The Future is Real; Let's Keep it Cool

Mon, 2006-02-27 10:30John Lefebvre

The Future is Real; Let's Keep it Cool

As one of the originators of the DeSmogBlog, and as its financial backer, I’d like to explain why I got involved in this project and why I think everyone should engage more seriously in the issue of climate change.

My rationale can be summed up in three phrases:

1. 100 years from now exists;

2. Stop me if you’ve heard this before; and:

3. Use less? No: expect more.

Let me explain:

One hundred years from now exists.

It’s true that we can’t prove it, any more than we can prove the science of climate change to the satisfaction of the good folks at ExxonMobile, but we still all understand and agree that the year 2106 will arrive on time and on schedule, whether or not any of us, or our children, survive to see the day.

The question, then, is why can’t we plan for it? Humans are all but unique in the world in their ability to anticipate future events and adjust their actions accordingly. It’s true that a cougar will stash a half-eaten carcass so it can come back to it later, but it’s a leap from that kind of foresight to, say, planning for retirement or brushing your teeth when you’re six, so you will still have teeth when you’re 60.

Regardless of that human quality - that capacity - the media conversation on climate change is still dominated by people who would have us throw away our tooth brushes, take off our seatbelts and resume smoking. They argue that while intelligent caution might  serve us well, it also might not. Your teeth might fall out anyway - and 2,500 of the world’s most accomplished climate scientists might be wrong about humankind’s impact on the earth’s environment.

Right. And time might stop.

If you drink enough wine, you will find in that last statement good fodder for an interesting philosophical discussion. But even inebriated, most of us would recognize that it’s a stupid position on which to build policy.

 Where have you heard this before?

Remember the guys who told us smoking might not be bad for you? If you don’t, if you can’t put a name on that perfidy, check out www.junkscience.com. Steve Milloy, the Fox News columnist and climate change denier-for-hire moved seemlessly from taking money from Big Tobacco to attack cancer scientists to taking money from Big Oil to attack climate science. (It’s not clear how the guy sleeps at night, but it seems likely that, given his client list, he can afford a comfy mattress.)

Again, on one hand we have the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, the world’s most reputable climate experts all agreeing that we face a global catastrophe if we don’t change the way we are living. On the other hand, you have a handful of self-interested skeptics who will, apparently take money from the world’s most rapacious companies and then dream up arguments to justify their actions. Perversely, the media presents both these views and calls it balance.

The other aspect to “Where have you heard this before” - the other common argument - is that addressing climate change will be damaging to the economy. Well, abolishing slavery was damaging to the economy of the white folks who were reaping the benefit, but without wanting to put any words in Steve Milloy’s mouth, I think we’re all pretty convinced it was still a good idea.

Want Less? No: Expect More.

This is the part of the argument where I often fall out of step with the environmental lobby. I think it’s a terrible mistake, when you are trying to build public support in an urgent policy discussion, to try to recruit converts by telling people that they should want less than tomorrow than they have today. There is, among the clumsiest enviro-campaigners, an abstemious self-righteousness that works only at chasing potential supporters away.

Finding intelligent solutions to climate change should not involve telling everyone that they have to give up their vehicles and live in cold, dimly lit houses. We should not want less for ourselvs and our families, we should demand more - from our governments and from the industries that serve us. We should not tolerate the faux helplessness of an auto industry that complains that it can’t profitably meet emission standards and then sells everyone into unsafe, truck-based vehicles just to dodge emission regulations. We should not tolerate a government that subsidizes oil but can’t find serious money for alternative energy research.

I am convinced that the solutions are there if we look for them - if we invest in them. I am also impressed that the world’s most reasonable governments could, in Montreal in December, continue to agree on a format to set substantive and enforceable emission-reduction targets. Anything less is frighteningly inadequate.

Finally, I have been delighted by the passion and courage that my DeSmogBlog partner Jim Hoggan brings to this issue. As an old pro in the PR field, he recognizes instantly the too-common misuse of public relations tactics to confuse, rather than educate the public on climate. Most PR professionals probably see the same thing, but no others have shown the strength of character necessary to stand up and say so.

So: watch for those phrases. Pay attention when someone starts talking as if 100 years from now does not exist. Listen skeptically when you start hearing messages of phoney reassurances that sound too much like things you’ve heard before. And don’t let anyone tell you to want less. Be reasonable, be prudent, be responsible in your energy usage, by all means. But be demanding. We all will have to achieve a high standard if we are to contain climate change.

Comments

John,

Thank you for expressing your concerns and solutions.  The bigger shadow over oil is the fraud machine backed by Bush & Sons, Inc. formerly known as the United States of America.  My attorneys have filed my evidence of the massive corporate fraud scheme with all US enforcement agencies, but now we need to publicize these facts.  The NBC News Executive Producer in Malibu who spent over 30 hours with me to draft this description of the case www.MCOReport.com quit her job in November because of the corporate control over the news.

M. Cary ONeal

PO Box 325, Malibu, CA 90265  MCary400@yahoo.com 

Please forgive me for using this forum to contact you but I could not find any other avenue.

This is a first for me, communicating with another John LeFebvre. I found your University of Calgary article by using google and a new search technique I recently learned.

 The similarities we share, (besides our name) are remarkable. I too am a life-long musician, my daughter’s name is Emily, I have been trying for years to make people understand exactly what “global warming” is and what will happen if we continue to ignore the fact that we are now in its embrace.

The article I read about your life was very inspiring. It brought me great joy to see your efforts to improve the quality of life for people. As one person who is a member of the “John Le Febvre” name franchise on this planet, I am proud to share it with you.

Sincerely,

John Le Febvre

Want Less? No: Expect More. ”And don’t let anyone tell you to want less. Be reasonable, be prudent, be responsible in your energy usage, by all means. But be demanding. We all will have to achieve a high standard if we are to contain climate change.”

While I agree with much of what you say about climate change, your argument about expecting more seems to be at the core of what ails us. As Paul Kennedy wrote 15 years ago, the proverbial shit will hit the fan when developing countries reach economic levels where their residents expect all the goodies we in the West have enjoyed for decades. That’s happening now and will continue in the decades ahead.

Where do you think all our goodies come from? There is no way technology can mastermind some bit of alchemy that will get us around resource massive use.

Quality of life won’t necessarily diminsh if we have less goodies. But first we have to redefine “quality” and “life”.

I would suggest starting by reading Ernest Becker’s Denial of Death and then getting to grips with what true heroism really means.

Cheers

The situation with fossil fuel companies and global warming has been likened to that of the tobacco companies, which at first weren’t aware of the danger posed by their products. Over the years, as medical science improved, most people began to appreciate that danger, but the companies kept on pedalling their cigarettes anyway. Tobacco products damage only those who smoke them, and people nearby who breathe in the smoke they emit. But the burning of fossil fuels creates greenhouse gases that ultimately will affect every man, woman and child on the planet.

Whether fossil fuel companies should continue exploring for more oil and gas is an ethical and moral question up for debate, but pumping and selling oil is not illegal. Environmentalists seem to regard the fossil fuel companies as the source of all evil. I can understand that view, but let’s consider some home truths: The quality of life we enjoy in the industrialized world is only possible because of the wealth created by the exploitation of natural resources.

When you plug in your kettle, switch on your central heating system, watch TV and talk to your family on the phone, you are able to do that only because of fossil-fuel driven power. There aren’t yet enough renewable sources of power to cope with all this energy demand. But that’s the problem. We need to make sure that there are. The fact that the exploitation of Earth’s resources is damaging the planet’s ability to sustain life means we need to do a little growing up about the long term trajectory we’re on. Mother Nature has been tapping us on the shoulder for a while now and I suspect it won’t be long before she gets our attention with something with a little more clout.

Oil companies, like any other business, exist to make profit. They only sell oil products because people buy them. Perhaps some of them are even led by individuals who think quarterly profits are more important than their own children. But raging against oil companies won’t stop them. Like it or not, they’re here, and they’re not going to go away. If you don’t like what they do, stop buying their products. People who sit around wishing the oil companies weren’t here are not helping the situation.

Most of the fossil fuel companies are undoubtedly powerful organisations, but it’s empowering to realize that they can be controlled. Companies go wherever the profits are. That’s how companies work. While the big oil firms are in a position to legally make profits by selling oil products, I guarantee that they will. But by changing your behaviour, you can affect the way fossil fuel companies make investments. Since the fossil fuel companies are spending so much effort convincing us about their investments in “clean energy”, why not do them and the planet a favour by encouraging them along this noble path. Send them a message: “Clean up or go bust.” To do that, you need to think carefully every time you reach for your wallet.