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randwolf

Rant: global climate change

I wrote version 33c of this the other day, so I've decided to put it here, and have it here, so that I won't feel a need to write it again. I believe that humans are causing global climate change, & if you don't want to know why, don't click here.

small graph

The people who know this best in all the world have written extensively on the matter and you can read them on-line. Take a look at the Summary of the Scientific Basis from the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Over the past decade, everyone knowlegeable in the field who was at all accessible to persuasion has been persuaded—there are no legitimate scientific critics left. The establishment of consensus on this matter is quite remarkable; I do not think there has been anything like it in scientific history. For anyone who would like a broader overview of the history of climate science and the personalities involved in the debate, I recommend William K. Stevens, The Change in the Weather. Anyone interested in some of the political water-muddying that surrounds this issue, take a look at Ross Gelbspan's web site.

It occurs to me, however, that there has been oddly little art addressing this. Oh, there's Bruce Sterling's Viridian list, and now website, and there has been political debate. But in terms of serious art on the subject...nothing is coming to mind, though a world under climate change has been a background of several SF novels.

For a long time, I've been comparing the situation with the science-fictional scenarios of world-wide disaster I grew up with. And the differences are so striking I think they deserve comment. It is not a lone scientist, or even group of scientists, or outcast scientists. Though there are scientific critics of the IPCC's work, there are no more climatologists among them--the last holdout, Lindzen, wrote a chapter in the Third Assessment (he still claims it probably will not be a problem, however.) And heroic businessmen? Nowhere to be found, though the current CEO of BP is fairly reasonable about the issue. Villanous businessmen and politicians, on the other hand, we have in large numbers, most notably US Vice President Dick Cheney. And European politicians are taking the lead. Who'd'a thunk it?

Which all sounds pleasantly perplexing, at least when I am not quaking in my boots. But I think the differences bear some examination. The people who wrote those novels had what are in retrospect, big gaps in their thinking and I think those gaps are the gaps in our culture's thinking. What else have we missed?


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I dunno about *heroic* businessmen. But if you mean businessmen are all denying global warming, and persuading people we don't need to do anything about it, I'm not sure I agree. I seem to recall that an official (worldwide? nationwide, at least) organization of insurance companies issued a statement several years ago (2000? 1999?) saying they believed global warming was real. Of course, they were looking at weather related insurance claims for half a decade or so that dwarfed the previous decade-worth of claims. Their belief (as I understand it) was coldly and pragmatically prompted by the numbers and their own bottom line. So perhaps they weren't heroic. But they believe.

Naturally the oil and gas companies are deep in denial. I don't think there are very many science fiction stories about heroic businessmen telling people that their own products shouldn't be sold anymore because they endanger the environment. Suspension of disbelief is all very well, but it's much easier to believe in dragons, so stories like that, even if they're being written, are not making it past the editors.

I think a Robert Heinlein capitalist hero would invent cheap, simple solar power and make tons of money at it; in fact his Future History has "Douglas-Martin sunpower screens"--super photovoltaics--as part of the technical background; in Friday he added the Shipstone super-batteries. That chart was published (and poorly reproduced--Heinlein the engineer would no doubt be dissastisfied) in 1941; he probably drew it in 1940 or so. Fossil fuels had not yet become so central to transportation; the US Interstate system was not even a gleam in some general's eye and and the California Arabian Standard Oil Company (later, the Arabia American Oil Company, later Saudi Aramco) had just begun shipping oil.

Between the monopoly of fossil fuels in transportation and the subsidies granted to fossil fuel companies, there are no heroic capitalists there--more idealists struggling to make a go of it. And some of the old-line energy companies are trying to move in on their business, as well. BP now says that their letters stand for "Beyond Petroleum"--they were "British Petroleum", before the decided their name was the letters "BP". Maybe that is heroic; it took courage, anyway.

There is a deeper problem; industrial capitalism is built around productive activities that demand centralized production facilities with large amounts of machinery--capital property. The archetype was the great mills of the 18th century--gigantic factories sited along rivers which provided both energy and transport. Yet the many of the best ways to use solar power are decentralized--one can never make as big a business out of providing technology to use solar power on site as one can from owning the source of energy and the network which distributes it. It's hard to be the John D. Rockefeller (or Delos D. Harriman) of solar energy.

It was the claims accumulated in less than a single year--the first 11 months of 1998--that persuaded the insurance industry. Now, there is a plot for a novel of capitalism--insurance companies save the world!

No?

One of the cool things about both capitalism and hierarchic feudalism, artistically speaking, is that they make for such nice simple heroic stories. And that seems to be a lot of what went wrong with the fictional predictions; the focus on single people to the exclusion of relationships among people. Yet I am coming to believe that the actual makers of history are usually small groups.

Cue the ghosts of
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I think a Robert Heinlein capitalist hero would invent cheap, simple solar power and make tons of money at it; in fact his <a href="http://members.tripod.com/templetongate/rahchart.htm">Future History</a> has "Douglas-Martin sunpower screens"--super photovoltaics--as part of the technical background; in <i>Friday</i> he added the Shipstone super-batteries. That chart was published (and poorly reproduced--Heinlein the engineer would no doubt be dissastisfied) in 1941; he probably drew it in 1940 or so. Fossil fuels had not yet become so central to transportation; the US Interstate system was not even a gleam in some general's eye and and the California Arabian Standard Oil Company (later, the Arabia American Oil Company, later <a href="http://www.saudiaramco.com/cgi-bin/bvsm/JSP/home.jsp">Saudi Aramco</a>) had just begun shipping oil.

Between the monopoly of fossil fuels in transportation and the <a href="http://www.foe.org/camps/eco/payingforpollution/tax.html">subsidies</a> granted to fossil fuel companies, there are no heroic capitalists there--more idealists struggling to make a go of it. And some of the old-line energy companies are trying to move in on their business, as well. BP now says that their letters stand for <a href="http://www.bp.com/faqs/faqs_questions.asp?id=69">"Beyond Petroleum"</a>--they were "British Petroleum", before the decided their name was the letters "BP". Maybe that <i>is</i> heroic; it took courage, anyway.

There is a deeper problem; industrial capitalism is built around productive activities that demand centralized production facilities with large amounts of machinery--capital property. The archetype was the great mills of the 18th century--gigantic factories sited along rivers which provided both energy and transport. Yet the many of the best ways to use solar power are decentralized--one can never make as big a business out of providing technology to use solar power on site as one can from owning the source of energy and the network which distributes it. It's hard to be the <a href="http://www.rockefeller.edu/archive.ctr/jdrsrbio.html">John</a> D. <a href="http://www.bilderberg.org/whatafel.htm">Rockefeller</a> (or <a href="http://home.tiac.net/~cri/1998/harriman.html">Delos D. Harriman</a>) of solar energy.

It was the claims accumulated in <a href="http://www.viridiandesign.org/notes/1-25/Note%2000021.txt">less</a> than a single year--the first 11 months of 1998--that persuaded the insurance industry. Now, <i>there</i> is a plot for a novel of capitalism--insurance companies save the world!

No?

One of the cool things about both capitalism and hierarchic feudalism, artistically speaking, is that they make for such nice simple heroic stories. And that seems to be a lot of what went wrong with the fictional predictions; the focus on single people to the exclusion of relationships among people. Yet I am coming to believe that the actual makers of history are usually small groups.

Cue the ghosts of <a href="http://www.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/aaron-chap15.html>John Dos Passos</a> and <a href="http://www.mead2001.org/>Margaret Mead</a>.

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