s tv show Cosmos: “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey”, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson talks about our (referring to the whole of the human race) addiction with fossil fuels- byproducts of the compression and extreme heat of carbon fossils to produce what we now pull out of the ground in the form of oil and natural gas and refined to fuel-grade substances that power most of our machines. In the show he speaks of the dangers of these nasty pollutants and how over the course of a century our recklessness has done to the planet what it would normally take thousands of years for the planet to do to itself: global warming.
You’ve heard that old tale before. We burn stuff, the CO2 gets trapped in the atmosphere before it can be recycled by plants and the ocean and what happens is that the Earth gets hot because the sun’s heat cannot escape, just like a pressure cooker. What you don’t believe is just how implausible it all seems! And it does, I mean come on! We, little old humans can affect the global temperature of an entire planet? Please. Yes, the Earth is a small planet, but even with close to 8 billion of us, it is still gigantic!
Right now… on the day that I’m writing this sentence, easily 97% of scientists all over the world believe that global warming is a real phenomenon happening to our planet, and what’s more, they are almost certain that we “little old humans” are at the root of it all. The other 3% were asleep the day the poles were being taken. 97%. If you’re not impressed by that number try getting the government to agree 97% on anything. Good luck!
We’re not talking here about political scientists, or architects, or psychologists, but about climatologists, astronomers, physicists, astrophysicists, paleontologists, seismologists, even mathematicians. In fact, a wide range of disciplines of science are almost convinced that it’s happening. So why is it that these people who paid a loooooot of money to go to school and spent several years not having fun, not going out to get trashed, probably not having a lot of sex, just sitting there day after day thinking for many years about these problems- why is it that despite their expert advice we don’t believe them- us, who did get to do most of those things?
Psychologists are still trying to understand where that disconnect happens between the population and the scientific community. I’m no expert, duh, but I think there are a few reasons besides the obvious ones like political agendas, corporate greed, and religious convictions that do not get mentioned a lot that we should also be talking about.
Please know that the reasons I’m about to list are not in any way trying to influence you to change your mind- after all if you don’t believe in global warming, you are probably not a scientist- but I list them so you can at least ask yourself “is this something I’m doing?”
The Counterproductive “Probably”
At this point in time, the climate-change debate is not really a debate anymore so much as it is a one-sided argument. Like I mentioned before, global warming in the scientific community is a non-issue, in the context that the discussion has gone from “Is it real?” to “how do we fix it?”
The problem scientists have (aside from lack of research funding) is interpreting faithfully the data that is collected in order to inform the population. If you think that scientists have an agenda, you’re not wrong. The agenda is trying to convince you that we need to cut the shit and start acting right. Not a bad agenda if you ask me.
Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done. Even collecting any piece of reliable data is very difficult to do, because it takes years to observe measurable change, analyze it, compile it, compare it, file it, publish it, and get it peer-reviewed for it to be an acceptable piece of evidence. If somewhere along the way an error is found, then the process starts over again.
Scientists will tell you, sometimes it is frustrating that after so many years of work, you publish and people don’t even believe it. It’s understandable for the layman to be skeptical when a lot of the science- especially related to GW- is not 100% accurate, which can be misleading.
Scientists understand that there are margins of error that we cannot get past, after all, there are a great deal of things we still do not understand about many fields, things that you wouldn’t believe are related to climate, such as mathematical chaos, “random” events, etc. These factors, and others, for which we still do not have an accurate model of are part of that margin of error that prevents us from knowing with total certainty what the weather is doing and whether it is apt to change in the near future. It is this margin of error that leads humble scientists to use words like “probably,” “we’re not completely sure,” and “we believe…” These phrases often get misconstrued in people’s minds as “we don’t know,” which has devastating effects on the public psyche regarding cold, hard facts we’ve collected about the world that are reliable.
In the scientific community an “I don’t know” stance is a respectable answer to a question for which we don’t yet have enough information about. Not so much in politics, religion, or economics. We are so used to expecting an answer to our questions- even if it’s the wrong answer- that we have come to expect the same from science, and of course the scientific method doesn’t work that way. What we should be doing instead is put on our thinking caps and our science goggles and look at the world through the eyes of a scientist. Look at and study the data and try to understand what the professionals are talking about instead of trying to shout over them. In other words, look at the evidence objectively.
People don’t often question any other element of their lives as much as they scrutinize scientific facts (especially those that have become political or financial tennis balls), but we need to be aware of the simple fact that although being skeptical is a very good thing, we should know when we’re wrong and change our minds when the facts are overwhelmingly in-your-face. It’s a hard thing to do to admit that you’re wrong, but if scientists do it, why can’t we?
Why Is It My Fault? Why Should I Change?
You’ve heard it before: change is difficult. But why? Well, in this case it’s not hard to see why we’re obstinate to continue burning fossil fuels at the rate that we are, and in my opinion I don’t think that the answer is money. Well, not the whole answer.
Despite the dire warnings that in the “business-as-usual” path we’re at, global temperatures could rise as much as six degrees by the end of the century, we continue to burn fossil fuels at exorbitant rates. I say “we” because the gas your car needs to move, the hot water you use to shower, and the electricity you use don’t come out of nowhere, some of those are products of the burning of fossil fuels, so whether we want it or not, we are all contributors of global warming.
And although six degrees does sound a bit too much, that is the most extreme scenario, but just try this out for fun: raise your house temperature by six degrees and see if you don’t feel a difference. The world works the same way, but the really big difference is that raising the global temperature even one degree can have radical alternate effects on the environment, let alone six. At six degrees, the world will basically turn into an oven where natural disasters will become incredibly violent, much more frequent, and very polarized (some regions will experience severe droughts while others will see a rise in sea level.) The upside is that they will at least be more predictable. I forget why that’s a good thing.
Even if we stopped the current model today, temperatures are still expected to rise one or two degrees well before the end of this century, like a runaway freight train. If you think you can adapt to the heat, maybe YOU can, but you have to understand that the world depends on a delicate balance and that you’re not the only living thing in it. In fact, thousands of species depend on global temperatures staying the way the are and they cannot cope with the changes fast enough to evolve. Believe me that if temperatures rose by six degrees in one year, the world would experience mass die-offs, even bringing humanity within an inch of extinction.
If this sounds alarming it’s because it is. But why is it that this doesn’t sound alarming enough to take action?
One of those reasons I mentioned for why this happens is the inability for people to accept fault. That, coupled with the dread of change. It is, after all, much easier to keep things as they are than to change them.
You see it everywhere, people complain that it’s too hot and yet they buy bigger and bigger gas-guzzlers. We express grief that another species dependent on a delicate environment has extinguished and yet we complain about gas prices. We can’t have our cake and eat it too. We have acquired this passive-aggressive mentality that all it does is stall, and ‘m guilty of the same crime. Environmentalists complain about gas companies and yet they drive to the rallies while stopping to gas up on the way there. There’s no denying the hypocrisy that undoubtedly exists, and we bear the blame. But if we think about it, it is a vicious circle that starts and stops with us. There is such a thing as responsible (or responsible-ish) use of fossil fuels, but we also have to accept that we have been conned, and conned good.
As it stands, the fossil-fuels industry is experiencing its golden age of advertisement, much like it was for cigarette companies in the 60s. Gas companies will claim that the fuel we’re burning has ethanol, that it’s safer for the environment, that uses more plant derivatives, etc. But what they don’t tell you is that the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is so accessible nowadays that it’s far from impossible for billion-dollar companies to make that switch. However, it is inconvenient. For them because that would mean spending a lot of money on something that they would lose money on. At the same time they shamelessly guilt us into thinking that “putting out the fire” will put many people out of work.
There’s no denying that change has consequences. Even good change can have bad consequences as I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” But in the end, I am more than positive that responsible governments can- and should- create or re-position the jobs lost due to a global energy switch when the demand for cleaner energy begins- after all alternative fuels aren’t going to create themselves.
Renewable energy is cheap and virtually limitless. It’s inconvenient for you right now because even the switch is admittedly still a bit expensive to implement- and for them [corporations], because they can cash in on that inconvenience. That doesn’t change the simple fact that once implemented, renewable energy is cheap and limitless. Hopefully typing in bold letters will have some kind of positive effect.
But despite my best efforts, it seems reasons not to make that switch are also limitless. Let’s see what’s another one.
This past winter, North America saw one of the coldest winters on record. Temperatures dropped to double digits and snow buried entire towns. Like clockwork, climate-change deniers immediately jumped up at the chance to prove us all wrong and tell us just how much of an illusion GW is by… holding up snowballs. If this isn’t the pinnacle of stupidity, I don’t know what is. The least he could’ve done is start a snow-ball fight in the middle of the senate floor… it would at least make C-SPAN more interesting.
I remember a few weeks ago I saw something on the magical gem that is the Internet that got me laughing and thinking at the same time. The joke was in response to people who say that global warming must not be real if it still snows on winters, and I should have saved the exact quote or taken a picture of it, but here’s a funny approximation: “I got cold today, yeah, global warming must not be real.”
It must be tiring for scientists to have to repeat themselves over and over again- sorry Neil Degrasse Tyson. Yes, it’s cold during winter. Yes, climate change is still happening! And yes, there is a scientific explanation for it, that we fortunately do have.
However, scientists understand that your mind gets easily distracted every ten seconds, so for the sake of hope that it might stick one day, they are happy to repeat the statement: GW is indeed still on.
The fact that most people don’t believe that fossil fuels can have such an impact on global warming is due to two reasons: the change- although extremely fast in geological timelines- seems slow-to-a-crawl for us humans and therefore unnoticeable- at least until the planet hits two degrees, then everything will start going downhill real fast; and the second reason is that most of the people with the luxury of denying a changing climate already live in urban areas, which let’s face it, have problems of their own.
In the span of a person’s life (roughly 80 years in developed countries), climate will have barely warmed one degree, maybe two. Again, us humans are very resilient creatures and though one degree of difference is nothing to be alarmed over, the planet sees it differently; and people living in poor areas see it even more!
One degree of difference in global temperatures in New York City might mean warmer Texas-like summers. In Texas- where I pitch my tent- it hardly matters because the weather just does what it wants over here anyways, but even here the heat waves will become extreme. But other places in the world are not so lucky. California is experiencing some of the worst droughts in recordable history, and Australian wildfires are out of control. Elsewhere it might mean disappearing coast lines as temperatures rise thus melting the polar ice-caps and glaciers that sustain local ecosystems.
You have the luxury of messing with your thermostat when you don’t like what the weather is doing. Other people are not so fortunate and they experience the effects of a changing climate in a more direct and terrifying way.
The fact that the planet is slowly warming (in our terms) has little to do with the fact that this is the fastest warming the world has ever naturally experienced. In other words, it is unnatural the pace at which the Earth’s climate is changing. But you wouldn’t feel much of a difference if you were not looking for clear signs, as scientists do.
Some years ago British scientists discovered– through a lot of research- that there was a hole in ozone layer over Antarctica. You might have heard about this or you might not. Ozone is a poisonous gas at ground-level but in the stratosphere where it resides, it protects us against harmful ultra-violet (UV) rays from the sun. Without it we are toast… quite literally.
The normal person wouldn’t have known this hole even existed had it not been for the research presented. Hell most people before then probably knew very little about the Ozone layer itself. But it was this research that showed how the ozone hole was not created due to natural causes but rather the direct cause of human-made ozone-depleting pollutants. And where do most of these pollutants come from? Take a wild guess.
Living in the city, or near an urban area, might make you a little less adept at noticing changes that happen to other species because of climate change. The reasoning behind it is simple: there just isn’t a whole lot of nature to observe, therefore it’s easier to miss. Even the lush local vegetation of clean cities doesn’t compare to the vast expanse of a rain forest or a tropical area. But take a trip to what’s left of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia (still one of the most breathtaking places on Earth) and even the locals will tell you how much of it is gone- a lot of that to ocean acidity, which is a product of rising temperatures. But this isn’t exclusive to oceans- which bear some of the heaviest burden due to pollutants like oil spills as well as heat entrapment– but also rainforests affected by deforestation, tropical areas, the tundra, and even deserts.
Eventually the changes, even in your city, will become so pronounced that there will be no denying it, climate change is happening and it’s happening because of what we are doing. And because of the concentration of humans in cities, high-rises, mountains, local ozone-layer depletion, metal and asphalt, and very little vegetation, heat will not be able to disperse as easily.
The fact that global warming is invisible like the wind, doesn’t mean that it’s not there. And what’s more, the fact that you don’t think you’re contributing to it means nothing to the generations who will curse you for not acting because you felt like it wasn’t your job.
Why Deny it?
If it sounds scary it’s only because it should be. The reality is that painting that scary picture is the only way to get people to act. It’s really sad that scientists have to almost resort to scare-tactics to get our politicians to act and for normal people to force them to act.
It seems like such a waste of precious time and resources for scientists to have to prove to the layman what has already been debated among themselves for decades with people smarter than you and I. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ask questions. But when the evidence is overwhelmingly against your favor, maybe it’s time to pay attention.
A lot of people who deny climate change say something along the lines of “but how can humans change the planet’s climate? That sounds far-fetched!”
Well, not if you look at the massive damage that we have done to the planet, and that we keep doing. Current climate change stems from a combination of many events, both natural and man-made. It stems from the detonation of thousands of nuclear weapons over the years, to the razing of rainforests, to the spilling of oil and chemicals into the water (oceans and freshwater), to the modification of local climates; all, and more, of this combined with the Earth’s natural heating and cooling cycles.
Again, I will not discuss the reason for why the current warming is not just the Earth being… melodramatic as in past times. You can find that information in the bottom section under “Interesting Reads”. Today I am discussing some of the [unusual] reasons for why I believe people don’t believe current climate-change is man-made or anything to take seriously. I don’t want to step on any toes here, but I think these reasons are valid given proper study. But even if I’m wrong, that doesn’t mean that the experts are. You should at least listen to what they say and act accordingly.
What’s the problem?
The problem we have in Texas is the same problem we have throughout the United States and indeed throughout the world. It’s not a shortness of resources, how could we, every single minute we are bathed in the byproduct of the most resourceful element in our galaxy- the sun. Wind power is virtually limitless, unless one day the wind stopped blowing. Nuclear energy, although still harmful to a certain degree is also basically limitless and thousandfold times less harmful than fossil fuels. Motion energy is, again, endless. So what is the problem then?
In many ways the problem is the most serious and dire one we have. The resource that we lack does not belong to the physical world and yet, it is the thing we lack the most: will. It is the will to change that’s carving one of two paths for the future history of our world and our species and all the species in it. Notice how I put “the world” ahead of everything else? That’s because whether we make this place a shithole or a paradise, the world survives without us- it’s impossible for the inverse scenario to happen. We cannot survive without the world. Our greed and insatiable appetite for quick profits and “act-later” attitudes is fast outpacing our very own survival. I think it’s obvious to see why, after all we don’t have a colony in the moon to go to, or space cities we can take refuge in. This is all we have… well, this is all we have, our generation of humans. But what about the next generation or the next or the one after that- what will they have? Or actually more like, what will they have left?
And this brings me to the stupidest reason we can possibly find to not act.
When That Happens I Will Be Long Dead
This is perhaps the more irresponsible position to take. Whether you have kids or not, being a responsible human being means looking out for the world of the future, for the generations that will come after you.
If you live in what’s called a “first-world” country (a term I despise), then you were born with the luxury of not having to fight for food every day of your life- hopefully. Imagine a world where every single day your biggest fear is to find food only to have to kill for it, even if it’s from your own family members. If we continue on the path we’re on, eventually that is what will happen in a 3-4 degree world. It will not happen overnight, but each barrel of oil more that we burn will inexorably lead us to the collapse of modern civilization. And those who live in the cusp of 2-3 degree change, or 3-4, or 5-6 (if there are any people left in the planet), will undoubtedly curse us all. But what does it matter, we’ll be dead, right?
The point is to take a responsible approach. In the same manner that we resent past generations for past atrocities, future generations have one of two paths carved out for them: they will either be part a futuristic, sustainable global civilization that will do great things, far greater than we can ever imagine; or they will dwell in an uninhabitable lawless wasteland where there will be no more future for the human race. And one of those futures will happen by how we act today.
Can we possibly hope to change?
If you’re anything like me, you probably freak out when you spill juice on your carpet (I do it all the time) or when your bathroom looks like Gollum made it his lair, or when the dishes pile up everywhere. You set a day to just clean and you do it. And again, if you’re anything like me, you probably feel amazing once everything is nice and clean and sparkling. Okay I pay for people to do it, but the whole point is that you like your environment clean. So why is it such a crazy idea to want an extended part of your environment, mainly the environment, as clean as you’d want your house?
I see the whole environmental issue effectively as a non-issue, but rather a matter of commmon sense. When non-environmentalists grill people for being whiny about wanting to have a clean world, basically what they’re saying is “Why the hell woudn’t you want a big oil spill in that water you drink, are you against progress or what?” At least that’s what I hear.
Chances are you will read this blog, just as you have done with many others, be concerned for about 10 seconds, maybe even donate $5 to a local group and brush it off thinking you did your part. Throwing money at the problem will not fix it. But it just so happens that there is something you can do that is effective and inexpensive, and it all starts with how you live.
You don’t need to go out there and try to change governments and destroy oil rigs. By doing simple non-intrusive things at home, you can do your part. Here are some you can try:
- Conserve water whenever possible by taking shorter showers, watering your lawn a bit less and recycling water.
- Recycling. Using less plastics and more organic stuff can make a great impact!
- If possible, change your energy demands. If it’s within your means, install solar panels in your home and/or switch to alternative methods of energy: wind or solar. If not, then even changing the light-bulbs at home to more energy-efficient ones can make a big difference and it’s relatively cheap.
- Tough it out a bit during the summer and winter. Keep your thermostat a bit cooler in the winter and a bit warmer in the summer at home and not only will you be helping the environment but also your pocket.
- Think green! Get plants a lot of plants for your home. It’ll look nice and it will oxygenate your house. And if you can, plant trees! Maybe one or two will not make much a difference, but it does make a difference.
- Reduce the fuel you burn. Buy more energy-efficient vehicles and try to stay away from big gas-guzzlers. Explore your city more instead of traveling by car or plane. Or try to save fuel whenever possible.
- Talk about it. You’re bound to catch someone’s attention. Tell people the good things our planet is losing to burning fossil fuels. And scare them with the possible future realities if necessary. But overall spread the word.
Right now it’s too late to reverse the course of a one-degree increase. But it’s not too late to stave off disaster. All it takes is a little will. If you love your state like I do, if you love your country like I do, if you love this world like I do, I urge you to show it. Change the culture. Maybe it’s time for a new slogan: Don’t Mess With Planet Earth!
And as always I leave you with this little gem… enjoy 😀
For a chilling description of degree-by-degree destruction check this out: