Sunday, June 27, 2010
Al Gore forgot about gravity (If he ever knew about it)
Some rather obvious but amusing stuff below. A melting Greenland would NOT raise North Atlantic sea levels. I gather that the post is based on a paper by Mitrovica et al. in Nature 409, 1026 (2001). Whether one icecap would melt and not the other seems improbable a priori but in fact temperature movements are far from uniform across the globe. And a scenario whereby Greenland would melt but not Antarctica could be envisaged. I gather that Antarctica is colder on average than Greenland.
I have tidied up the English below a bit. The German name of the site translates as "Climate Onion", which captures rather well the multi-layered effects at work on the climate
Global sea-level rise is caused by several factors, among which the most important the expansion of the water column due to rising ocean water temperatures and the melting of the polar ice-sheets. Both effects are obvious and do not require further explanation.
However, the shrinking of the polar land-ice masses does not lead to a sea-level rise uniformly distributed over the globe. Quite to the contrary, its fingerprint is substantially heterogeneous. If the Greenland ice sheet melts, most of the sea-level rise would occur in the southern Hemisphere. If, on the other hand, it is the West-Antarctic Ice sheet that collapses, Nature's wisdom would produce a targeted maximum of sea-level rise right in front of the White House. This surprising effect is caused by very well-known physics - gravitational attraction - but it is seldom found in the public discussion of global sea-level rise.
The mechanisms by which this spatial distribution of sea-level response to the collapse of polar ice sheets is not difficult to understand either, albeit its magnitude may be surprising for many of us.
Basically, sea-levels in the Arctic, North Atlantic and North Pacific are affected by the additional gravitational pull of the large ice mass locked on top of Greenland. So Northern levels are a bit higher than they 'should be'. If this ice mass melts, the volume of the global ocean will increase accordingly and thus sea-level would tend to rise on average. But at the same time the gravitational pull that maintained the sea-leve in the Nordic seas will also disappear, and sea-level will tend to drop in those areas close to the present position of the ice-sheets.
The calculation of the final spatial distribution of this gravitational effect is somewhat complex, but can be done. Other effects come into play as well, but their magnitude is just able to slightly modulate the overall fingerprint of the gravitational pull. For instance, melting of the polar ice sheets and the subsequent distribution of water masses over the the whole ocean changes the rotational speed of the Earth - in a similar way as an ice skater turns more slowly when he extends his arms away from his body. This in turn slightly affects sea-level as well
It turns out that for the Arctic Ocean, the gravitational effect overwhelms the increase in ocean volume; so that melting of Greenland ice causes a drop of sea-level in this ocean (see Figure). For Northern Europe, both effects roughly cancel (see the zero isoline separating the dark blue and light blue colors). Sea-level rises unabated in the Southern Hemisphere. In the case of Antarctic ice melting, we roughly find a mirror image, with sea-level dropping in the Southern Ocean and rising in the Northern Hemisphere. For the case of melting of ice sitting on the West-Antarctic peninsula, the maximum sea-level rise occurs in the Western North Atlantic.
Greenland glaciers and glaciers on the Antarctica Peninsula- the area in the Antarctic continent at greatest risk of melting, may react in different ways to overall warming. West Antarctic glaciers terminate below sea-level and thus are exposed to a much greater degree to ocean heat flux and warmer water temperatures. It is therefore possible that the West Antarctic Ice sheet may turn to be less stable to higher temperatures than Greenland. On the other hand, temperatures are projected to rise more in the Arctic region than over Antarctica, so that in this end it is not quite certain which one of the polar ice sheets will be the major contributor to the ocean mass. This introduces further uncertainties to sea-level projections at regional scales.
SOURCE (See the original for graphics)
This cooling seems pretty global
Heavy snow for Europe's glaciers plus more Southern Hemisphere resorts open. Not mentioned below is recent unusually cold weather in Western Australia
# Up to 30cm (a foot) of new snow so far today around Queenstown's ski areas.
# Up to 50cm (20 inches) of fresh snow in the Alps.
# Second Californian ski area to open in July.
# Cairngorm in Scotland wraps up seven month season.
# Argentina's resort start to open and more snow in Chile and South Africa. www.skiinfo.co.uk reports that more of Europe's glacier ski areas are opening and that they, along with the centres already open, are benefitting from heavy snowfalls in recent days.
More ski areas have also been opening in the southern hemisphere, where resorts in New Zealand are reporting up to 25cm of new snow so far today. In addition a third US area has announced plans to open its slopes in July.
There have been low temperatures and heavy snow on glaciers in the Alps in the past few days. With all three summer ski areas now open in France, this means 10 areas are offering powder snow conditions on their slopes at the moment!
In Austria the Hintertux glacier has reported 45cm (18 inches) of new snow it has a 590m vertical with 20km of pistes open, and a 195.cm (6.5 foot) base. The Dachstein glacier has a210cm (7 foot) base and is reporting powder conditions. It's beginner park and super park are both open.
The Kitzsteinhorn glacier above Kaprun has also reopened, reporting another 5cm (two inches) of fresh snow on Tuesday, on top of weekend falls and a full 750 metres of skiable vertical.
The Mölltal glacier will re-open this Sunday, 27 June at 8am with about 9 km of groomed slopes open daily to 4pm through to the end of August. The centre currently reports up to 3.6m (12 foot) snow depths on the glacier.
Italy will also be up to four summer ski areas open by the weekend when Cervinia re-opens with fresh snow. It will join the still-open Presena glacier above Passo Tonale where just two advanced to expert runs are open, as well as Passo Stelvio and Val Senales, which has reported 20cm of new snow in two falls over the past few days.
In Switzerland it's still only Zermatt, Europe's highest ski area, which has 8km of runs open.
In France the ski lifts began running again at the weekend at Tignes on the Grande Motte glacier and in neighbouring Val d'Isere which joined Les 2 Alpes which re-opened a week ago.
In Tignes there's 20km of piste and a giant terrain park open, the snow base is 120cm (four feet) and there's been another 5cm of fresh snow. The slopes are open from 7:15am to 1pm, and located at an altitude ranging from 3,000 to 3,456 metres. The glacier features 12 ski lifts and can be accessed in seven minutes by the underground funicular.
Les 2 Alpes has 80cm (2.6 feet) of snow at 2600m and 2.8m (over 9 feet) up at 3200m with 12 slopes and the terrain park open at one of Europe's largest summer ski areas.
The only other places to ski in Europe are in Norway, where three glacier ski areas are open at Folgefonn with up to four metres of snow lying, Galdhoppigen with up to five metres of snow lying and Stryn with up to 4.5 metres of snow lying.
In Scotland more than 60 skiers took to the slopes at CairnGorm Mountain on the summer solstice on Monday 21st June 2010 to enjoy some midsummer skiing on the snow still lying there in the Ptarmigan bowl.
They were able to take advantage of the two rope tows which had been set up there by the resort's operators CairnGorm Mountain Ltd. Skiers had travelled from as far away as the Isle of Mull in order to be able to say that they had skied at midsummer at CairnGorm.
The 21st was the 147th day of skiing at CairnGorm since the season started on 28 November 2009 and brings to 145,007 the total number of skier days at the resort in what by any account has been an extraordinary season. There were 23 days when skiing was not possible due to high winds or access blocked by snow.
Last year 65,000 skiers visited the resort and only three years ago they had their worst season ever with only 38,000 skiers.
In North America the ski season ended a weekend later than expected in Utah when Snowbird decided to open last weekend after all, extending their 2009/10 season to 189 total days....
Conditions at most ski areas in Chile are looking good after the centres there reported receiving up to two feet (60cm) of snow in the past week, most of it just before the weekend. Chapa Verde has a 60cm (two foot) base and Chapelco 50cm (20 inches).
However Valle Nevado and the South American ' three Valleys' that surround it have some of the best conditions on the continent with more than 1.6m (over five feet) of accumulated snowfall to date. Portillo, which delayed its opening by a week, is now on schedule to open this weekend.
In southern Africa there's snow sports as well as World Cup football. Africa's Tiffindell is open for skiing and Afriski in Lesotho has had more new snow taking its base depth to 65cm (2.2 feet) with a 400m long slope open.
In Australia there's been no new natural snowfall for over a week now but temperatures are continuing to stay quite low so most resorts with snowmaking are making more, and resorts like Falls Creek, Mt Hotham and Perisher have 40 or 50cm (16-20 inches) of snow on snowmaking areas, Thredbo has a little less.
More ski areas have been opening in New Zealand. Treble Cone, which has received excellent pre-season snow, will open tomorrow (Thursday 24 June) with the first lift running at 8.30am. There'll be Amisfield bubbles for the first 150 skiers on the lifts. Whakapapa is scheduled to open on Saturday 26th June.
Ozone, Ice Caps and Unintended Consequences
by Doug L. Hoffman
Hoffman makes a good point below about how CFC restrictions were mandated without a full understanding of the effects, but I hope he is accepting the shrinkage in the ozone hole "for the sake of the argument" only. As far as I can see, the fluctuations in the ozone hole in the 20 years since restrictions were in force are at best a random walk -- with the hole biggest quite recently: in 2006!
One of the central points presented in The Resilient Earth is the fundamental immaturity of climate science and how unreasonable it is to ask for accurate predictions working from the current state of both climate theory and available data. We used the formulation of the three pillars of science—theory, experiment and computation—as the framework of our argument. As an example why we take this stand consider a recent article in the journal Science.
A new study, appearing in the June 13th issue of Science, has found that the healing of the ozone layer, which is projected to occur sometime in the second half of the 21st century, may significantly affect the climate in Antarctica, and therefore, the global climate.
The Montreal Protocol, signed by 191 countries, helped phase out CFC production worldwide by 1996. Observations over the past few years indicate that ozone depletion has largely halted and is now expected to fully reverse. The ozone hole over Antarctica is closing and the climate of the Southern Hemisphere may change as a consequence, reversing the cooling trend seen there over the last 20-30 years. How does this help prove our case that climate science is immature and not able to provide the confident predictions of impending global warming and climatic disaster put forth by the IPCC and other pundits?
CFCs are powerful greenhouse gases, having an effect on the atmosphere similar to CO2 or methane. Basically, CFCs should cause the atmosphere to warm but, by destroying part of the ozone layer, they have had the opposite effect on Antarctica, causing that continent to cool instead. And now, because reducing CFC emissions is allowing the ozone layer to reform, removing CFCs is projected to cause more warming—exactly the opposite effect that was expected. So here is a linkage between chemical compounds in the atmosphere that had not been previously understood. In other words, the theory was incomplete. But that is not all.
The projections from the measured data, the experiment pillar, does not provide a clear picture of how fast the changes will take place or how significant they will be. In their prediction of future climate, many IPCC models did not consider the expected ozone recovery and its potential impacts on climate change. Other models that try to model the ozone changes predict that the Antarctic ozone hole will achieve full recovery in the second half of this century, which may have profound impacts on the surface winds and on other aspects of the Earth's climate, including surface temperatures, locations of storm tracks, extent of dry zones, amount of sea ice, and ocean circulation. The data are inconclusive and the models disagree.
“Our results suggest that stratospheric ozone is important for the Southern Hemisphere climate change, and ought to be more carefully considered in the next set of IPCC model integrations,” said Seok-Woo Son, lead-author of the study and a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS). Meaning that the current IPCC models, the ones that all the global warming predictions are based on, are not correct. You can read more about this from the Science Daily website here.
As a result of this paper's findings we can say that climate theory was found to be incomplete, the data were inconclusive, and the various climate models don't agree but need to be updated to reflect the new findings. And as often happens when dealing the the complex system that regulates Earth's climate, the result of one human action seems to be having an effect opposite from the predicted. This points out a final point about predictions made by scientists—no computer model can predict the unforeseen, unintended consequences of future human actions. Many times an action is taken (eliminate CFC emissions) in order to achieve a result (save the ozone layer) and ends up having an unexpected side effect (warming Antarctica). Now consider that there are thousands of papers published in scores of journals every week—what new gaps in our understanding will be uncovered next? Do you still think that the IPCC can accurately predict what Earth's climate will do over the next 100 years?
Global Tropical Storm Days
Discussing: Wang, B., Yang, Y., Ding, Q.-H., Murakami, H. and Huang, F. 2010. Climate control of the global tropical storm days (1965-2008). Geophysical Research Letters 37: 10.1029/2010GL042487.
The authors write that "the impact of the rising sea surface temperature (SST) on tropical cyclone (TC) activity is one of the great societal and scientific concerns," and that "with the observed warming of the tropics of around 0.5°C over the past four to five decades, detecting the observed change in the TC activity may shed light on the impact of the global warming on TC activity."
What was done
In pursuit of their ultimate objective, Wang et al. examined cross-basin spatial-temporal variations of TC storm days for the Western North Pacific (WNP), the Eastern North Pacific (ENP), the North Atlantic (NAT), the North Indian Ocean (NIO), and the Southern Hemisphere Ocean (SHO) over the period 1965-2008, for which time interval pertinent satellite data were obtained from the U.S. Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center for the WNP, NIO and SHO, and from the U.S. NASA's National Hurricane Center for the NAT and ENP.
What was learned
The five researchers report that "over the period of 1965-2008, the global TC activity, as measured by storm days, shows a large amplitude fluctuation regulated by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, but has no trend, suggesting that the rising temperature so far has not yet [had] an impact on the global total number of storm days," implying that "the spatial variation of SST, rather than the global mean temperature, may be more relevant to understanding the change of the global storm days."
What it means
Contrary to the climate-alarmist claim that global warming increases tropical storm activity on a global basis, the results of this study reveal that long-held contention to still be without merit, even with more than four decades of pertinent data in hand.
Climate science after the ‘hockey stick’ affair
The use and abuse of a single graph to justify action on climate change shows the need for healthy scepticism
By AW Montford ("Bishop Hill")
From the moment it appeared in 1999, it was clear the ‘hockey stick’ graph was going to be very, very important. The graph, which appeared in a paper by US climatologist Michael Mann and others published in 1999, is a reconstruction of global temperatures over the past thousand years. Since for most of that period there were no weather stations monitoring temperature, a variety of proxy temperature measures, like tree rings, needed to be used.
Two things are striking about the graph. Firstly, the period from the year 1000 right through to the mid-nineteenth century shows relatively steady temperatures, despite the widespread belief that there was a ‘medieval warm period’ from around about 950 to 1250 AD. Secondly, the temperatures in Mann’s graph lurch sharply upwards - hence the ‘hockey stick’ nickname - particularly during the twentieth century, suggesting that the world had been getting sharply warmer and would continue to do so.
Within a week of the graph’s publication there was an article about it in the New York Times. This was pretty amazing considering Michael Mann, the lead author of the paper, had only received his PhD a few months before. A couple of years later, it turned up in the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), appearing five or six times, full size, full colour. It was fairly clear that the hockey-stick graph was important.
There was a BBC report some years later in which the reporter explained that it was really quite hard to overestimate how important the graph has been. In Canada, for example, the government even sent a leaflet out to every home in the country showing the conclusions of the graph: that current warming temperatures were historically unprecedented. That indicates how important, how influential this piece of research was. Indeed, it has been cited more than possibly any other paper in the field.
But then, in 2002/2003, a Canadian geologist called Stephen McIntyre came on to the scene. Having been a recipient of one of the Canadian government’s leaflets, he just thought the graph looked a bit, well, odd. So he went through the original research, and because of its rather dramatic shape showing steady temperatures for centuries and centuries and then a sudden lurch upwards in the twentieth century, McIntyre thought this just all seemed a bit dodgy.
This was partly due to McIntyre’s professional background in mining: in mining, the hockey-stick graph is a familiar phenomenon. It is a way for mining companies to encourage people to invest in them, so it probably set his alarm bells ringing.
Now McIntyre was to find two things wrong with Mann’s hockey-stick graph. The first was that the data behind the graph was inappropriate. Most temperature reconstructions use a very small number of tree-ring series. Mann’s hockey stick was rather different in that he used a much larger number, but the important tree-ring series within it were from one particular kind of tree called a bristlecone pine which grows for hundreds, possibly thousands of years and can be found in western America.
The problem, however, was that it was known that this kind of tree showed a growth spurt in the twentieth century, which meant that the pattern of the tree rings effectively had a hockey-stick shape. This was awkward since it was widely acknowledged that this spurt was not being driven by climate. Remarkably, one of Mann’s co-authors had even admitted this in a later paper, stating that the twentieth-century growth spurt was a mystery, but it was not climatic. So these tree rings were known to be problematic.
Following further research in 2004, McIntyre discovered a fragment of code from Mann’s statistical method – principal components analysis – on one of Mann’s own websites. There was an error in it, the effect of which was to overemphasise the bristlecone pines. So, while you had hundreds of tree-ring series, the only ones that mattered were the ones that were hockey-stick shaped.
This meant that it didn’t matter what data you put into Mann’s algorithm, if there was one series within it that had a hockey-stick shape there is a strong chance that, depending on the number of other series, a hockey-stick graph would emerge as the result. The algorithm was heavily weighted in favour of hockey sticks. It effectively disregarded any data that conflicted with, or contradicted, the hockey-stick finding.
It is now agreed – and expert panels have since looked at this – that the bristlecone pines are inappropriate as a proxy measure of temperature and that the statistical methodology used was biased.
Still, the argument that is now given as to why the hockey-stick graph was okay is that the other temperature reconstructions that have been created give broadly the same shape. It is debatable just how similar that shape is – many of them aren’t hockey-stick shaped at all, showing very high temperatures in the medieval period. They are more U-shaped, if you like. But the other factor here is that all these other temperature reconstructions use the bristlecone pines as well. Now, if you’ve got bristlecones in amongst a small number of tree-sing series, then you will invariably get a hockey-stick result.
So, to summarise: Mann’s method used a very large number of tree-ring series, but his statistical method ignored anything that was not hockey-stick shaped. In other reconstructions, fewer sets of data are used, but as a result the dubious bristlecone pine data has a greater impact on the final result.
McIntyre put his case against the hockey-stick graph down on paper in 2005, leading to quite a furore. The argument continues to this day. The IPCC is still trying to stand by Mann’s work, probably because it oversold the hockey-stick graph in the past and now finds it quite difficult to step back from it. It is even included in the Fourth Assessment Report of 2007. The IPCC is maintaining this argument that yes, there may have been problems with the statistics and with the data, but it gives broadly the same answer as the other temperature reconstructions. My impression is that the IPCC would like to drop it gently now without ever admitting what it got wrong.
In the wake of Climategate in late 2009, when a large number of emails and data from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia found their way into the public domain - leading to some fairly embarrassing revelations about the working methods and attitudes of both CRU researchers and their collaborators elsewhere - the climatology community is in a bit of a state of flux. There are people within that community who are maybe just shifting position a little and trying to put a bit of distance between themselves and the more advocacy-based scientists. Whether that leads to an eventual disowning of the hockey-stick graph itself remains to be seen.
I think from this point on we will hear far less about scientific consensus from the climatology community and far more about uncertainty and dissenting views. This is not to say we have heard the end of global warming – there’s too much money floating around for people just to drop it. Climatology has had huge amounts of money flung at it while the big energy companies have investments in renewable technology based on farming enormous subsidies.
These financial pressures are key to distorting the debate about climate. The problem for many climatologists is that they cannot come out and say that global warming isn’t a problem anymore because so much of their funding depends upon it. This is also one of the problems that the IPCC has: the very people who can answer the question on the future direction of climate also depend on the answer to that being that ‘yes, it’s a problem’ to continue receiving funding. It is a difficult problem, and it is one that you get when you have government-funded science.
As for McIntyre, although he is demonised as a Big Oil-funded troublemaker by green activists and advocacy-based scientists, he’s proven very difficult to attack because of his position: he does believe global warming is real, and he does think it is a problem. At the same time, he’s just the type of guy that is going to go out and find the truth no matter where it lies. There is a story that upon hearing the argument that if the hockey-stick graph is wrong, then the planet could be much more sensitive to rises in CO2 levels than previously thought, and therefore global warming could be even worse, McIntyre just shrugged his shoulders and said: ‘If that’s the answer, then that’s the answer and we’ll just have to find it out.’ His integrity as someone who will pursue the truth wherever it may lie is very hard to question.
In the aftermath of McIntyre’s work and Climategate, there is a growing middle ground where people have decided that everyone bashing one another just isn’t helping to clarify matters. What we have to do is follow the science. And that means that we have to be open, we have to be questioning, and scientists have to engage with people outside their own fields.
Addicted to oil? What a dumb idea
The oil-addiction theorists are really disgusted by the desires of stupid, greedy, uppity consumers
We’re addicted to oil. It’s official. The Western world is hooked on the black stuff and Americans are the biggest energy junkies of them all.
This oft-quoted, little-criticised idea has been around for years, but there has been a veritable addiction-to-oil blowout since the BP-hired drilling platform, Deepwater Horizon, sank in the Gulf of Mexico on 20 April, killing 11 rig workers and depositing tens of thousands of barrels of oil into the sea on a daily basis.
The most high-profile airing of the oil-addiction idea came in President Barack Obama’s televised Oval Office address to the nation last week. ‘For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered’, he told viewers. ‘For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked - not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.’
The addicted-to-oil thesis is not a dry discussion of energy policy - rather it is a pointed attack on consumers. Underpinning this idea is a sense that relatively well-off Westerners are too stupid and too greedy to realise that their use of oil is a bad thing.
So Gregor Peter Schmitz, writing in Spiegel International last week, tried to give some context to the risky business of deepwater oil production. ‘[T]here is also a simple reason that BP and other oil companies are drilling at depths of up to 1,500 metres (4,900 feet), far from the coast. They are servicing a greed for cheap energy and resources that fuels 250million automobiles on America’s roads, keeps the country’s countless air-conditioners running and provides water for fantasy cities in the middle of deserts. There are 300million Americans - around five per cent of the global population - but they consume around 25 per cent of the world’s oil.’
Schmitz clearly regards Americans as petulant children, unwilling to accept the painful medicine of reducing oil consumption. He also criticises the fact that Obama himself is pretty vague about actually introducing incentives and taxes to move away from oil. Schmitz puts this down to the electoral disaster that befell former president Jimmy Carter when he told the US electorate that they had to reduce their energy usage: ‘That’s not the kind of thing Americans want to hear. In 1980, voters drove Carter out of office. In his speech, Carter called for 20 per cent of the United States’ energy to come from solar power by 2000 and for an end to dependence on foreign oil. Today, only one per cent of the energy America consumes comes from solar power, and two-thirds of its oil is imported from abroad.’
Yet Schmitz was left standing like a novice driving some solar-powered electric trike next to that Michael Schumacher of Grand Prix-level tree-hugging, anti-consumer bullshit, Naomi Klein. In an article published in the Guardian last weekend, Klein declared that the Gulf oil spill is nature’s slap in the face to us uppity humans who had the conceit to believe we could shape the world to meet our needs. ‘This Gulf coast crisis is about many things – corruption, deregulation, the addiction to fossil fuels. But underneath it all, it’s about this: our culture’s excruciatingly dangerous claim to have such complete understanding and command over nature that we can radically manipulate and re-engineer it with minimal risk to the natural systems that sustain us.’
Klein argues that until the year 1600, or thereabouts, people saw the planet as a living organism, as Mother Earth, which provided for us but could also punish us, too. Then along came the idea that we could control nature, summed up by England’s quintessential Renaissance Man, Francis Bacon. Nature, he said, could be ‘put in constraint, moulded, and made as it were new by art and the hand of man’.
Against Bacon’s rational, human-centred worldview, Klein offers us mysticism. She praises those ‘standing not in wonder at humanity’s power to reshape nature, but at our powerlessness to cope with the fierce natural forces we unleash. There is something else too. It is the feeling that the hole at the bottom of the ocean is more than an engineering accident or a broken machine. It is a violent wound in a living organism; that it is part of us. And thanks to BP’s live camera feed, we can all watch the Earth’s guts gush forth, in real time, 24 hours a day.’
Klein’s view is part of a veritable carnival of irrationality surrounding the Gulf oil spill. But while only the most foolish petrolhead would argue that there are no downsides to using oil - it does cause pollution, getting hold of it is sometimes tricky and dangerous, and it will probably become increasingly scarce in decades to come - there is a serious need for a sense of perspective. America uses so much oil because it is the wealthiest, most developed nation on Earth. Americans live in a remarkable variety of conditions from the freezing winters of Alaska to the baking heat of the Arizona desert. Yet they are able to survive with high living standards thanks to heating, transport, refrigeration, agriculture and water supplies made possible by human ingenuity - and fossil fuels.
When we find a viable alternative means of powering all these things, fossil fuels will become a minority interest. The reason that we have not done so already is because the alternatives - like solar, wind and wave power - have proven to be technically difficult to implement and considerably more expensive than fossil fuels. Realistically, we are a long way from being able to stop using oil, coal and gas.
In this light, it should be clear that our use of oil is not an ‘addiction’; we are simply making the most of a fantastic natural resource. We might as well say that we are addicted to food because we eat every day. Perhaps as a writer, Klein is ‘addicted’ to her computer keyboard because she uses it so frequently. A more sensible way of looking at the situation is that she uses the computer keyboard because it is a useful tool to enable her to share her thoughts with the world. Then again, perhaps Klein submits her articles to the Guardian by smearing tree sap on to some homemade papyrus and then gets the finished scroll delivered to London by a team of friendly dolphins.
The use of the term ‘addiction’ is no accident. It is an attempt to psychologise and pathologise what is in fact the attempt to satisfy perfectly rational human desires using the tools and resources available to us. The spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a significant problem which will take a lot of human energy - and a plenty of fossil-fuel energy - to sort out. Both the companies involved and the US government must take responsibility for doing that. But the most dangerous pollution of all is the hypocrisy of the relatively wealthy, who damn the very things that enable them to live so comfortably and who would happily condemn the rest of us to a life of shivering immobility.
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Posted by JR at 4:24 PM