Sunday, November 3, 2013

Idle Thoughts -- An Ounce of Prevention...

Do we have a moral responsibility to try to interfere with the expected climate changes? Explain why or why not. If your answer is yes, how would you propose we do that ?

To answer the question, let's set up an imaginary situation which I think is rather parallel. A group of people live in an apartment building. The building inspectors inform everyone that there are some serious problems with the building's wiring. The building is very old and as more and more people have moved in, the apartments are growing more and more crowded and more and more extension cords are plugged into the already overloaded wall sockets.

The inspectors insist that the building must be rewired. This will be a very expensive project, but it will make everyone safe and provide them with electricity that is not a threat to their health and survival. The people who use most of this electricity are those in the penthouses at the top of the apartment building. They enjoy their luxurious lifestyle and are worried that if they make changes they might have to pay for them. So they start declaring that the inspectors are in a conspiracy. It's a plot to make people stop using electricity. It's not true. The wiring is in perfect shape!

What is the responsibility of the people living in the apartment building? This is not just a moral issue. If the wiring overloads and the apartment building catches fire, many will be killed, possibly even some of the people residing in the penthouses. Not only that, while the cost of rewiring the apartments will be high the cost of rebuilding the apartments after they have burned down will be much, much higher.

It is a purely practical issue that this problem should be addressed now when it can be addressed with the least possible expense and the least possible harm.

There are moral issues too, naturally. The wealthy few up in the penthouse already use most of the electricity and cause most of the problem, so surely they have an obligation to work hard to correct the problem which they helped create. The fact that they are so wealthy may make them think that they will escape the worst consequences even if the apartment does catch fire, but even if that is so, aren't they morally culpable for the harm inflicted on the poorer members of the apartment community?

Action now will cause expenses and difficulties, but will prevent much more damage later on. Aren't all members of the apartment building morally responsible for doing their best to prevent disaster?

So, for both practical and moral reasons, we must take action. Failure to do so will result in the loss of trillions of dollars to the world's economy, will cost lives as storms intensify and increase in frequency, may cause massive starvation if rainfall patterns move away from the current bread baskets, and on and on and on. Even if we take action now, a great deal of damage will continue to happen. We can no more suddenly bring a stop to climate change then you can suddenly make a train stop.

What action should we take? We should enact carbon taxes so that those who cause the most damage provide the money to help us fix the problem. We should establish carbon exchanges. This is the system that has worked very well in the past for other problems and will work in this case.

We must put a great deal of money into scientific solutions. Some examples of what has already been tested include artificial trees which absorb more carbon than real trees. We can also buy or lease forest lands which are currently being chopped down by desperately poor individuals to make a small amount of money. If we lease or rent the forests from them, we will maintain these carbon absorption capacities and also enrich the local economy.

Alternative energy sources are being developed which can make wonderful alternatives to the existing use of fossil fuels. Some fascinating examples include inserting jellyfish genes into plants which will create nighttime lighting in a very gentle but effective glow and cost us nothing except water to feed the plants. Such plants have been created. They are not economically feasible at this time, but research could make them so. California and several other southwestern states have agreed to establish hydrogen refueling stations. This will create an infrastructure for hydrogen powered vehicles, which produce only clean water as a "pollutant".

There is a vast array of things which we can try, some of which will work, some of which will fail. But if we put the money and effort into the basic research, we can make a difference that will greatly reduce the impact of global warming. We are morally obligated to do so and, as a practical matter, it is the only sensible course to take.

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