Friday, December 11, 2009

Clean-Up Time

As you watch a news update about the global climate summit in Copenhagen, where politicians debate if we should lower our carbon emissions by an eensy-weensy bit, or just a teeny-tiny bit, a neighbor walks up to your swimming pool and dumps a few gallons of some mysterious liquid into the water. Are you concerned?

I would hope so.

I know what you're thinking: "I don't even have a swimming pool." Fine. Poor example.

Let's try this one: I poured a bottle of unmarked pills into your well a few days ago. I found them in the back of a friend's medicine cabinet. The label was missing. They were pink and white.

I have no idea what the pills do, but I can't imagine they can be too harmful. A doctor prescribed them to someone, after all. They're meant to be ingested.

You've already had two or three glasses of water since then, with no problems so far. So what are you all worked up about?

What? You're calling the police? Pressing charges? Interesting.

Now ask yourself how you feel about carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

No big deal? Carry on as normal?

Global warming skeptics insist there's no proof that man-made carbon emissions are causing any problems.

Whatever. What they don't say is that no one can prove our carbon emissions are NOT causing problems.

I assume you'd like to keep your drinking water the same. I vote we keep the atmosphere pretty much the same as when the first neanderthals started beating each other with mammoth tusks, or whatever they did.

Even if you think science hasn't proven anything about global warning, you also can't assume fundamentally changing the Earth's atmosphere is harmless.

The International Energy Agency, which is considered conservative in its carbon estimates, says we're on pace to more than double the CO2 in the atmosphere this century. Meanwhile, the Earth has less than half the carbon-eating rain forest it had a couple hundred years ago.

So: my daughter could live to see a global temperature change severe enough to suck our soil dry, turn vast swaths of temperate zones into deserts, and melt the polar ice caps, which would put just about every lobster pound on the coast of Maine out of business. (Are you paying attention now, Baldacci?)

But even if you remain skeptical that an atmosphere absurdly thick with CO2 is contributing to a serious climate change problem; even if you're not convinced there is a scientific consensus that man-made CO2 emissions are bad news, tell me what good could possibly come from futzing around with the atmosphere.


You wouldn't dump anything into your well if you didn't know exactly what the risks were. Why are we so quick cling to doubt when it comes to the air? When there are plenty of legitimate scientists shouting "Catastrophe!" and their opponents, mostly energy industry lackeys, can only muster, "maybe not."

Fine. Even though it's an absurd violation of everything we know about peer-reviewed science, I'll grant you your lack of consensus. "Maybe not" it is, then.

Big deal.

Let's clean up after ourselves, anyway.

And not like your nine-year-old cleans his room, by shoving everything under the bed and hoping it disappears into a convenient black hole. We actually have to get rid of our waste, and stop making so much of it to begin with.

It's the right thing to do.

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