At a little post-Christmas, pre-New Years get-together this past Saturday evening, I had the most wonderful discussion/ conversation/debate. It started off with global warming and moved from there through the economics of green energy, its impact on national security and the place of America in the 21st century.
Since I haven’t written one of these in a while I figured why not take a little time to examine a couple of intertwining issues, get my thoughts out on paper (so to speak) and get yelled at a bit by some folks.
To be honest, I started off – just for fun, of course – on the “wrong” side of the global warming discussion. Sometimes debating on the “wrong” side of an issue like global warming can be fun. I advise everyone, no matter how crunchy and green or gun-totting and conservative you, to try this every now and again. Not only will you keep the conversation going, you might also learn a thing or two while you keep your mind open.
Just so we’re clear, I do believe man has had an effect on global temperatures during the past century. This easily falls into the “no shit, Sherlock” category. In 1900 there were 1.65 billion people living on planet Earth. Today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 6.75 billion of us living in the same space.
Just taking into account there are 5 BILLION more people living on our tiny little planet should be enough to convince you we’re doing something to make this place a little warmer than it was a hundred years ago. Kind of like if you’re the only person in an elevator, that’s not too bad. However, if you’re one of 17 people stuck in an elevator for 45 minutes (and two of them are making out the whole time) and missing the first half of a really important basketball game, that’s probably gonna be pretty warm and suck just a bit.
To quote National Geographic, “Average temperatures have climbed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degree Celsius) around the world since 1880, much of this in recent decades, according to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.” Since it’s NatGeo, I’ll take that as holy writ.
Now that our discussion (both here and Saturday evening) established that, yes, the Earth is getting warmer, what can we do about this sticky issue?
When I say “we,” I mean we as Americans. Why? Well, because I am of the opinion that until green power widely successful in the United States, and by that I mean cheap and profitable at the same time, it will ultimately flop everywhere around the world.
Boo. Hiss. Booo.
Boo me all you want, I’m not being jingoistic here. Quick, name the three largest countries by population and area? Don’t worry, you don’t have to go look it up, I’ve done it for you. Population: 1. China 2. India and, surprise, 3. the United States. Area: 1. Russia 2. Canada and, again, 3. The United States.
The U.S. has the third largest population (305 million consumers), the third largest land area and, oh yeah, the single largest economy and customer base in the world. (You can add to this a majority of the world's best universities.)
If we thoughtfully put our vast land area to use in wind, solar, solar thermal (one of my personal favs), biomass and other greenish types of energy (including nuclear), we’ll seriously be halfway there. This doesn’t even take into account this is a HUGE national security issue for us and our allies. If we can get off the crack pipe of imported oil it could give us the ability to give some really annoying people the bird.
Next we need to convince ourselves it really is important. The best way to do that in America? The profit motive, of course. When green energy is cheap it can be used to make cheap green products. The cheaper the green product, the more of them you can sell (as long as its useful, of course). When someone can make a buck off of something in this country everyone wants a piece of that action.
Once America figures out green really is good and we make it a part of our daily lives, watch out. We may be slow getting on the band wagon (think World War II), but once we get our teeth into something we usually do a pretty good job when it comes to exploiting a good idea (think the Manhattan and Apollo projects). I believe this will happen because no other country has the United States’ combination of population, economic base, disposable wealth, natural resources, intelligence and national will. No country, not Russia, not China, not India, not Brazil (although they are closer than most people would believe on a couple of these), has this combination.
We’re at a critical junction in history. Do we go forward and maintain our place in the world? Or do we just say “Fuck it,” and decline like the Roman Empire?
Laugh if you want, but we can’t afford to finish this race in second place. It’ll take a bit of sacrifice on all our parts, but I’ve got a pretty good feeling about what the next couple of years may hold in store for us.